Monday, October 11, 2010

crying over rice, and the tools to deal with the meal-time meltdowns

M loves rice, white rice mind you. (I know, it's a current favorite punching bag nutritionally-speaking.) I like both white and brown, prefer white with stir-fry and brown with a bolder, more tomato or squash-based meal.

Anyway, I forgot to push 'start' on the rice-cooker the other night and 15 minute count-down to dinner was on, with no rice. I got some hot, salted water to boil to serve pasta with the dish I threw together (left-over roasted chicken with the drippings, a can of diced tomatoes, sauteed leek, oldish peppers from the fridge, the last, tiny zucchini from the garden, Italian herbs...)

M lost it. She cried and whined that we were having noodles when she thought we were having rice. (She was TIRED after a long day at school/daycare and then swimming lessons...)
I took a big swig of my red-wine, and tried hard to stay neutral. (I was thinking, "darn-it," OK, I was thinking, "Damnit, I just cut up and cooked all this food, we had rice last night, you like pasta, stop whining and eat it!"

Instead, I put on my best Mommy-smile and said, "M, I know you're dissapointed. I am too. I wish I hadn't forgotten to push the start button, but I'm making pasta. It's not OK to whine or cry over what's for dinner. I know you will find something you can eat. Dinner will be a little later, would you like some cherry-tomatoes or carrots for an appetizer? Would you like some dip with it?"

She settled for some cherry tomatoes and our current favorite Netflix show Shaun the Sheep (from the Wallace and Gromit folks.) Within a few minutes it seemed all was forgotten.
D came home, we had dinner about ten minutes later than usual and we all enjoyed the pasta and stew.

The point? Kids are still kids. They whine, they throw fits, but you still get to decide what's for dinner and you still get to ask that they behave as is age appropriate. Don't cave in to whining, or crying that they don't like something. They will survive, even if they don't eat what you make for that meal and even the next. The point is also that even being really vigilant about following the Division of responsibility as we have done, doesn't mean we don't have the whining and fits, it just means we have the tools to deal with it with confidence, if not infinite patience...

Have you seen the division of responsibility help you manage meal-time melt-downs?


  1. I find that the old " you don't have to eat it if you don't like it" heads off most food-related tantrums my almost-five-year-old and almost-three-year-old. Plus, I love it when we go out somewhere to eat with other moms and kids and they spend the entire mealtime cajoling and negotiating and my kids just eat calmly.
    Also-Shaun the Sheep for the WIN! We like that shoe on netflix too!

  2. It's been helpful as my son continually demands peanutbutter and honey sandwiches for dinner even though I've obviously made something else. I tell him "It's supper time, not lunch time, so this is your supper food. Time to eat." He'll usually stop after that and pick at his dinner, eating some but mostly wasting it. He's learning, slowly but surely, he's got to eat dinner.

  3. My two-year-old often (OFTEN!) says he doesn't like what's for dinner and storms away from the table. Then about 5 minutes later, he climbs back up into his chair and takes a few bites. If I leave his plate at the table while we're cleaning up our dishes, he frequently eats even more. I never respond to his protests with anything more than, "This is what we're having for dinner." Kids love the drama!

  4. I love the way that this played out. I do just want to note, for the record, that cooking rice in a pot is really not any harder or more time-consuming than cooking pasta, since you have to boil the water to start with anyway :)

    I bring the water to a boil (twice as much water as rice), and throw in the rice, let the water boil again, which shouldn't take long, and then cover and turn down to the lowest heat. Depending on the rice, it takes about 15 minutes, which means 20 from start to finish. We don't own a rice cooker, although I'd like one, but the stovetop method works beautifully, just in case you weren't aware (a lot of people don't know how to cook rice on the stovetop!).

  5. jessidehl,
    it is interesting to then go out with friends who feed in the control model. I have to say, doing this work has kind of ruined eating out, or eating with kids. It makes me a little crazy to be next to "eat two more bite" battles while I am trying to enjoy dinner . Good for you!

