July 21, 2010

Another Round of Tough Love

Before I had children, I always said I would never be the type of parent who forced her children to eat. I grew up with a mom who didn't make us finish everything on our plate. My sister and I were super-picky eaters, so from time to time my mom would make us a different meal than she made for my dad and her to eat. Then I had quadruplets....
Sorry, but I'm not a short-order cook. I make my girls one meal and that's it. OK, from time to time if I make something that I KNOW one of them dislikes, then I may offer an alternative, but it's always leftovers.
Sue Sue is my pickiest eater and she and I are currently engaged in a battle. Lately, she has refused to eat breakfast. What?! It's the most important meal of the day. I finally figured out that it's because for awhile I was in such a rush that the girls were only being served Pop Tarts (yeah, yeah, not the healthiest, but whatever). Now that I've had time to give them choices (waffles, cereal, French toast, fruit), she has started eating again.
Last night, though, the battle carried over to dinner. I made spaghetti, which all four of the girls like. Sue Sue was on board... until she found out there wasn't any bread. I usually throw a Pillsbury French loaf in the oven, but didn't plan ahead and ran out of time last night. First, she wouldn't sit at the table. Then when I coaxed her to the table, she refused to eat. I made a tough decision: she didn't have to eat, she just had to sit at the table while her sisters ate. She didn't eat a crumb.
I hate sending my daughters away from a meal with an empty stomach... but I have to take a stance. If my daughters take one bite of something new and truly don't like it, then, yes, I ignore my rule of not being a short order cook. But when my daughters refuse to eat just because... then I have to be "that mom." Not eating for one meal won't damage them. If they're truly hungry, they'll eat. I don't want my daughters to have issues with food. I don't want them to think they have to eat every morsel on their plate and I don't want them to think eating is the only way to make Mommy happy.
Still, I'm open for suggestions. What do you do when your children refuse to eat?


Sadia said...

I don't have any suggestions. We do the same thing; sometimes, our kids choose to go hungry.

Nicole said...

I have told my mother the other day I was so thankfull she made me eat all the things I didn't like... always a bite, always a taste... and then she would galop everything else down and say "good! there's more for me!"
Now I really enjoy food!
My mother always said that during war they were having plain food and she eat all that the other girls didn't like... Soon the teachers realised that at one table everyone was eating so well... :-)
My mother would say "you don't want it? She swallowed it down!
They splited the girls and it happened again... the girls realised that if they said "I don't like this" they would go very hungry because someon else swallowed ther meal!!!
My triplets hated salads... they had to have a bite... now they fight who is going to finish the salad!!!

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

Our girls are only 18 months old, so I can't speak from experience with older children, but I think your approach is very logical. If I serve our girls something new that I'm not sure they'll like, I make sure to serve it along with something else I know they do like (they didn't care for my roasted eggplant, but they ate the sweet potatoes). I insist they at least try the new item; I'd really prefer them to have two or three bites. If they don't like it, they still have the other part of the meal, but I never fix something else for them altogether. I also serve fruit as a part of every meal...I never label it as "dessert", just a part of the meal. The girls love fruit, so I can count on them eating that.

When I serve something the girls usually like (as you did with spaghetti) and they won't eat it, I have to assume they're "not hungry"...either in actuality, or they're playing. I wholeheartedly agree with you not fixing Sue Sue something else to eat.

The whole area of food is such a tricky one to me. As you mentioned, I want to be careful not to make mealtime a power struggle. I want to encourage the girls to eat a varied, healthy diet, but I don't want to force them to eat, nor to praise them too much just for eating. Aargh...so many considerations in trying not to psychologically scar them! :)

Great topic...I look forward to seeing others' comments.

MaryAnne said...

Emma used to eat nothing, and now she eats everything. Johnny still eats very little actual food. He pretty much lives off of milk, which means he is hungry and grumpy a lot. I do try to pay attention when he does eat (without letting him know) and to then incorporate things I've seen him eat into dinner menus. It seems to be working okay, and it was the approach I took with Emma back when she was pulling the same stunt...

Stephanie said...

I think you did the right thing. She made her choice and she was stuck with it. Sometimes life works that way.

Christina said...

Mine are 28 months and they get 2 options.
1-Eat what I give you
2-Don't eat

That's it. I don't cook them stuff they don't like, so if they are going to sit and stare at it, or play with it and not eat it, well, I guess they don't eat. Starting bad habits like being a "cook" so young can only lead to problems right?

Quadmama said...

As I was reading these responses, I remembered that when the girls were bottle-fed I used Christina's method. Eat what I give you or don't. We had a strict schedule in place so if anyone didn't want a bottle they had to wait until the next feeding or I risked throwing our entire schedule into total chaos.

Kim said...

My kids have always been good eaters, until my eldest turned 12. She's the "pickiest" at the moment, insisting she doesn't like certain foods before she's even tried them. I usually ask her to take at least one or two bites.

I try not to engage in power/control struggles over food; that said, I am not a restaurant. I only cook one meal and everyone eats it. If a child isn't hungry or doesn't want to eat it, I don't make a big deal or force them to eat. I'll just save their plate for later, in case they're hungry then. They won't get treats or a dessert, that's for sure—not because I'm punishing them, but because it would be eating a cookie for breakfast or ice cream for their dinner.

Good luck. Sounds like you've actually got a good handle on the situation.

Marilynne said...

What I DID was to wrap the meal and put it in the refrigerator. When my child got hungry, it was there waiting to be eaten.

So long as the child is thriving in general, it's not important for them to eat every meal. They can skip one now and then or eat light one meal and then pig out the next. They aren't uniformly hungry at every meal.

During a time of light eating, be sure any snacks they get are healthy.

reanbean said...

We do exactly what you did. Eat it or don't. My two don't have to eat everything in front of the, but they do have to eat something from their plate to get dessert. I like Marilynne's idea about saving the food for later in case the kid changes their mind. Perhaps I'll try that one out someday. At the moment, we've got two pretty good eaters (knock on wood).

Brooke said...

My mom was a total short-order cook, and subsequently my sister and I became extremely picky eaters. I've had to fight the instinct to cook different food for each kid - but I do compromise a little. I let Mo (4) have a PBJ or leftovers if he truly doesn't like what we're eating - but the kicker is that he must do it himself (he can assemble a PBJ or microwave leftovers)- I won't make him his own/different meal. Maybe I'm too soft on him, but so far it's worked well and he mostly ends up just eating what I'm serving.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has 10 kids and her rule is that they can either eat what she's serving, or have a PB&J. Our rule is eat what's for dinner or have a bowl of cereal. 9 times out of 10 they eat what's for dinner, but we have phases where everyone eats a lot of cereal. I get it since sometimes, I'm not really in the mood for what I made either!

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