Thursday, March 26, 2009

Does it feel like you're working too hard?

A few nights ago, M and I went to our local Chinese Buffet (really a very good one) and settled into our booth. I popped up to get her noodles, broccoli and shrimp, as well as a few green beans which she wasn't too keen on the last time. Before I got back, I couldn't help but overhear the diners at the booth  behind us. 

"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.



  1. My husband and I have been talking about this a lot. I've shared what I've learned from you because we are really butting heads with Jack at mealtimes if it's something he maybe doesn't want to eat. What we're noticing is that he wants to snack all day long and then eats very little at meal time. I am making an effort to not label foods a snack food or a treat food or a meal food and just offer healthy, beneficial foods. Usually. As we are now approaching meal time with the intention of not offering the "eat two bites of this and you'll get this" bribe, I am surprised how it pushes my buttons quickly. :) I realize how much I/we try to control his food intake and it becomes a power struggle. That shouldn't be the point of a meal. I really appreciate this subject and I think we're learning a lot. Yesterday Jack only wanted a piece of bologna for lunch. He ignored his grapes and milk. I let him leave the table with the understanding that the next time he was hungry he would be having grapes. He was not happy about this and we went back and forth for a while but after his nap he was hungry and ate his grapes happily. But I could tell he wanted me to notice he had done what I wanted him to do. I wonder if this is a wrong approach? I am trying to find a balance.

    Another question: when M decides she is finished eating a meal, do you excuse her from the table or does she sit with you until everyone is done? This becomes more of a behavioral issue, I know, but I'm curious how you handle it.

    On an allergy note: I discovered SunButter this week. Sunflower Seed Butter. It's delicious and peanut free!

  2. I think its neat that you can feel something isn't working for your family and you're trying to fix it. This is exactly the situation I often work with when I counsel families. (I do phone coaching, usually 30 minute sessions every 2 weeks or so...) Anyway, getting Jack on a schedule will likely help the most! Trying to only eat meals/snacks roughly every 2-3 hours. Say no to grazing in between, other than water (helps prevent cavities too.) Expect some tantrums during the transition. I have some other thoughts about the grapes etc, but this is getting long! Read Child Of Mine by Satter for more specifics, or give me a call! Allowing them to develop an appetite is key to variety. Good for you for stepping back a little. There is alot of info out there to support you. I let M down when she is done. Some days its 10 minutes, if she's hungry and loves what she's eating its 25 or so. A 2-3 year old might only be able to sit for 5 minutes, and that's OK. They should be expected to find something to do, legos, playdo etc so you can finish your meal (yeah right!) It takes time to make these changes, but its so much more peaceful if you can!
    Keep me posted!