Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sending out an SOS... (Imagine Sting singing it- it's better that way)

Help.
I am having some serious struggles with picky eaters in my house.
And just so you know, I have already done a lot of homework on this issue. I have read several books, talked to my pediatrician, discussed it with the playgroup mom crew, etc. And here's where I am:
I am not an overly-permissive parent (at all), but I have decided that our dinner table cannot be a battle zone. We've been down that road too many times, and I'm not up for it. My sweet husband (bushed from a day of being a principal) isn't' up for it. It's not good for our family morale. And every "expert" I talk to (or read) advises against forcing kids to eat foods they don't want. From my own childhood experience, I'd have to agree. We were made to eat vegetables as children, and now my brother and I have strong aversions to many of those same vegetables. In fact, the only way you will get a green pea in my mouth is to stuff it into my cold, dead body.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve my father and brother's nightly dinnertime stand-off over my brother cleaning his plate. Being the obedient, older child, one stern glance from my father would have me stuffing my entire vegetable serving into my mouth and swallowing them without chewing, chased by a big gulp of milk. But not my brother- he would sit there for a good hour having a stare-down with my dad. Dad always won, but it wasn't pretty. (And then there was the scene the night my dad found a big wad of chewed-up green beans in the bathroom trashcan.) I used to feel so sorry for my brother, but now that I'm a parent, I feel retrospective sympathy for my poor dad. There he was, after a hard day at the office, wanting only the recliner and newspaper, faced with my defiant brother and a plate of peas. He did what he thought was right, but it seems the end result was that he rasied a boy who became a man who hates vegetables.
I am determined that my children eat (mostly) healthy foods. I'm not a nut about it- some goldfish or animal crackers here and there don't stress me out, if they have been eating the healthy stuff too. But I really do want them to develop healthy habits- healthier than mine were as a child/adolescent.
I have tried to "put the healthy food on their plate and just let them choose what they want." It doesn't work very well at my house. Here is what happens. Brother (21 months) will look at a plate with tiny bites of roast beef, small pieces of fresh green bean, small pieces of whole wheat french bread, and watermelon bites. He will fuss that he wants the meat off the tray. We say something like, "It's OK. Just let it stay there." He will then proceed to eat every bite of watermelon and holler for more. We say, "Eat your other foods first!" He then says "No no!" and makes swiping motions at the beans and roast. He will half-heartedly eat a few bites of bread, drink some milk, and then ask again for watermelon.
Here's my question- what would you do next? We have tried holding the watermelon hostage until other foods are tasted. It results in a lot of crying and no more food is eaten.
We have tried making him stay in the chair until other foods are tasted. It results in a lot of crying and no more food is eaten.
We have tried keeping him from a favorite activity (watching Elmo on TV) until he tastes the other foods. It results in a lot of crying and no more food is eaten.
So, my friends, any suggestions???
Sister is getting (a little) easier now that she's 3 and 1/2 because we can reason with her a bit, hold out on sweets and snacks, etc. But the almost-2-year-old-boy is my challenge.
I would appreciate any and all advice. And if you do post a reply in the comments, check back because I may ask you a follow-up question there. Thanks!

13 comments:

Christine said...

My kids are now 10, 8 and 5. First, let me say that your kids are TOTALLY NORMAL FOR THAT AGE. If they were voracious eaters of everything you put in front of them, that could also be considered TOTALLY NORMAL.

So, first and foremost, don't fret. Normal. You. Your kids. It's all okay.

Now, here's the trick: only keep healthy choices in your house. Period. Also, realize that some kids will live on one basic food for weeks at a time, and then migrate to something else (reminds me of our pregnancy cravings).

I swear, my oldest child ate only cheese for a good year and a half. Occasionally she'd take a piece of ham, too ... maybe.

You don't have to ever make them try anything. However, exposure is the key. My 10-year-old is eating food this year that she has NEVER wanted to try. Yet, she has seen it come across our dinner table over the last ten years, and this year was when she decided to give it a shot. My son is still CRAZY picky (if you are what you eat - he is a giant carbohydrate). So, I always keep lots of whole grain goodness in the house. My youngest is the not-picky eater. I didn't know there were children like that. It has been quite an odd occurrence for us!

Some people push harder. Some insist on making them try things. I haven't, and my kids eat healthy foods - only wheat bread, natural peanut butter, healthy cereals, etc.

We don't argue over food - ever. I keep a staple handy. If they don't wish to eat anything on the table, they can make a sandwich, or have nitrate-free deli meat, cheese and whole grain crackers (homemade lunchable!).

When we do have treats, it's never as a part of a meal. That way there is no disappointments or bribery. Cookies come at snack time. Everyone gets the same amount.

