John Cowan - Picky Eaters

Publish Date
Thursday, 24 August 2017, 3:12PM
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

By John Cowan

I wonder: what would have happened if I’d let my children eat whatever they wanted when they were young? They would have been dead of scurvy before their twelfth birthday.  An exclusive diet of chips, lollies and burgers doesn’t get you very far… probably only as far as your first coronary. We tried a technique that worked really well called a food amnesty list. At a family meeting each child wrote a list of five foods they don’t like eating. The deal we offered was,  they never had to eat those foods. If we served them, they could push them aside, and there would be no trouble.  But if it’s not on their list they have to eat it. They didn’t get something else instead, they just didn’t get served the listed food.   They had to be specific, like they couldn’t just put down “all veges” as one item. And the good news is – there is a lot more than five foods!  And it worked really well – no more and complaining, from either the kids or the parents. You see, kids love to have choice and control – it reduced the “ooo yuck I don’t want to eat that” food-wars, and, because we respected their choice, they didn’t complain about the food they did have to eat.  They could change the list, but only at the next family meeting. We stuck to it, they stuck to it, and it worked.

Kids love to feel that their opinions are heard and taken seriously. The food amnesty list is a fun way of doing that and it might just change the atmosphere around meal times at your place. 

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About John

John has been with The Parenting Place ( for seventeen years as their senior writer and presenter.  He had various roles working with youth and families prior to that but actually started his working life as a scientist in neurophysiology at Auckland Hospital.  As well as writing and speaking, John is frequently on radio and television.

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