I mentioned previously that I have one child with a particularly “discerning” palate. Although she loves me and is very attached, I’m pretty sure she wishes she lived at someone else’s house most days at dinner.

If left to her own devices, she would live on sour cream with rice and black beans; parmesan cheese with a little pasta and cakes, doughnuts, cookies and ice cream. The problem is, if she ate this way all the time, she would be missing essential vitamins and nutrients that she needs (and her mood would be so difficult, I may just have to send her to someone else’s house for dinner!) Fortunately for her, she isn’t left to her own devices.

I try to keep a balance and practice moderation, but during “junk food season” the scale can easily tip towards junk. There are so many “opportunities” to eat doughnuts, candy, cake, etc., that most people – let alone “discerning” children – have a hard time making the healthy choice. Who could blame them? This time of year it takes extra planning and commitment to find balance.

Instead of battling, I set clear guidelines for family and try to be flexible beyond that. Below are some of the guidelines we use in our home when it comes to food. I hope it will inspire you to create your own.

Healthy Eating Guidelines:

1) Something is NOT better than nothing. I hear this on a regular basis from the parents I work with: “She had to eat something so I let her have the (fill in the blank with nutrient-void food).” This is NOT the case in our house. I’d rather my children be hungry than fill up on low- or no-nutritional value foods at mealtime. Nobody wants to see their child “go hungry” but when we allow them to fill up on muffins, cakes, bread, doughnuts, waffles, plain pasta, etc., instead of real food we are filling their bellies with calories but starving their bodies of nutrition. Please don’t report me, nobody is ever deprived of food in my home but I AM willing to let my kids complain or refuse what I am serving without feeling like I have to jump up and find a suitable alternative. I also find that when they are truly hungry, they eventually eat what I am offering.

2) Offer Choices. When I serve a meal I only include foods that I feel good about my kids eating. Each member of the family is entitled to take what they like and season it to their own taste with condiments and spices. I encourage them to taste new things but I don’t take it personally if they don’t (see #4)

3) Walk your talk. I didn’t always have a positive relationship with food and the most important thing I ever did was the inner work necessary to understand how food affects my body. I now enjoy and appreciate foods and I know that there are no “bad” foods, just better choices for my own individual body. I also If I notice that my kids haven’t been eating enough veggies, I start eating more myself. They notice.

4) Don’t take it personally. It can be downright infuriating when your child refuses to eat when you’ve made and it can quickly turn into a battle of wills. (FYI: my children always win these battles!) I find it helpful if I don’t take their refusal personally and simply (haha, I know it’s not “simple”) step away from engaging in a battle over food. If my child refuses to eat the meal I simply allow her to make that choice.

5) Don’t buy it. My children eat processed foods at friends’ homes, birthday parties, and even school, but they know that I don’t buy it. They aren’t deprived and they understand what our family values are when it comes to food. I also make it a habit to try to feed them before we leave the house for games, play dates, parties, etc. so I know that they’ve eaten something healthy already and they don’t arrive at those places starving.