Pamela Druckerman's Keys To Improving Kids' Eating Habits And Handling Mealtime Drama

This post is part of Stress-Less Parenting Club's first workshop. Check out previous challenges here, and if you haven’t signed up yet, visit the purple box on the right side of this page to receive our weekly newsletter.

What's for dinner? Well, the adults are having roasted chicken and lemon couscous with asparagus and tomato. Billy's having macaroni and cheese because that's literally all he'll eat this week ... uh, month. Maddie's having a pepperoni Hot Pocket, the only kind she'll eat, but we have to remove the actual pepperonis or she freaks (we can slip a tiny bit of asparagus inside if we're really sneaky and disguise it really well). And for 2-year-old Timmy? Tater tots. With a side of ketchup.

Sound at all familiar? Many of us find ourselves playing the role of short-order cook to satisfy the picky eaters in our house. We've given up on healthy (forget about getting anything green into their little bodies) and cater to their demands out of desperation just to get them fed.

Or maybe you have a good eater (lucky you), but food is a problem area for another reason. Like your kindergartener's constant demand for snacks. Or your tendency to offer your tantrumming 3-year-old a cookie just because it's the quickest pathway to peace.

These food fights are grating, which is why we've chosen improving kids' eating habits as the next theme of our first Stress-Less Parenting workshop. We're taking cues from the French, via Pamela Druckerman, our workshop leader and author of Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting. Pamela says all this mealtime drama is incomprehensible to the French. There is no such thing as kids' food. There is one snack a day, in the afternoon. Parents work to develop their children's palates starting from babyhood, and they keep at it. As Pamela writes in her new blog post, "The French believe it's their role as parents to gradually shape their children's tastes, and to guide them through the pleasures of different flavors." Here, she offers three easy keys to getting your child to eat better.

As you read through this week’s keys to French parenting, think about how you can practice them with your kids over the next few days. Then, at the bottom of the page, check out Pamela’s second workshop challenge -- a fun way to put this week’s lesson into practice.


1. Don’t Solve a Crisis with a Cookie
Not producing an Oreo whenever a child whines can have far-reaching benefits. First, you’re not rewarding her outbursts, so you’re not encouraging her to whine again. Second, you’re teaching her not to eat just because she’s upset. She’ll thank you when she’s 30 and can still fit into her high school jeans.

2. Everyone Eats the Same Thing
In France children don’t decide what they’ll have for dinner. There are no choices or customizations. There’s just one meal, the same one for everyone. It’s safe to try this at home. If a child doesn’t eat something, or barely eats it, react neutrally. Do not offer her something else instead. If she is just emerging from a kids’ food ghetto, ease her into it by making family meals that everyone likes, then gradually introducing new dishes. Above all, stay positive and calm. Give the new rules time to settle. Remember that you’re crediting your child with being able to eat the same foods as you. Accompany the new rules with some new freedoms, like letting her cut the quiche, or sprinkle the Parmesan cheese herself. When you eat in a restaurant, let her order what she wants, within reason.

3. You Just Have to Taste It
Most kids like ice cream instantly (though mine strangely complained that it was “too cold”). However, many other foods take some warming up to. Their very newness puts kids off. It’s only through trying these foods lots of times that kids start to like them. This is the cornerstone of the way the French feed their children. Kids have to take at least one bite of every dish that’s on the table. I’m sure there are French families who don’t consider this rule to be sacred and infallible, but I have yet to meet them. Present the tasting rule to your child as if it’s a law of nature -- like gravity. Explain that our tastes are shaped by what we eat. If she’s nervous about tasting something for the first time, let her just pick up a piece and sniff it (often a little nibble will follow). One new food per meal is enough. Serve it alongside something you know she likes. Oversee this process without acting like a prison guard. Be calm and even playful about it. After she takes the requisite bite, acknowledge this. React neutrally if she says she doesn’t like it. Never offer a replacement food. Remember, you’re playing the long game. You don’t want her to eat an artichoke once, under duress. You want her to gradually learn to like artichokes.


Tour the produce department of your grocery store with your kids, and let them choose some veggies. Kids are more likely to try -- and embrace -- something new when they feel invested in the process. Our sister site HuffPost Taste offers tons of great vegetable recipes, including these root vegetable dishes that are great for wintertime.

Be sure to send us a photo of your children eating their vegetables at

What’s the one bad food habit you hope your child can kick? What tricks have you used to get your child to eat better? As you think about this week's keys, we also invite you to leave thoughts and advice in the comments. Next week, Pamela will answer some of your biggest questions about food and kids here on the site and we'd love to feature your tips and tricks too.

The three keys are excerpted from Bébé Day by Day by Pamela Druckerman. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright Pamela Druckerman, 2013.