"You have to eat two bites of chicken before I get you a donut." Dad chimed in with, "Chicken makes you strong, you know! Come on! Just two bites! Its protein!" The child remained quiet, but given that I heard this refrain throughout our entire meal, and as we were leaving, I am guessing he never ate the chicken. (Did he go home to a snack since Mom and Dad might not want him to go to bed hungry? Did they give in and let him eat donuts so he would at least eat something?)
In the meantime M again tried, and declared that she liked the green beans, asking for seconds. She ate some shrimp, noodles and broccoli, and we enjoyed our meal. She told me about planting the garden at school and we shared how we both missed Daddy when he worked late.
At one point, the non-chicken eater popped up and looked at us smiling, as kids do at booths. I overheard the family telling the waitress that he was 2 1/2 and the older brother was 9.
I thought many things during this meal...
Can I give them my card? Probably would not be welcome.
Unfortunately this scenario is more common than not, with 85% of parents of Kindergartners regularly pushing foods on kids. I fear that this has become the norm, and it doesn't have to be.
Was anyone actually enjoying dinner? Here is this wonderful family, with health and resources to be able to eat out together. It seemed like such a missed opportunity. It seemed like no one was having fun. Mom and Dad were caught up in the struggle with the two year old, and big brother hardly said anything.
What is my daughter M thinking as she hears these types of comments over and over again. At birthday parties where parents are bribing kids to eat one bite of noodle, or one Quesadilla before they get cake...
Although these scenarios are the norm, they don't have to be. Maybe if Mom knew that meats can be really hard for kids to warm up to, she could have backed-off the pressure. Maybe if he'd been offered some eggs or yogurt earlier in the day, or had milk with dinner she wouldn't worry about his protein intake. Maybe it would have helped if Dad had been told by the pediatrician that kids his age eat erratically and often eat very little at some sittings, and more at others. Maybe he had been born prematurely or had some other illness that made Mom and Dad concerned with his weight and intake- yet were going about things the wrong way. Maybe if there had been no pressure, he might have taken a bite on his own. Remember, 2 1/2 year olds don't like to always do what Mom and Dad want :)
I suggest that if anyone has concerns about feeding, tape-record or video with the lens cap on, a few meals at your home. (Video tends to be intimidating.) Count how many times you pressure, bribe, suggest, cajole, beg your child to eat more, less, certain foods etc. How do you feel after a meal? Defeated, anxious, angry? Wouldn't it be nice to feel satisfied, happy, closer to your family (at least most meals?)
I think my biggest challenge in reaching parents might be getting the message across that it doesn't have to be so hard. You shouldn't have to work so hard! Your job is basically to put a variety of foods on the table at roughly scheduled times, and then let your child choose how much and if. If you eat a variety of foods, trust that as in everything else he does, your child wants to grow up and master this skill too. Obviously there's more to it, but this is the basic message.