For the love of God, please eat your dinner

April 27, 2017

My kid could live on Mac and Cheese and chocolate ice cream. In fact, she’d prefer it. She’d happily go into diabetic shock, with some macaroni falling out her mouth while watching Mickey and the Roadster Racers. But she ain’t going out like that. Not if I can help it.

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We’ve entered a new phase where Cozy does not want to eat meals. At two-years and eight-months-old she’s asserting her independence by driving us crazy at dinner time. The other night we were trying to get her to eat some wholesome chicken soup and we got as far as getting a spoonful in her mouth but she refused to swallow it. In fact, she walked right into her time-out corner and stared at us, like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, soup in mouth. “I can see you, parents.”

She’s programmed for maximum sugar intake. If we go through the bakery section at the grocery store, her eyes swell up like a muppet child. She’d sell her soul to Satan for chocolate pudding and turn her mother over to ICE for a lollipop. I feel like I should just hand her a two-pound bag of sugar and let her max-out. It doesn’t help that we live one block from the famous Salt & Straw Ice Cream shop. Anytime we walk out the front door the creamery GPS kicks in and she takes off for a scoop of fudge brownie. Remember when she couldn’t walk? Now I’m chasing her down the street.

I know she gets her sweet tooth from me. I was raised on pie and Now & Laters. My mom got me to eat my carrots by smothering them in brown sugar and my sweet potatoes by baking them with marshmallows. The healthy stuff I wasn’t interested in as a kid. I would sit at the dinner table for hours, staring at a my beets, acting like Gandhi on a hunger strike. (Now, I can’t get enough of yummy beets.) But I’d eat giant bowls of Apple Jacks and slurp down the orange milk afterwards. There’s something in the book of Genesis about the sins of the father being visited upon the children. Well, they got that one fucking right.

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Don’t get me wrong. Cozy likes some healthy foods. Baby carrots, (until recently) peaches, and, I’m sure there’s something else. Vanilla yogurt. She was into strawberries until they started making her itch (or she thinks that they do because we were talking about food allergies one day). I mean there are worse things than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and quesadillas, right? (I just realized that queso + tortilla = quesadilla.) She takes her vitamins and pops a few grapes during the day so I don’t think she’s gonna need UNICEF to save her but it’s got mom and dad kinda concerned.

The online research helps. Apparently many toddlers have a dip in calorie intake after the explosion of growth their first two years. And they won’t starve to death, they’re more like grazing college kids than three-meal-a-day adults. But my daughter is pretty sophisticated otherwise, so is it wrong for me to want her to already have a favorite sushi roll instead of demanding another cheese stick and handful of goldfish crackers? I’d be happy if she just ate spaghetti. What kid doesn’t like spaghetti? Mine.

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I called my mom and asked for help. It seems that I wasn’t too different than Cozy at this age. Her solution was to cover the healthy food in pudding. (I don’t know why I’m not 3000 pounds.) I think Cozy would see right through that ruse. “Hey, man, why is there chicken in my chocolate pudding?”

Meal time is starting to become a struggle. “I don’t want apple sauce. I want a chocolate bunny!” I think that since she now acts like a little person, we expect her to eat what we’re eating. I get that this is a developmental phase but I’m ready for her to discover the joys of a nice omelette. This is Oregon, she better be woofing down the chanterelles and chinook salmon on wild rice by age three. At the moment, it’s time out with a spoonful of RiceARoni melting in her mouth.

But it’s getting better. We’re trying to be more laissez-faire at meal time instead of hovering over her. You know, we’re just chilling, eating some tacos. And Andrea got a great recipe for sopa de letras (alphabet soup) from her mom that Cozy’s been gobbling down. She’ll eat spaghetti if I tell her it’s worms and I had similar success getting her to (finally) eat turkey dogs by pretending they were fingers. (OK, our kid is weird.) Maybe a portobello burger is in her near future.

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The great thing about parenting is that nobody is the first to do it. There’s a whole bunch of experience floating around out there and good folks who are happy to share their wisdom of what works. So the point of this blog is to get some evidence-based practices that don’t involve coating each meal with chocolate frosting or bribing a child endlessly. (“How can you have your pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”) How do I go from the meal-time showdown to a happy family happily full of beans? Don’t panic, she won’t starve. Help me please.

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7 thoughts on “For the love of God, please eat your dinner

    1. Great post! It’s been a while since my boys were this age, but they were stubborn about food too, especially the younger one. Here are some suggestions:

      1. The prime directive is DON’T LET MEALTIME BECOME A POWER STRUGGLE. I swear that some kids would starve themselves rather than give in.
      2. Don’t panic. She won’t become malnourished or diabetic from refusing to eat veggies, etc. for several months. Don’t compare her to anyone else, and try very hard not to take it personally.
      3. Keep providing nutritious food when you have meals, but ignore any refusal to try/eat something. You can suggest that she just taste something, but if she doesn’t want to, don’t press. If it doesn’t make her too stubborn, you might try making it a rule that she has to at least taste everything to have dessert, but again, don’t press too hard.
      (This is probably the hardest one to follow. Just give her a plate and then say nothing about what or whether she eats. If she demands dessert, respond calmly that there will be dessert after everybody is finished, then go back to eating and talking with Andrea.)
      4. Eventually she will surprise you and eat something new, and you will be tempted to give her a lot of praise, but resist. This is not toilet training. Act like you don’t much notice it. You can ask her how she liked it, if you can say it like you would to a dinner guest.
      5. Some kids have extra-sensitive taste buds, so realize that something that tastes good to you may seem bitter to her. Try to include something you know she likes in most meals.
      6. Show her by your behavior that you like what you’re eating, but don’t ham it up. That’s how my husband’s dad got him to like tripe soup.
      7. Expand your repertoire of daytime snacks. Try other sweet fruits, like bananas or Delicious apples (cut up if she can’t chomp on one yet). You can get a mold and freeze juice pops, which can really feel like a treat (also great for teething). If she’ll eat carrot sticks, try keeping a mug of them out near where she’s spending time.
      8. If she asks for dessert during the day, tell her it’s for after dinner. Don’t keep sweet snacks in the house, so you can legitimately say you don’t have any. If she fusses or demands something ridiculous like a chocolate bunny, handle it however you usually handle tantrums.

      I really hope this is helpful. Dealing with a kid who’s fussy about eating is very stressful, but she’ll be fine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I forgot to add that kids may need to try a new food a few times before they like it. So if she tastes something but leaves the rest, don’t give up on that food. Keep offering it every so often.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. wish i could help you. the only thing is did was put the food in front of them. tablespoons only of what we were eating. no if and an buts. no argument, no bribes of goodies after. eat or don’t . don’t argue. they get hungry enough they will eat. don’t worry they won’t starve to death. hunger will take over. no coaxing just eat or not. when it becomes less a battle of wills somehow they will start to eat. mine just ate maybe only a bite. gotta settle for what you can get. and NO absolutely NO snacks between. i had a two year eating salmon using this method. may sound mean but it takes the stress out of meal time. peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day.o.k. sneak in a grilled cheese. eat it , no . ok. lunch time is over. few chips with each o.k. there will somethings things they will never eat. don’t have some of those? GOOD LUCK!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Randy, I got my kids to eat broccoli by pretending they were giants eating trees. worked pretty well. Hang in there. They come with their own marching orders. It is all about choosing which battles to fight. Don’t sweat the little stuff. Put the good food in front of her, when she is hungry enough she will eventually eat it.

    Liked by 1 person

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