Food Fight

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Categories Behavior, Development, Family, Feeding, Mommy Issues, Solid Foods, ToddlersTags , ,

Our kids were glorious eaters. They would try anything. Sag paneer? Loved it. BBQ brisket? Couldn’t get enough. Ozzy could hold his own, but it was Abel who was the real superstar. We even nicknamed him Mikey. The kid would try anything and moan for more. We would hear parents complaining about their finicky kids and we would just shake our heads and count our blessings.

And then our boys turned one.

It’s been a steady downhill spiral since that day. Actually, it was more like a face plant you didn’t see coming. One day they were chowing down and the next day they wouldn’t touch a thing. My husband and I stood there scratching our heads, trying to reason this out. Surely it’s because they’ve been sick with colds. Oh wait, their molars! Yes, it’s because those pesky molars are coming in. But when the phase lasted one month, then two months – now going on four months – I realized something more was at work here. Our wonderful eaters had gone picky. Or a more accurate way of putting it, our babies had become toddlers. It’s as simple as that.

Since my frustration at meal times had also taken a downward spiral, I decided I needed to educate myself on ways to get my boys to eat. They are clearly not malnourished, and still have voracious appetites for all fruit, cheese, frozen waffles, tortillas and veggie sausage. But I felt like their diets were clearly lacking protein and veggies and I was determined to add these things back into their repertoire. Taking the advice of LauraC right here on HDYDI, I set off for my local Barnes and Noble in search of the magic bullet.

I ended up buying Child of Mine and gobbling it up in one sitting. It’s always so affirming to read your experiences, your every day, in black in white. I learned that my kids were, indeed, typical toddlers and I was a typical parent doing the typical things to get my kids to eat. Or rather to not eat. I learned that my bullishness and obsession with getting them to digest meat and vegetables were, more than likely, contributing and/or enhancing the problem. We were locked in a power struggle and I was going to lose. Every. Single. Time. Oh, and to my dismay, there is no magic bullet. And there is absolutely no way of “getting” your child to eat anything. It’s more about letting go and trusting that your child will eat what she needs to eat. And exposing them to good food so they can trust and learn to eat the wonderful things the world has to offer.

So I immediately set out to change my ways. Here’s the jist. It’s my responsibility to provide the what (a healthy variety of foods that we all eat), the when (three structured meals and two planned snacks) and the where (at the table in the form of family meals). It’s their responsibility to decide how much they want to eat and whether they want to eat at all. That’s the formula, plain and simple. After that you just need to take a step back, enjoy your meal, and allow your kids to do what they will with their food. No catering to them. No short-order cooking. No applause for touching a vegetable. No begging or pleading or putting a fork full of tender pot roast in front of their mouths.

So it’s been a week and I’m proud to say that we’ve had family dinner every single night. It’s been no small feat getting a homemade, complete dinner on the table by 5:30 pm. The first two nights I have to admit I was scared. I cooked like a whirling dervish, the kitchen was a wreck, and the food tasted so-so. But then I started figuring out good 30 minute meals that were yummy, accessible to 16 month olds, and satisfying to us. But my biggest fear was leaving the boys to their own devices for this long. To my delight, they are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, with limited supervision, for upwards of 45 minutes! I put on The Backyardigans (or Sesame Street), which usually holds their attention for about 3 minutes. And then they just run around the house, coming in and out of the kitchen, swiffering, mowing our hardwood floors with their lawnmower, playing with their pint-sized pots and pans, etc. I think they seriously dig doing their own thing while I do mine. They enjoy being just as busy and productive as I do.

To my surprise, dinner time is actually…fun! They get the same things on their plates that we do, plus we always have a fruit salad and some form of bread and butter (since, if worse comes to worse, they will almost always eat this). Some nights they won’t even look at the “new” food. Some days they venture a finger in the chicken stir fry. There have even been a few bites – not that we were paying attention! There have also been a few meals that Oskar hasn’t eaten a thing. And we just have to respect that decision (with gritted teeth!). It’s certainly been a transition, but one that I hope sticks. Because I see progress already, but more than that, we are starting a solid ritual of breaking bread together at least once a day. What better way for the boys to learn good manners, respect, delicious food, conversation, exercising their own judgement and quality family time? Solid things, indeed.