I'm babbling - sorry. As a mother of older children, I would suggest that you don't worry about it, as long as you keep that pantry full of good things.

Meg said...

I feel your pain. I've all but given up. My kids subsist largely on macaroni and chicken nuggets. I have the Deceptively Delicious cookbook, and the only thing I've really used consistently from there is adding pureed cauliflower to the macaroni. Most everything else in the book they won't eat. There's some universal rule about the more time Mom spends preparing the food, the less likely the kids are to eat it.

I grew up drinking instant breakfast in the morning and eating spaghettios for dinner. Now I eat salmon, brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, etc. It'll turn out okay (I think).

Just know you're NOT alone on this one!

Shannon @ Some Fine Taters said...

My daughters (one is 4.5, the other is 17 months) love their veggies.

I think there are three keys to getting kids to eat healthy food:
1)make sure it tastes good
2)model
3)don't make poor options available

For #1: Don't serve canned veggies. Corn and green beans are occasionally ok canned, but that's it. Use fresh or frozen veggies and serve raw or lightly steamed. They don't need salt, butter, oil, etc., though healthy dips can be fun (yogurt based dressing, for example). Grow veggies in the garden & let the kids pick & eat on the spot.

For #2: I don't think this requires explanation.

For #3: Even healthy options, if highly favored, have been known to make a temporary disappearing act in my house.

To directly answer your question about the watermelon, either a)there wouldn't be a next b/c we wouldn't serve the watermelon with a meal at all or b)('cause it could happen with anything) 4.5 y/old would have to eat more of her other food before getting 2nds, but 17 m/old would be allowed more of whatever, provided it's a healthy option. (Horrible double standard? Maybe.) Also w/ 17 m/old, the food item in question would be removed from sight after dishing up seconds.

I actually have issues with my 17 m/old wanting to eat peas to the exclusion of everything else. I give her a large portion at the beginning of the meal and there are no seconds (literally; we don't leave any peas in the pot). Everyone else has to try and finish their peas before she's done with hers, or she'll be begging for some off someone else's plate!

Beck said...

Just hide the watermelon away until later - and don't let him know about it. For the next couple of days, stick to foods that you know he'll eat and gradually start adding in new things. Something I read said that it takes 10 exposures for kids to accept a new food, and at his age, most foods are new!

We are THAT Family said...

I don't have many suggestions, but I did receive a ton with my picky eater post on my blog b/c my toddler would only eat beige food! Try to stick with healthy choices.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I can only second the comments already here: Just keep offering the healthy food, keep healthy food in the house, don't make it a battle and remember it's only a phase.

My children are 6, 4 and 8 weeks. Our four-year-old is still at a picky stage. He does what your toddler does; he eats the one thing on his plate each night that he likes then begs for seconds of that one thing. We just tell him no, that he doesn't have to eat anything but he won't get a treat or other food until he does. I would say 6 out of 7 nights, he eats three bites for dinner. But you know what? He's not going to starve himself to death. If he doesn't want to eat, I can't make him eat. I can only make sure he has healthy options for the times he's hungry.

Good luck! This is SUCH a common thing with preschoolers. I've found that continuing to offer new and healthy foods will "break them down" eventually.

Andrea said...

I'd say just go with the flow. You're doing all you're supposed to, by offering healthy choices the majority of the time (let's face it - we all want to eat fries at some point! Let them!!). You're correct in not wanting to make food an issue now so it doesn't become an issue later. Most kids just don't have an extensive palate, and THAT'S OKAY! All my kids are choosy eaters,and they're all very healthy and prefer healthy foods for the most part.

I think that our generation has been bombarded by our own parents and their parents old thinking that you have to eat everything offered to you no matter what, and that is what makes it difficult for us. The point is to respect that we all have different preferences when it comes to food. Of course, in my house, if I make it and you don't like it, you don't have to eat it, but I won't necessarily make something different! There are limits!
The only thing I insist on my kids eating a minimum of is meat (and it's minimal at best!) simply because they don't eat a lot of protein. And I don't let them have a snack 20 mins later if they won't eat what is offered to them. But otherwise, we pretty much just let them decide at supper.

Chrissy said...

I totally and completely agree with Christine.

I have been there and done that, well, every night it seems for 7 years. My kids still aren't great eaters, so I may not be the best person to give advice, but I have to agree with you about not making dinner a battle. Eating should be a pleasant time for your family, not a war. And you don't want to get into a control battle you can't win.

I actually saw a dietition for my pickiest kid, who was underweight, and she assured me that my job was to present the food, and the kid's job was to eat it. After I do my job, there's nothing else I can do.

Hang in there.

Jessica B. said...

