Me vs. My Toddler: Food Wars in the Jones House and What I Did Wrong
You know what is awesome?
Baby food is easy, peasy, rice and cheesey, or at least it was with my little E. Sit him in the high chair, shovel in some organic puree and ten minutes later we're off to play!
Then we started solid food. Ohh, boy.
Now, I know my child is stubborn. With his genes, he can't NOT be stubborn. From his dad he gets the quiet, determined (coughcoughpigheadedcough) stubborness of the "You canNOT make me do something I don't want to do" variety. From me, he gets the loud, easy to anger but quick to cool, "Oh crap flash of rage" type stubborness of knowing I am always RIGHT and what are you people THINKING trying to posion me with green beans.
Over the past few months, we have been really struggling with eating. He would be doing great and then for weeks at a time would fuss, and throw things, and refuse to eat food that used to be his favorites. I relied a lot on milk, yogurt and those organic fruit and veggie puree pouches.
We would war at the dinner table, me determined for him to eat his chicken and him equally determined NOT to eat it. Sometimes I would force (yes, cringe) a bite into his mouth and he would go, "Oh, I like this! Maybe I will eat after all!" Sometimes he would open his mouth, stick out his tongue and let the offending food slide slowly and defiantly onto his bib.
I grew to dread mealtimes. They left me stressed, sweating and feeling totally defeated. I felt like a total failure. Often both of us were in tears by the end of it. A few times, I yelled at him. Once, I told my husband I needed a break RIGHT NOW or I might just totally lose it.
My incredibly wise grandmother offered tentative advice (remember how we covered the fact that I am a bit stubborn?). Her question was, "Have you ever seen a dead cat in a tree?" The lesson being that people spend hours of effort trying to coax Fluffy down when, in reality, she will disembark when she is darn good and ready. "If he is hungry, he will eat."
I listened...sort of. But what about NUTRITION? He can't possibly be getting enough nurtients, or calories, or vitamins, or calcium. He needs to EAT.
Last weekend, after the "I need a break RIGHT NOW" moment, I took to Facebook to ask my many wise friends and relatives for advice. How do I survive? Any tips, tricks or book recommendations?
I was rewarded with a rich response of practical and humorous advice:
"Don't let him turn you into a short order cook. He gets what everyone else at the table gets, or nothing."
"Supplement with Pediasure and yogurt."
"They will get what their body needs and start trying new foods over time. Don't worry about it too much."
"Don't set yourself up for failure, and most importantly don't back down."
"If you know he won't eat something, wait a few months and try it again."
"Sneak veggie purees in whenever you can."
It was all great advice, supplemented by a really helpful book called The No Cry Picky Eater Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.
A line from this book really resonated with me. It said, "It is not your job to make your child eat. It is your job to offer him healthy options at meal and snack times."
I have been implementing these changes for less than a week, and the change in our mealtimes has been dramatic and beautiful. No more do we war, or yell, or force, or coerce.
Here is my strategy: I fill a divided plate with three or four items - at least two of which he generally likes. I set it in front of him, turn to my dinner and ignore any outbursts or protests. When he saw his spaghetti and started crying "No, no!" I simply removed the bowl and went back to my dinner (and he did wind up eating a few bites of it). I do not offer him an alternative to the meal. I do not give him anything sweet after dinner unless he has eaten well that meal (and even then it is not given as a reward - I simply quietly give him a graham cracker). I do not ever force him to try something, although I will smear things on his lips for him to taste. I do not yell, or get visibly upset, or speak sternly to him. When he says, "All done" I remove his plate and he drinks his milk while the rest of us finish dinner.