The most important thing in all of this is letting go of my own expectations. It’s an important lesson, especially for a parent of toddlers, or a parent of any aged child for that matter. To have confidence in what you have provided – the offerings, the lessons, the foundation. And then to let go and trust that your child/ren will make the best decision for themselves. Because when it comes down to it, isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Leaving you with my favorite, no hassle dinner from this past week:

Lamb Kafta

1 lb ground lamb

2 minced green onions

A handful of chopped fresh parsley (or a few good shakes of the dried kind)

1 Tbsp paprika

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbsp ground cumin

1-2 Tsp Salt/pepper (depending on how seasoned you like your meat)

1 Tbsp water (makes the meat juicy and moist)

Mix all ingredients together, form into patties or balls, and broil for 7 minutes on each side. You can even line a baking dish with foil for a no-mess clean up. Serve with warm pita, plain yogurt and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onion and feta. Yum!

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10 thoughts on “Food Fight”

  1. Our experience was very similar. My no-fuss babies turned into picky toddlers. We too learned to present balanced meals, and leave the eating to our girls. We also adopted our daughters’ daycare teachers rule that they had to taste (yes, licking counts!) everything on their plate before they could have seconds of anything. Jessica finds that she likes most things once she tries them. Melody dutifully tastes everything, and then has third or fourth servings of the thing she likes.

  2. Beautiful post.

    I have an almost 3 year old and I still catch myself trying to bribe her to take a bite of whatever.

    I’m re-reading Child of Mine right now as my boys are in that glorious we’ll-eat-anything phase and I don’t want to screw up their eating habits as they approach the 1-year mark.

  3. It’s so interesting to see my guys hit one and become more selective about what they will eat. Danny, more so than Abigail (he’s really a bit of a fruitivore/cheesivore). Love the ideas of how to work with it (besides my standard: leave them in the highchairs with the food and do my kitchen chores).

  4. First off, thank you for the wonderful confirmation and reminder to let go of my mommy expectations and just provide. I was lucky to have this advice early on and have *usually* done pretty good about letting them do what works for them. I’m nowhere near ready to take on the family meal yet! Brad and I still wait until the boys are in bed to have dinner. But we are trying to work it in on weekends when we have more time and energy. I applaud you for taking that on and making it work. And thanks for the recipe, I’m definitely going to try it out!

  5. Wonderful post Tracey. We are entering these uncharted waters, and I can definitely see how it could drive me crazy! The neat thing about the kids current eating, is that they usually each like one thing, but won’t touch another. If Faith is into ham, she will eat Jonathan’s too. And he will eat her pasta! Not exactly balanced, but at least not too much is going to waste!

    With Jay having gastric bypass this summer, I may be the only one eating in a couple of months, should this picky trend continue!

    I will have to check out that book!

  6. great post and i am making that recipe this week. so true, the food thing. we have been doing a bit of the same at dinner…letting it go. hard hard hard to do.

  7. Great recipe … would love to see more! Good reminders here. We’re past that point but I will add that making sure your kids are VERY HUNGRY is always a great way to get them to eat. I made that mistake a lot earlier this year until I realized dinner needed to be pushed back to a later time.

  8. We’ve always made family dinner a priority. Every night we all sit at the table together, the twins in their highchairs. We normally eat between 7-7:30 which works well because the babies are definitely ravenous by then and more willing to eat whatever is in front of them. For the most part we will serve them a little of what we are eating (a child friendly version of what we are having) unless it’s going to be too spicy then they have a few standard favorite meals that we will give to them. Flynn is quite content to try things, he may not always like them but he will give them a go at least. Marisol however decided to become a very picky eater after about 12 months. She will only eat certain types of pasta and will only eat chicken if it’s lemon chicken purchased from a certain restaurant. Go figure, 20 months and she seems to know what she does and doesn’t like.

  9. Thanks for the shout out and I’m glad to know I am not alone. Even with my new zen attitude, we still have our frustrations with meals. And I’ve been put to the test many times where they eat NOTHING for dinner, and I put them to bed with nothing in their stomachs.

    Now if I could just get them to like the same foods…

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