How to Handle Food Parenting Advice You Don’t Agree With

4 Months-3 Years

Even before you gave birth, everyone had an opinion on parenting, and child feeding is no exception. While you may take some of the advice to heart, there are plenty of other times you’re going to want things done your way. When it comes to food parenting, parents tell us these are common areas where they may need to have a difficult conversation. Do any of them sound familiar?

“Clean your plate”

Were you ever told to “clean your plate” as a kid or that you couldn’t leave the table until you did? While the clean plate club isn’t as popular anymore, it’s not dead yet. The thing is, your kids were born knowing how much they need to eat, and so encouraging them to eat when they’re full is teaching them to ignore their bodies. When someone tells your child to “clean her plate,” and you don’t want to get into a debate about why she doesn’t need to, try saying something like, “That’s OK. She knows she’s not hungry anymore. We can save the rest for tomorrow.”

“A little sugar never hurt anyone”

Sweets are especially tough because family members love to give treats to kids, no matter how young they are. While their intentions are good (i.e., wanting to be your child’s bestie), you’re the parent and you have your child’s best health interests in mind … and they don’t involve sugar. Even though it’s never fun to be the bad guy, it’s important to let your friends and family know why you don’t want your little one to have sugar. So when someone is insisting on giving your child sugary treats, you could say something like, “A little sugar isn’t the end of the world, but you know how picky toddlers can be! I need a little more time to teach her to like the healthy stuff before she has treats.”

“If you’re a good girl, Grandma will give you a treat”

When someone tells your child they’ll give her a treat if she’s good, it’s safe to say that treat isn’t going to be a carrot or an apple. Let’s be real—that treat is going to be something sweet that you’d probably prefer your child not eat. Sure, it’s common for people to bribe kids with sweet treats, but you know that food should not be used as a reward. So if someone tries to offer your child a sweet treat for good behavior, try saying something like, “We are working hard on behaving at the store, but you know how unpredictable toddlers can be! How about we let her bring a toy to keep her busy?” Keeping her occupied with a toy is a much better option than the free bakery cookie at the store!

“Give that baby more food, he’s too skinny”

There’s something about chubby cheeks and thigh rolls that people just love, and they think all little ones should look that way. If your little one doesn’t fall into the “chubby baby” category, you might have people telling you he’s too skinny. The thing is, you want your child to be at a healthy weight, and you want your child to listen to his body and eat only as much as he needs to. So if someone is telling you he’s not eating enough, you might change the conversation by saying something like, “Some days he eats and eats and eats, and other days he isn’t as hungry. His doctor said he is growing really well.”

Other ideas to get out of sticky food parenting situations

If you don’t want to offend friends or family members when it comes to awkward food parenting situations, here are some other ideas that won’t get you uninvited to holiday gatherings:

  • Ask that your child be served only a bite or two of each food, and for her plate to only be refilled with what she signals for. This way she is mostly in control of what she eats and there is less waste.
  • Promise grandparents—or whoever wants to be the sugar fairy—that when the time is right they can give the first treat (and that you’ll let them know when the time is right).
  • Offer non-food treats, such as stickers, extra playtime, a hug or a special helper job.
Food parenting isn’t easy, but when it comes to your child’s health, nothing else is more important.
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