Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food Battles: The Toddler Years

For months DH and I have been engaged in food battles with Cameron. It was been a soul sucking experience that has resulted in parental disagreements, tears (on Cameron's part) and zero desire to approach the dinner table (all of us).

Part of the fault rests with us, I know. We can't get our crap together and have regular family dinners. Cameron does better with eating when we eat together but we typically serve something we know she will eat (pasta) and we have only been able to manage it 1-2 times a week. Even when we don't eat with her we are in the kitchen and usually at the table with her interacting and talking about our days.

I get it, I really do. Cameron is a picky eater. And I've struggled with food issues all my life so I can appreciate rejecting food for texture or appearance issues. But I want her to at least try the food before declaring she won't eat it. The crazy thing is that she eats a much wider variety of food at daycare but even if we serve her the same exact thing at home she rejects it. There are maybe 7-8 foods she will eat for dinner (aside from fruit). The lack of variety is frustrating and makes me feel like a parenting failure.

DH and I have been struggling with the appropriate tact to take in dealing with this issue. And it is an issue because instinctively Cameron knows that food equals control. Her rejection of new foods keeps us essentially fawning over her trying to get her to eat it. So my mindset now is that we just prepare the food for her (with 1 or 2 new foods mixed in with the standbys) give it to her and then refuse to engage. She doesn't eat it? Then it stays on her plate and she doesn't get dessert (we don't do dessert every night but have been using it as bribe lately which has been wildly unsuccessful). We haven't caved and cooked or given her alternate food in many months so that isn't a problem for us. It's more about curbing our impatience with Cameron's approach to food.

I would never punish Cameron for not eating because I know that leads to more food issues and frankly she is far too young for the whole "if you don't eat something then it's time for bed" type of discipline. But where do we go from here? Do we just grit our teeth and continue with the plan mentioned above? Are there other things you recommend we try?


Stephanie said...

I totally get where you're coming from. I, too, have had food issues and was hoping not to pass them on to my son.

While he does reject some food occasionally, he usually does pretty well and eats a wide variety now (at age 3). However, he does still have some days where he ONLY wants mac & cheese or cereal.

We try to eat together each night, as much as it is possible and I do NOT fuss over him eating. He gets meat, a starch and a veggie. If he eats, he eats. If not, no dessert. And believe me, no ice cream is a sad night for the boy.

I tried the hovering thing, but it just super frustrated me and him, so we tried this. He's growing and eats well, so we'll see.

Good luck!

LauraC said...

Was it you who wrote a post awhile ago and I recommended the feeding books? I thought it was you. Anyway transition to table food ranks right up there with potty training in terms of parent frustration levels.

The thing to keep in mind is that young children NATURALLY have fear of new foods. It is what protects them in nature from eating dangerous foods. This is what they are programmed to do. That is why it takes up to 15 introductions for a child to accept a new food.

Kids run the gamut on this. Alex LITERALLY had to see a food at home 15 times before he would even touch it. That is not being picky, to me. That is how he is programmed. So we took it as our job to make sure he would get 1-3 foods we knew he liked at each meal and then introduce foods repeatedly. It was frustrating, boring, and exhausting. As are many parts of parenting.

I'd say it is important to do this early because when they reach 3-4, most kids go through a phase where they will ONLY eat things they have eaten before. Again I read that it is because this is when they would have been released into nature to care for themselves so brains are programmed to only eat what they KNOW is safe. That is when kids go on super long mac & cheese or chicken nugget binges.

The nice part about my kids' age now is I can tell them they are not allowed to get up until they try a bite of every item on their plate. Just one bite. Impossible to do before 4.5 as it is just a big battle!

Stacey said...

Laura - I did read that book you recommended but it's stil so frustrating. Mostly because I know what I'm supposed to do but we am hardwired to want results NOW. The curse of working in corporate America, I guess. We'll keep chugging along and frequently sigh "this too will pass." Of course if there is that phase you mentioned of only eating known foods we are screwed with our 7-8 available options currently.

Drew said...

I too feel chicken nuggets, mac n cheese and grilled cheese cannot be the only option for this guy. We introduce things and have a whatever attitude about them now. He eats it, great - he doesn't, fine. I feel like the less you care the more they eat. The other night we all sat down to dinner together (which I know is terrible, but I try to avoid. I like to have family time while he eats and adult eating time later), it was meatloaf. Not one of his regulars. He ate it! Not only he ate it, but my husband ate it too! It was a funny picture looking over at the both of them doucing it in ketchup, but they ate it... I think because Joel Husband and I were so distracted with our own food that we were too busy to micromanage his eating. He just sat there and ate on his own. Maybe this is why Cameron eats better when you guys eat too? And at Daycare?

Another thought about the daycare thing is - does she it lunch well at home? Maybe she just is not hungry at dinner time...

Some thoughts that have helped us to do better. Mixing peas in with the mac n cheese, blueberries in with the cereal. He will eat things that he can "dip" - so we have pancakes and syrup, anything with ketchup. If he refuses something three times in a row, I take it off the rotation for a while. He loved cottage cheese and yogurt so much he ate them every day - but then all the sudden stopped. So, I stopped offering it to him. This morning he wanted Mommy's yogurt, so we are back in action with that again.

I have tremendous food issues and I yell at anyone who tries to bribe him with "one more bite." (though I have been known to do that myself). We have had weekends with other kids lately and I notice they eat far less than Joel Andrew every sitting - so if he does not do well one meal I do not take it to heart. I think that is the key, just no stressing go with the flow and they will not starve themselves. Get her on a flinstones or something so you know she is not missing out on vitamins and you are good to worry less...

Anonymous said...

My friend successfully instituted the "No Thank You bite", and her kids actually do it (and by taking that first bite, often continue eating the food). I tried it, and it didn't work for us, but I still think it's brilliant.

Ellie's Mom said...

Take this for what it's worth because every kid is different. I've never had food issues with Ellie...

I just saw my ped today for her 2 year check up and he said that "picky eaters" are not picky, they are usually not hungry.

Ellie gets very few snacks during the day and when we eat dinner she eats what we eat. If she does not want to eat it, we are done... and that's that. She'll eat again when she's hungry.

Lately, she eats a few bites and wants to get up from her seat and sit in everyone's lap. Then she wants to graze from everyone elses plate. We are not allowing that. We are saying, if you are done, you can get down but Mommy's still eating...

So if you are not concerned that she won't eat and it's going to cause her immediate health concerns, try it...

Sorry for the assvice, but take it for what it's worth :)