This is a guest post by TwinToddlersDad about his experience in getting his twins to eat healthy. He writes a science-driven, real-life toddler nutrition blog at Littlestomaks.com.
Feeding twins and raising them to be healthy eaters may seem like a herculean task. We often get that look and the “oh” when we share our dinner time struggles with other parents. Sure there are days when giving up seems to be the only choice and the world appears to be a glass half-full. But there are also times when there is twice the laughter and fun at the dinner table. I think every parent, whether they have twins are not, goes through such ups-and-downs every day. Certainly feeding twins is challenging, but so is feeding siblings who might be a few years apart in age. Here are a few tips we have found useful with our twins who are now 4 and a ½ years old.
Treat them equal but not the same
When it comes to twins, most people have the notion that you can do the same things with them including what and how you feed them. Give them the same things to eat, offer the same treats and use the same discipline techniques to handle misbehavior. This is not really the case because twin or not, every child has a different personality and preference. These differences are even more noticeable in case of a boy/girl twins like ours. Sure there are times when both want to have the same thing, but then there are days when expecting them to sit down at the same time and eat the same food results in a quick rebellion!
What is more important is to create a routine, not just for the kids, but for the whole family. If it is important for you to turn the TV off and have everyone sit at the table to share the meal, then expect it equally from all, but leave enough room for them to do it in their own way. Offer the same choices, but don’t expect them to eat everything or eat at all if they are not hungry. In short, create the boundaries, and the “what”, but allow them the freedom in the “how” and “how much”.
Nutrition is important, but don’t forget fun
We all know that kids need good nutrition and a diet rich in a variety of foods for them to grow up healthy. But every meal every single day does not need to be all about the calories, fats, carbs and protein. The nutrition labels on foods give us a lot of technical information; what they lack is the secret ingredient of fun, laughter and love which makes eating such an important part of human life. As a parent, it is natural to focus on what is “good” for them from a nutrition point of view, but what gets a child to actually eat the food is your attitude at the dinner table. Consider nutrition when you prepare or select what they eat, but don’t forget that play is the secret ingredient for success at mealtime!
Be a parent, be a friend
We are conditioned to behave a certain way with our kids when we play the role of a parent. True that kids need to feel secure and loved by a grown up, but they also want to just be kids and silly with a friend. If you want success at mealtime, you need to be able to switch between the two roles with ease. You don’t always have to be a strict disciplinarian and issue orders at your kids with a “do this”, or a “don’t do that”. You have to also look at the world from their level with their energy and their limited attention span. What you say, or do, doesn’t need to be logical or make a lot of sense. You can make silly stories to capture their imagination and attention as you help them build healthy eating habits in the long run.
I also want to add that parenting is a team sport. Rely on your spouse to create a stress-free and friendly environment at mealtime. Resist the urge to play good cop, bad cop; rather work as a team to give them a consistent message while having fun. It is quite natural for mom and dad to have a different parenting style. With a good understanding of your differences, you can actually use them to your advantage.
Instead of rules, create stories
Rules are like laws we are expected to obey else we get in trouble. Stories, on the other hand, capture our imagination and help us remember a key lesson. Rules rely on authority while stories help us build a context for the kids so they can own them without any pressure from us. Kids don’t have the experience of what works and what doesn’t work. Adults can rely on this experience to create a set of rules so they can stay out of trouble. Kids on the other hand, learn by connecting the dots, even when some of those connections may appear to be totally silly at first.
For example, telling kids to eat salad just because it is good for them, or making a rule about it, is not likely to work. It was by pure chance that we found success with eating salad like a giraffe story at first, which we later mixed up with a secret sauce to help our twins enjoy leafy greens! The point is to try to make funny connections and spin silly stories so kids can relate to these rules in their own way.
If it doesn’t work, try another day
Kids are unpredictable and not every meal turns out to be perfect. Sometimes, it is better to let go and try another day. Maybe they don’t have a good appetite or maybe they are tired or distracted. Feeding kids healthy food is not a project or an item to check off at the end of the day. It is over the long term that tasteful nutritious food, healthy mealtime experience and consistent positive reinforcement come together to help you raise healthy eaters. Pay attention to the unique personality and learning style of your child (or twins) to figure out when to push and when to try another time.
What has worked for you? What has been your challenge? I would love to hear your comments!
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