This post was first published by the Marion & Polk Early Learning Hub here.

You know the question is coming…yet you’re hoping…hoping this time will be different. You’re hoping you can avoid the fight, hoping for a calm, peaceful meal where everyone eats everything you’ve prepared. Yet, just as you expected…the question comes: “Mom/Dad I’m full, can I get down?” You look at their plate and see what you always see…fruit and anything with sugar gone without a trace…veggies, grains and other healthy food clearly untouched. How can they be full?

You know that a balanced diet is good for kids and how important the nutrients in healthy foods are to growing bodies. You vary it up and try out different vegetables, you disguise them, demand they be eaten…you bargain. The battle seemingly never ends. How do you encourage healthy eating habits without feeling like a dictator?

The answer might be…play! Playing and food usually don’t go hand in hand but in this case all options are in the table. As long as the food ends up in their bellies, and not on the floor or walls, play can be a great way to get kids to eat food they’re less than excited about. Broccoli pieces make great looking trees, carrot people can be very funny and go on great adventures. Encouraging your kid to be the giant that devours them all is a great way to get those healthy foods eaten with a smile. Build houses and towers with food, or wrap it in blankets of cheese. Give your kids a pool of hummus for their carrot people to swim in. Seek out places in the community where you can pick fresh fruits from the tree or the bush (wild blackberries are our favorite!). Look up information on community gardens in your area and see what they’ve planted, or better yet, find and plant some small food seeds of your own in a little plot or flower pot. The more fun kids are allowed to have with their food, the more you may notice empty plates at meal time and a reduction in power struggles and tears.

This is fatherhood…