Don’t stress about ‘I don’t like it’

The following article has been written by Bel from The Root Cause.

If you’re like many of the parents I’ve worked with over the last eight years, you probably feel that feeding the kids is one of the biggest stressors of your day. You probably find yourself thinking:

  • what do I cook today?

  • is it healthy enough?

  • will they eat it?

  • will the food be wasted?

  • are they getting enough nutrition?

Sound familiar?

Hopefully, what I say next will make you feel a little better.

Even though my work is to help parents empower their kids to make better food choices, my two kids still say, ‘I don’t like it mum!’.

I’m not immune to this complaint, but I don’t let it rob me of my peace or stop me from serving that food up again.

My responsibility is to choose what to cook and provide for the family to eat. It’s my children’s responsibility to determine what they eat and how much they eat.

Many parents are so tired, they give up, thinking they’ll have peaceful mealtimes simply by not serving the food again.

I find that just leads to more worrying about the kids not eating a wide enough variety. In the back of their mind is the niggling thought, ‘am I doing enough to make sure they don't get sick?’

If you want to find peace at mealtimes, lean into not stressing when your kids say, ‘I don’t like it.’

The very best thing you can do is to allow kids to have their journey of discovery around food. Think back to when they were learning to walk. You didn’t stand over them, berating them when they fell. You allowed them to get up and fall. You were never too far away. You gave them enough space to find their balance and independence, and they learned to walk.

Giving them space when it comes to food is important too.

Learning to let go

You may have experienced this with your kid. The more you try to get them to eat it (just one bite to be polite, just taste it, put it on your tongue, etc…), the more they resist it.

I have discovered that most of the time, kids resist foods not because they don’t like them, but because of the energy and the stress we bring to the table.

I know right, that feels a bit harsh, but I’m witness to many parents experiencing the wonders of letting go – dinner becomes more peaceful, and surprisingly after a while, their kids become more open to trying the food.

Here are my tips on how you can lean into letting go, giving your kids the space to try foods, and give yourself peace.

  • Focus on what they do like – these I call safe foods.

  • Serve safe foods but expose them to the other foods too. Place them in the centre of the table and allow your children to help themselves (if your children are too young, you can ask them what they would like you to serve them).

  • Don’t stress if they choose only what they like. The key here is exposure, exposure, exposure. Your kids can’t eat what they can’t see.

  • Always eat the food yourself and be prepared to pack leftovers for your lunch.

  • Always have conversations about food away from the table. Keep the dinner table for a place of connection. When you do talk about food, talk about how food and drink fuel their body and brain (e.g. if your child loves sport, talk about how the food makes them stronger at whatever it is they like).

Real-life examples of letting go

The key to letting go is having conversations. I thought one of the best ways to help you understand what this may look like is to give you some real-life examples from my experience of learning to let go.

Cereal for breakfast

We transitioned away from cereal for breakfast some years ago, but then when my son was seven, he was adamant he only wanted cereal for breakfast.

Here’s how my conversation with him went.

Me: Mate, you know eating cereal for breakfast is not much better than eating cardboard, and it’s not going to keep you full for very long, don’t you?

Rilien: Yes, but mum I just really feel like cereal for a while.

Me: Ok. How about this. If you want cereal for breakfast, you can have it, but you have to have something nutritious before it. How about we have something more nutritious to start with like a smoothie?

Rilien: Deal mum.

And so we embarked on a period of him having Weet-Bix more regularly than I would have liked. True to our agreement, he kept our deal. He had the nutritious smoothie I made him first (this Awake and Moving Smoothie is a great one to try).

Some mornings instead of the smoothie, I would make him my Lazy Bones Banana Bread and serve it with yoghurt and fruit. Once he’d eaten this, he quite often didn’t feel like cereal.

When he did have cereal, I would always sprinkle it with sunflower seeds and pepitas or Magic Sprinkles by 123 Nourish Me. My mantra is always – how can I make this more nutritious?

No Cereal For breakfast

Fast forward a couple of years and our son no longer likes cereal for breakfast.

I tried a few different ideas with no real wins. I started to pack more in his lunchbox knowing he hadn’t eaten much for breakfast. This backfired because he loves to play. Too much food in his lunchbox overwhelmed him and so he didn’t eat much of it.

I went back to my approach – don’t stress about it, focus on what he likes, and talk to him about it. I asked him what sorts of food he would eat for breakfast. He rattled off this list:

  • Egg and soldiers

  • Scrambled eggs

  • Lazy bones banana bread with yogurt and seeds

  • Sourdough bread with peanut butter and banana

  • Sourdough with avocado and cheese

  • Bacon and egg cupcakes

  • Cheats Gozleme

  • Pancakes

  • Crepes

I was happy with the new list and so was he.

No eggs

Here we are in 2021 and now he doesn’t like eggs.

As a parent, this sort of change in food behaviour has the potential to drive us mad – if we choose to let it.

Rather than let it rob me of my peace, we had another conversation and came up with a new list for breakfast.

It is frustrating that he doesn’t like scrambled or boiled eggs, but I know he will circle back around to them at some point. For now, I find other ways to incorporate eggs – like in pikelets or even in his breakfast smoothies.

No cucumber, celery, or capsicum

Now it’s not just my son who has preferences, so does our daughter.

At times, she’s loved cucumber, celery, and capsicum. She’s currently on a sabbatical from eating celery and capsicum, but she’s back on with eating cucumber.

I’ve made peace with this current situation. She eats a really wide variety of fruits and vegetables from all colours of the rainbow. I’m not going to get hung up on her not eating celery and capsicum.

Tastes change

Does all this changing what they do and don’t like to eat, stop me from putting out what they don’t like to eat? Nope.

From time to time, I will pop it on their plate again or on our centre pick plate, for them to choose from. We’ve had enough conversations over the years about how our tastes change. So when I pop it out, it’s not uncommon for them to just try it. I never comment, although inside I am doing a happy dance.

Our kids grow and change. All the time. What they eat will grow and change too. It’s freeing to understand this at your core because then you can stop worrying.

My approach is really simple, and I encourage you to try it out too: Don’t stress about what they don’t like. Instead, I focus on what they do like. Keep exposing them because if they can’t see it, they can’t eat it.

To help to empower your kids to make better food choices, join Bel at or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.


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