I am very excited to share a new blog series with all of you! “Mom On A Mission” is a 3-month journey I have embarked on with Family Nourishment Coach, Stefanie Tsabar, to bring more joy back to mealtime. I am on a mission to make mealtime nourishing, but fun again. This series is for all of you who deal with power struggles during your families’ meals and fantasize about peaceful and harmonious mealtimes. As a vegan cooking enthusiast, you would think that my children would gobble up their veggies and eat whatever I put on their plate… but they don’t. I have the same struggles as most parents I know – getting their kids to eat a variety of vegetables, to independently choose healthy, balanced meal options, and to try new foods.
I am exhausted by the effort and creativity I put into my meal plans just to be shot down with glares and sighs when it’s served on their plates. I realized I needed a fresh perspective, a professional who could give me some guidance. Enter Stefanie! Together, we are partnering over the next three months to share my journey of mealtime challenges and chronicle the progress made. In this 6-blog series, I will be posting twice a month about our sessions and the follow up scenarios that take place in my home.
Take a look at this quick video of what I am tackling in my first session.
In my first session with Stefanie, I presented two main issues that I wanted to address:
1 – Get my family to eat more variety.
I love to cook and try new recipes, experiment in the kitchen, and create new dishes. I get excited when I come up with something new for dinner or their lunches, and feel terrible when they don’t like it. More often than not, they just want their usual selection of favorites. I want to be able to mix it up (or I get bored) and get them to enjoy the meal too.
2 – Take the negative inference out of vegan.
My kids hear something is vegan and they immediately sigh, “Oh…” and become deflated. I find this perplexing since every meal I cook is vegan. I feel it the most if I am making a vegan “chicken” (like a piccata) or something that has “cheese” in it. They hear vegan and anxiety ensues. I want to be able to take the word vegan off the table (no pun intended) and just look forward to good food – and it is good food, the best they can have, because it is plant-based.
The Plan of Attack
In setting up the plan for Operation #1 of “Mom On A Mission,” Stefanie introduced me to the concept of DOR (Division of Responsibility) that she uses in her consults. DOR is a heavily researched based model that divides the mealtime duties between the parents and children. Parents are in control of the what, when and where of mealtime (what to cook, when to eat, and where to eat it), while children are in control of how much they eat and whether they will eat from what’s on the table or not. The end goal is to make the mealtime experience neutral, without influencing them to eat anything nor pass judgment on their choices.
With the above background, Stefanie gave me a few things to implement at my family’s mealtimes:
Serve family style.
This strategy gives children the power to make their own food choices. Stefanie explained that kids want to eat what their parents want and sub-consciously know what their bodies need if they learn to listen. By following the DOR model, over time, children will learn how to listen to what their bodies tell them and nourish themselves accordingly.
Serve familiar food with unfamiliar food.
The reason for this is to make sure the kids come to the table relaxed, not anxious that they won’t have anything to eat because there is nothing they like on the table. Make enough of their favorites at each meal that they are able to fill up on it.
Give them explicit permission to eat whatever is served.
This is going to be a tough one. Let go of the control and let the kids choose what to put on their plate from what you have put on the table, even if it means they eat nothing but pasta for several days in a row (given that is one of the choices you put on the table.) The goal is to allow them to make their own food choices in a relaxed setting.
Choose 3-4 dishes that are balanced as a cohesive meal, and include something new (or something you want them to try), with something that the kids know and love.
For example, try a new main dish with sides that are familiar to them. This suggestion really makes me feel good because I still get to be creative and try new recipes, but it also alleviates tension at the table by having favorites that the kids like.
In the week following our first session, I realized several things:
The pressure was off of me (not just them).
The goal was to make sure the kids felt calmer and less anxious at meal time because of the choices on the table, but I also felt more relaxed. I wasn’t nagging anyone to eat this, try that, or have one more bite of anything. I just laid out my delicious, healthy food on the table and let everyone serve themselves. I wasn’t worrying about what anyone was eating, because I knew everything on the table was healthy and offered favorites for everyone. I was enjoying the food and the time together at the table.
Trust the process.
There were a few days that were tough. Watching my kids not try anything new or only go for the carbs on the table was distressing at first, but then I reminded myself this was a journey. I was making a commitment to try DOR and trust the process.
Make the kids a part of meal planning.
Asking for their wish list of menu items was helpful in planning my menus to ensure there were a mix of favorites and unfamiliar foods.
Here’s a sampling of some successful mealtimes following my first session with Stefanie:
“Chinese” Tofu Salad (a new dish), served with rice (a favorite), tofu slices (a favorite), shredded carrots, and edamame (both favorites)
This was a great meal! My husband loved the salad and oil free, homemade dressing that I created. My oldest daughter served herself the salad without me prompting. Although she didn’t like the dressing (which I served on the side), she loved the salad and drizzled some tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) over it. My other two children helped themselves to the rice, tofu, and other veggies as sides – no nagging involved!
Vegetable Bolognese (a new dish) served with zucchini noodles (not a favorite), plain spaghetti (a favorite), and make-your-own salad bar with toppings and dressings on the side.
This meal worked out great. My parents joined us, and loved both the zoodles and sauce. As I suspected, the kids chose spaghetti over noodles, but I felt good about re-introducing the vegetable to the family in a non-threatening way, and the girls tried the sauce on their own accord (but didn’t like it). The salad bar was a hit and fun to watch the family make their own creations.
Do you struggle at mealtimes too? What are your challenges and concerns? Join the conversation in the comments section below.
Stefanie Tsabar is a mom and Family Nourishment Coach. She uses proven methods to help parents learn how to raise healthy eaters, eliminate power struggles over food and create calm, connected family mealtimes. Stefanie co-authored the illustrated children’s book, Friending Your Emotions and, before becoming a mom, she danced with American Ballet Theatre.