  6. Heidi,
    Thanks for the reminder on rice! I love the cooker bc I can start it before I pick her up from school and we can hang out and it's done. I can usually cook up a protein and veggie then in under 20 minutes. I also find it comes out better in the cooker, but grew up making it in the pot. I grew up with Uncle Bens, but my mom would dice an onion and sautee it in oil, and toast the rice and then throw in 2:1 water or broth on special days! I still remember that crazy sizzling and bubble when we poured the water into the hot pot!

  7. Sally,
    thanks for your story! Yes, they do love the drama. It's kind of part of their job-description at two...

  8. jenincanada-
    perfect! More words to say always helps!

  9. I love the fact that I can say "If you don't want to eat it, don't eat it. Whatever." LOVE IT! I can't count the number of fights those words have diffused. And, to be fair, in a large number of cases the "I don't like it" food get eaten without comment. But yes, I still get whining if I serve a "disliked" food... even if they don't HAVE to eat it. They're both 9, so they realize that the "disliked" food could have been a "liked" food if I had chosen differently. That can be a bitter pill for them.

  10. This is a good story, Katja. Thank you for sharing. I like how this provides for discussing authoritative parenting (parent provides boundaries) and the Satter division of responsibility or sDFR (this is the most current abbreviation). However, I let the children whine or be upset, if they feel they need to, but tell them they can do it in another room then, come back in the kitchen when they are ready.

    I am with Heidi in that cooking rice like cooking pasta is easy. I learned this method from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's radio program.

  11. Thanks for clarifying, Ines! I am not always careful when I write these. I also ask M to leave if she's upset and join us when she's ready. I was raised having to have a perfect mood all the time, and so I *try* not to do the same to M. She usually snaps out of it pretty quickly, but occasionally does have to leave the room...

  12. It's funny how "you don't have to eat it, but that's what for dinner" diffuses most tantrums. I still sometimes get a bit of a whine that she would like to have pasta but most days it's okay. The big issue we're dealing with right now is that she is not allowed to be rude about what is served for dinner, in that she's not allowed to make a face or disgusting barfing noises when she sees is. I still have to remind her that all she has to do is politely decline the food she does not want to eat. She's almost 5 and we've only just begun feedin this way so I don't think she quite believes us yet when we say she doesn't have to eat it. Hopefully over time the 'disgustings' will dwindle away.

    BTW, can I just tell you how much I love this blog and how happy it has made me to read about this. Also, could you point me to some resources on how to handle the division of responsibility in feeding when you're introducing a baby to solid foods? My youngest is just a few weeks shy of 6 months and seems very interested in food. I'd like some insight on how to introduce her to solids in a non-threatening way.

    Thanks so much for everything.

  13. The best resource would be Child of Mine. Definitely worth reading soon! Also online look under resources... On iPhone. Hope that's a start. Let me know if u need more.

  14. We use the "if you don't want it, then don't eat it" technique as well, and when we really can let go of our innate anxiety, he and we do very well. Our 3 y.o. is very good at the not-eating if he doesn't want it part, and over the last few weeks, he is getting very-gradually-slightly-is-it-noticeable-yes-he-just-tried-something experimental with his food.

    The problem we have now, is that he had been getting up 5 or 6 times during a meal and rushing back to have a bite, and then would take off again, which really doesn't make it a meal time, does it? We started a new policy where he gets one warning and the second (ok, or third) time he gets up, his plate is cleared. If he pulls a toy out of his pocket and doesn't stop playing with it at the table after a warning or two, his plate is cleared. We have always emphasized that meal times are for talking to each other and enjoying the meal together (my husband works at home, so all meals have all of us present). I think we have switched one problem for another, however, since J now will sit at the table and eat what he wants to in the beginning, but will then sit back and play or squirm or... delay. If you try to clear his plate (after 20 minutes up to an hour later of his food and drink untouched and the rest of the family finished and waiting to clear the table), he throws a world-class tantrum about how he wants his breakfast/lunch/dinner and he's hungry and his belly is not full and he wants more of [insert favorite food item here]. Our meal times are now lasting up to 1.5 hours at a time, for every meal, and 40 minutes for snacks, with a freak out at the end of each. I am rereading CoM, but... not finding anything applicable yet.