Remember before you had kids you would say things like “I would never let my kids act like that”, or “I would never let them get away with that” or “I would never let them EAT that”!? Oh yeah, I said it all. And here is the lesson I learned about that: NEVER say never.
Here I go sounding like an old lady again, but ‘when I was a kid’…my mom made one dinner and we ate it, or went hungry. Mostly we ate it though, whether we wanted to or not, sometimes after hours at the table, through tears…but we ate it! I don’t know if it was all that bad, but I do know that I had to at least TRY a food before I committed to not eating it.
When I was a babysitting teenager, I would babysit these kids that would only eat 3 things: peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and fast food. I thought it was ridiculous! So my mom’s approach to meal time was to be my plan as well, it’s what I knew, it seemed appropriate. I would make one dinner, and my kids would EAT it! Right?! Well, in the time it took me to grow up, get married and have children, a lot changed in the grocery stores, and in the towns where we live. Processed and fast food became readily available, beautifully packaged and marketed like never before. This was going to be an uphill battle.
I was prepared for the battle though…until my first child was born, 15 weeks early, and weighing less than 1 pound. Needless to say, she spent a long time in the NICU, 5 months to be exact. She underwent multiple surgeries. She was intubated (on a ventilator) for about 2 months, and that was going to put a huge wrench in my plan. When we brought her home, we faced many challenges. She did not know how to eat. She had been on an IV and tube feedings for much of her hospital stay, and was very late to the bottle, which meant her oral motor skills were not what they ought to have been. She was given speech therapy, feeding therapy and other therapies as well, but it was a struggle. She didn’t experience ‘hunger’ until she was almost 3 years old. Her brain had ignored the feeling of hunger for so long (because of the IV, etc) that she learned to ignore it. She had extreme textural issues; there were certain foods that she simply couldn’t eat. As a result…I was cooking 2 meals, every day. So right away, my plans had to change.
Fast forward to child number 2, 3 and 4. How do you explain to them that one child is allowed an alternate meal, but they are not? Ugh…this has been a daily struggle for me. I so badly want them all to eat what I am making, but the precedent has been set. I will say, that 2 out of 4 will generally eat what we are eating, it’s the other 2 that are in cahoots to thwart my plan. But for how long? With the unhealthy, fast, over-processed and attractive alternatives, that are so readily available to them…will they ever grow out of picky eating?
So, your circumstances might be different, but I run into a lot of parents who have very different approaches to this issue. Do you make them sit at the table until they eat what is served? Does that form a very negative association with mealtime, and food? Do you make them eat one bite, and then they’re excused, but go hungry, and no snack later? Or do you make them take a bite, and then allow them to get something for themselves that they WILL eat? Or do you just make 2 dinners every night so that everyone is happy? You’ll see, I have no answer here. I personally do a little bit of all of the above. I haven’t found one approach that works for me…yet. But I’m open for suggestions. 🙂