After yet another night of more tears shed than food consumed, my husband and I feel as though we have reached our breaking point! I have food issues in my past so I'll admit that I am hyper-sensitive about this but I am trying not to pass this on to my daughters! I have 2 - a 3.5 yo and a 1 yo. The 1 yo eats little bits of anything you put in front of her. They tell me at school (daycare/preschool) that the 3.5 yo is one of the best eaters in the classroom and eats whatever they give her. (They offer a food program) However, eating at home is the exact opposite. She'll eat maybe 40% of the food that we eat so when we have something she won't eat, we'll often make her something else.
Sometimes she will eat what we give her, other times she won't, and still other times she'll ask for something different mid-meal. I should also note that she typically has a treat (popsicle or fruit snacks) once she gets home and often asks for a snack before dinner. We tried a new recipe tonight and while at first she said she would eat, she ate maybe three pieces of elbow maccaroni amidst multiple crying fits. I finally told her she had to sit there until bedtime, which brought some of my own bad memories to the surface.
As I type this, I see the clear makings of a power struggle but I have no idea how to turn things around. Any help is much appreciated - and needed!
From: Christin, Chelmsford, MA
As I'm fond of saying, picky eaters are made, not born. But keep this in mind: feeding issues are hard for everyone, harder still for someone who has an eating issue in her past. But here's the first bit of good news: If either daughter was nutritionally challenged, you would be hearing about it from your pediatrician. So relax on that count. Whatever they are or aren't eating, it isn't threatening their well-being.
Next, when eating and food becomes a source of punishment -- as in, making her sit at the table -- you know you're on shaky ground. And you do know that, otherwise you wouldn't be writing!
I consulted with Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and blogger, and she agrees with that assessment. Here's her advice:
"First, ditch the right-before-dinner snack (which may mean you'll need to do some advance planning so dinner gets on the table sooner). Second, take out the drama. Be simple and matter-of-fact about it. You are all going to sit down to eat together, because that's what families do. It's important to stress the togetherness and conversation part of family dinner; take the emphasis off the menu. She may or may not like the food. If she doesn't want to eat the new recipe, insist on her trying 3 bites. Being calm and matter-of-fact about it is key. If she does that, she can have an alternative meal—but not the way you are doing it. The alternative meal must be (a) wicked easy for you to make, so that it doesn't interfere with your family meal time, and (b) boring. In our house, the alternative meals for balkers are either a bowl of Cheerios (plain, no Honey Nut stuff) or microwaved leftover spaghetti (we make it once a week and make extra for leftovers). There are no other choices.
"It may take a while for it to sink in that you really aren't going to make her what she wants, but she'll get it eventually. And putting the emphasis on being together will help re-frame the power issue. It's okay if she has some meals where she barely eats; that's part of what may need to happen for it all to sink in. If you aren't getting anywhere, or you have other worries about her or her diet, give your doctor a call."
I want to stress five of Dr. McCarthy's words: "calm and matter-of-fact." To which I would also add: firm. So: be firm, calm and matter-of-fact. Turn away from her when she starts demanding something else. Don't give her attention. And don't worry. She will not go hungry. Children's bodies don't let that happen.
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