My mom told me, years ago when Kaylee was just a baby, that there were two areas that a child felt like they had control: eating and sleeping. With everything else, they could not control you or your responses, but for some reason, they feel like they can control food and sleeping.
I think because those two things are important to us. And, we communicate that those two things are important.
When Kaylee was nearing 2-years-old, during dinner time one night, she looked at me and dumped her plate onto the floor — then laughed. Since the meal was something brand new and strongly seasoned, I made her a new plate, washing spices off meat, and making sure that the food I put on it was something she would eat. She looked at me, picked up her plate, and dumped it. I realized then that she was testing me.
I got her out of her high chair, told her that she couldn’t have anything else to eat. About an hour later, she cried that she was hungry, and I reminded her that she could have a big breakfast in the morning.
The next night, I made certain that the meal I prepared was something she would enjoy eating. She looked at me, dumped the plate, and laughed. I reprimanded her, got her out of her seat, and explained that she would not have anything else until the next day. The next night, she did the same thing, and I reacted the same way.
After that, she never challenged food. She’s taste and try and let us know if she didn’t like it, but it was never an out-and-out challenge.
I discovered that the boys did the same thing at about the same age. And with them, it took about 3 days of no dinner and a lot of bedtime whining to win the battle.
During all of the recent conversations we’ve had with psychologists about our son Scott, we’ve discovered that this is also something psychologists try to convey to parents: If you let them control you with food or sleep, then you are being controlled by your children…and don’t think they’ won’t use that against you.
We have never really given in to the control issue. When my kids don’t eat…they don’t eat. That’s not always been easy. Now that Scott is older and we realize how many issues he has, I think if we could go back and KNOW about his issues, we would have maybe catered to his eating. He doesn’t like his food to touch — so, when I serve a casserole, he spends half the meal “cleaning” off the meats and vegetables before he’ll eat them, if he eats them at all. Soups are almost always out of the question, because everything is all mingled together. Sandwiches get deconstructed and eaten separately. Even pizza is eaten in layers.
But, because I didn’t know about all of his OCD tendencies, and because I didn’t know he’d have so many issues, I have NEVER catered to him when it comes to food. There are no food battles in my house. At dinner time, if you don’t like what is served, you can eat extra salad, or don’t eat at all. Because I make all of my dressings homemade, and because I purposefully make the Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing without the mayonnaise and just make it with buttermilk and Greek yogurt, my kids can consume as much of it as they want at the table and I don’t care. If after dinner they’re hungry because they didn’t eat, they’re welcome to get fruit out of the fruit bowl and drink as much water as they want. If dessert is available, they do not get to eat it. That is about the only “punishment” that comes from not eating.
Discussing meals and meal time with one of the psychologists, he said to us, “You’ve done half of my work for me. I usually spend several weeks trying to teach parents how to handle food and sleep issues. We have no problems there and I’m not really sure where to begin.”
I think Scott wants to battle us with food, but that experience at about 2-years of age has taught him that it would do no good. So, instead, he makes do with what he is served – either eating it, deconstructing it before eating it, or eating what’s on his plate that he is willing to eat.
I will admit that there’s this “mommy” side of me that wants to roast him a plain chicken thigh, cook some brown rice in some Turkey Stock, and steam him some broccoli every night to go with his salad and homemade bread – because that is his favorite meal and he’d eat it every single night if I let him. It’s not like it’s chicken nuggets and French fries – a meal that a friend of mine feels “forced” to feed her daughter daily. But, even though it’s about as healthy of a meal as I could make him, that would do nothing to teach him about coping with the “real world”, would do nothing to expand his pallet, and would make meals away from home extremely stressful.
Instead, I cook what I would cook if he was with me or not. And, he can choose to eat it, cope with eating it, deconstruct it, or not eat it. And, honestly, with most meals, I never know for sure which way he’ll go.
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I’ve also followed those rules regarding meal time and have children who will eat just about anything now. Even #5 who refused anything green for almost 2 years.
I’m realizing now that my parents did the same for me and I was a lot like Scott (and, yes, still have many OCD tendencies). I’m thankful to them for what they taught and what I have taught my own.
Hallee – you are amazing!!! I think you should write a book on parenting! How many of us parents have given in to food “tantrums” because we worry that our kids aren’t getting enough nutrients or whatever? Taking this page out of your book, lovely. Thank you!
My mom once said “No child ever starved to death for missing one meal.”
Thank you for your wisdom Hallee. This should be required reading for all moms.
Hallee–you told ME that once–no child ever starved from one missed meal, when I was really struggling with Mia. It took a few years but I finally learned my lesson and made ONE meal, and if they didn’t eat, they’d eat in the morning. We were well into that tactic when Henry am started expressing independence and he now always tries what we make and often likes it. Ruby has naturally always been a good eater but she definitely doesn’t eat sometimes and I have NEVER once cared. I had enough food battles in 2 years with Mia and I will never fall for them again!! Dinner time became pleasant again and I am so less stressed at dinner because I know I’m doing my job by making good food, whether they eat it or not.
You so rock! :)
Thank you, my friend!
Thumbs up on this post!!!
To toot my own horn a bit…
People are forever asking me why my kids are such AWESOME eaters (they will eat all seafoods, asian foods, meats, veggies, etc…) and I always answer with the same thing…because if they don’t eat it…they don’t eat! :) (all the while giving myself a big ol’ pat on the back!)
Because of that, they have discovered a whole world of food that they might not have otherwise even taken a second look at!
I have a friend who only feeds his kid what he thinks his KID will like….therefore…he says “kids don’t like fish so I won’t even make him try it…I’ll make him noodles instead” Gah….drives me bonkers!!!
And don’t even get started on how kids menus everywhere only have so called kid-approved foods! Why is it that every place assumes all my kids want are nuggets, mac n cheese, and hotdogs!!!????
But…enough about me :)
Go Hallee!! Great post!!
Don’t even get me STARTED on children’s menus!
What a timely post! I never really had a problem with this when my daughter was younger, but she is now serving time in bed-at three and a half.
Sunshine has recently decided that no food must touch another food…ever. In fact, tonight’s battle was because she got frustrated with picking the foods apart, so she threw the whole thing on the floor. She was punished, and then sent to bed without supper. Fortunatley I have left over pancakes in the fridge, and my friend left me some backyard eggs over the weekend.
I would like your opinion on this though: I have been indulging her preferences where practical. For instance, I will be making juevos rancheros tomorrow out of leftover beans, eggs, and some salsa verde that I put up over the summer. She likes all of these things-if they are seperate. I normally serve it burrito-style, but we assemble at the table. So, I will probably not make her a burrito. I will probably just put everything (including the salsa-she loves it) in piles on her plate. My question is this, do you think that I should allow her preferences where practical? By practical, I mean things like juevos rancheros, where it is really no more work are the way that she wants it, and things that are impractical to separate like casssaroles, soups, ect. are served the way they are cooked–together. She has to deal with that.
Thank you for your time.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to eat the food separate. Many adults eat this way as well as children. And actually, it is more simply on us moms to put things on plates separately then assembly it all together. Win-win for kid and parent.
One “food battle” that really irritates me is when parents make their kids finish their plate before leaving the table. Some people call this “the clean plate club.” All this does is forces over-eating when not hungry and then parents wonder why their kid is over-weight. Duh! If your kid doesn’t want to eat all their dinner, so be it, and maybe as a parent we should look into eating less at meals ourselves….learn from our children who don’t eat when not hungry.