Our daughter is 18 months... we give her some of whatever we are having for dinner. Sometimes she literally eats one bite, but so far it hasn't caused a problem. I just try to mix up the dinners so if there is something I know she is not crazy about the next night we have something I know she will eat in excess.
Watermelon for dinner is not the worst thing ever. If he was eating Cheetos for dinner you might want to worry. I figure if it grows in or on the ground it can't be that bad.

Last night Charlotte ate shredded cheese for dinner. I think she might have taken a bite of biscuit, but mostly it was just cheese.


Another things I read talked about tracking nutrition for a baby/toddler over the course of a week instead of at each meal. You could make a simple chart of how many grains/fruits/veggies you want him to eat over the course of the whole week and cross them off as you go- I bet you find he is eating better than you think.

Jennifer said...

Well. Sounds familiar.

I have a 13 and an almost-11 year old, and until they were maybe 8 and 10 they ate noodles and butter and fruit and breads mostly. Now they are perfectly lovely eaters and quite adventurous ones, too.

I can't say exactly why (which is rather encouraging in itself!), but we did do this thing for awhile where we had "cooking club" and once a week we had friends over to cook dinner, then our families would eat together. I'm wondering if being a part of the process made them more interested.

They were also 8 and 10, though. It wouldn't work for Jack now, at
6, I'm sure.

I think Beck's advice sounds like the simplest thing and perhaps the best to start with. I'm very big on hiding the goods!!! Some kids are so darn tenacious!

I don't think you should force it, either, by the way. I share your opinions on that, and even have some of the same memories!! :) Those brothers.

Good luck with all that, and if you have a brilliantly successful idea, please write a book.

Speaking of which, have your read "Deceptively Delicious?" I resisted, then fell for it. It was too cutely packaged to pass it up when it went on sale. I haven't tried anything yet, but the freezer is half full of pureed veggies now, waiting to be snuck into my unsuspecting son's noodles and soup. :)

Michelle said...

We have the same issue at our dinner table--my 2.5 yr old has a hard time tolerating what she doesn't want to eat on her plate--she.must.remove.it. It's crazy. But we don't push it, and I've noticed she never eats after dinner or acts the least bit hungry. She's much more a lunch girl.

One little trick hubby discovered was to play "cheers" with the food--instead of clinking glasses as in a toast, he'll hold up a green bean and say "cheers" and MAM will tap her green bean to his and *maybe* take a bite.

She's growing and gaining weight, so those little bites here and there must add up!

mbsabre said...

"No Thank you Bites"

My mother's plan worked great for my sister and I. We grew up ALWAYS having to take what is now called - "no thank you-bites." In our house, that means my picky 7 year old has to take 2 or 3 real bites of the offending food POLITELY. If she makes a stink - then she has to eat more - or all of it. Occasionally she is surprised and likes something. She is TERRIBLY picky, but I have faith that she will grow into more foods. You know - it takes at least 14 times to like a new food?? (I think she may be on the 50 exposure plan - but she will get there.) At least it worked for my sister and I. My last two food challenges were liver and lima beans - and I eventually learned to like even them.

My 11 year old was born adventurous - so he was easy. My two year old is a real challenge. IF he is hungry and starts eating the nutritious part of a meal BEFORE he knows what else is available, I might get an extra serving of vegetables in. If he smells Pizza, nothing else will do. That means, get more fruit and veggies in on the earlier meals of the day.

Occasionally he will understand "First peas, Then pizza" but that is only occasionally. We try to use the "FIRST - THEN" phrase often to help daily actions. "First clean diaper, Then read a book."

Good luck.

mbsabre said...

"No Thank you Bites"

My mother's plan worked great for my sister and I. We grew up ALWAYS having to take what is now called - "no thank you-bites." In our house, that means my picky 7 year old has to take 2 or 3 real bites of the offending food POLITELY. If she makes a stink - then she has to eat more - or all of it. Occasionally she is surprised and likes something. She is TERRIBLY picky, but I have faith that she will grow into more foods. You know - it takes at least 14 times to like a new food?? (I think she may be on the 50 exposure plan - but she will get there.) At least it worked for my sister and I. My last two food challenges were liver and lima beans - and I eventually learned to like even them.

My 11 year old was born adventurous - so he was easy. My two year old is a real challenge. IF he is hungry and starts eating the nutritious part of a meal BEFORE he knows what else is available, I might get an extra serving of vegetables in. If he smells Pizza, nothing else will do. That means, get more fruit and veggies in on the earlier meals of the day.

Occasionally he will understand "First peas, Then pizza" but that is only occasionally. We try to use the "FIRST - THEN" phrase often to help daily actions. "First clean diaper, Then read a book."

Good luck.