Tuesday, September 11, 2012

FMB: Feeding the Children

(Prompted by reading a friend's blog about her family's eating issues.)

My family has its own problems, but my mom was pretty good about being laid-back about food.  (It makes me wonder what her childhood food experiences were like; there was an unusually high proportion of tofu, wheat germ, and Vegetarian Not-Meatloaf Surprise in our lives.  I know there were Jello molds in hers.  Although I fully recognize the role that partners can play in feeding, my dad travelled 50-75% of the time until I was 16, so he wasn't really involved in meals much.) 

When I was a kid (old enough to remember at least) we had breakfast every morning at the same time, frequently hot cereals made fresh by my mother ("You have to eat something before you go to school, to give your body energy"), a healthy packed lunch (tahini and banana! sprouts and cream cheese! pine nuts! these things were all totally freakish in 1980s semi-rural Virginia, by the way), a snack after school (usually fresh cookies, whole-wheat peanut butter featured prominently), and a sit-down family dinner every night.  My mom did feed us kind-of-strange things sometimes - the prune-orange-carob brownies, since banned, spring to mind.  

When my sisters and my teenage self decided to be vegetarians (this was a decade-long phase) she didn't discourage us, but asked us to read about how to construct a healthy vegetarian diet ourselves, so we could take responsibility. 

With Bug, we ask him to sit down for meals with us.  Food is on the table for as long as an adult is still eating (usually about a 45-minute window) and then there is no more meal available.  (This is to forestall the 7:15 "But I'm hungry for dinner now that it's bathtime!")  What we're having is what's for dinner, he is asked to try two bites (unless it's spicy curry or something, then he gets another choice). He gets a morning snack and an afternoon snack, usually a vegetable or a fruit, and is generally cut off in between.  I feel a little bad about this, but otherwise he treats it as an all-hours buffet and drives me crazy with his incessant requests for a cracker.  Plus he won't eat real meals if he snacks all the time.  The baby, on the other hand, pretty much does snack all the time.... but he's a baby.  I am nursing so I get hungry all the time too. 

What I'm trying to convey to Bug is that certain healthy options are available at designated times to him, and in between we do other things. 


  1. Child #1 has eating issues. As in, he believes that anything I cook is probably disgusting and he doesn't want it for supper. It is extremely helpful to have designated meal and snack times, since he is then hungry enough to at least try dinner. I like to keep in mind the protein/fat/carbohydrate composition of offered foods, so I can get to him eat a somewhat balanced diet. If he fed himself, he would choose crackers and chocolate for every meal.
    You have exactly the right idea, IMHO. A "problem eaters" book said, "Parents are in charge of what, when, and where. Children decide whether and how much." Today's children will not starve if they miss a meal.
    Btw, my kids still occasionally declare that they are hungry at bath time or bedtime. It is totally a stalling tactic, and I know this. Yesterday I caved and gave Child #2 more stew from supper, and Child #1 a string cheese. If it is not their favorite food I feel a little better for caving...
    Child #1 is eating the school lunches. He actually took two bites of hamburger at school. This is a major accomplishment. They have afternoon snack every day, and I've been sending whole wheat chocolate beet muffins (sugar free). Bwa ha ha!

    1. Hamburger! Good job, Child 1. And yeah, at least if it's a healthy, not-terribly-appealing snack.

      Bug also thinks my dinners are appalling, unless it's pea-pesto-pasta. Or peanut tofu. Or a small list of other things. Ah, well, he doesn't seem to be starving.

      You forgot ice cream: crackers, chocolate, and ice cream, right? It's a wonder they survive to adulthood, sometimes.

  2. I can see how the situation is confusing for bug -- I didn't call my mom "mom", because everyone else called her by her first name (I'm the oldest child), so I didn't see why I should say something else...

    Now that I'm older and wiser ;) I agree with Nicole that you have the right idea. A child in my extended family was constantly offered food, often soft rolls and hot dog sausages -- and then her mom complained that she never ate at meal times. Guess what. Then it turned out that the child in question has a serious metabolic disease, so it basically became impossible for anyone to gently point out that maybe this wasn't the best way to go about eating... sigh. The kid is a teenager now, don't know if eating behavior has improved...

  3. This is the approach that we're taking with Kiddo (mostly). He always has milk/water available to him. But we have set meal/snack times and he gets a little bit of everything on his plate. He eats whatever he wants and "asks" for more of whatever he wants on the table (by pointing and signing "more"). He's only 14 months, so we haven't started trying to get him to try a bite or two of everything yet. We're not sure how to communicate this to him, but it's something we'll try later (if anyone has any suggestions on this...).

    Overall, I've found the we provide the food choices and he decides whether/how much to be the least stressful one. Our pediatrician is actually the one who suggested it. Dr. Man and I decided that our goal with food is to try to instill good eating habits without turning it into an issue, so here's hoping that this approach will do that!

    1. I think 14 months is really too young to do the two-bites. What we did was, wait until Bug was old enough to really understand what was going on (2+), put the 'you must try this food' in front of him, and not give him anything else until he ate two (small!) bites. There was a lot of screaming and a couple missed meals, but now he does it. He was also too young for the whole 'you get down and mealtime is over' thing so... there was a point when what happened wsa we stuffed him into the booster chair and listened to him scream for 20 minutes. Delightful family mealtimes!

  4. Anonymous11:48 AM

    Argh. Comment eaten.

    If only the Bean were as open to eating my creations as Blogger is. I am in principle all about the parents decide what (etc.) business, but the child thwarts me. If he misses a meal -- and he will happily do so if the food doesn't suit him -- he is a holy terror, will not sleep, and so on. And so many of his demands are met.

    I can't believe I've become someone who was thrilled when her kid started to accept chicken nuggets dipped in honey. (And the next person to cheerfully explain how wrong I am in my analysis gets the physical brunt of the mental frustration I am trying not to direct at my kid.)

    1. I have a theory about parenting and kids doing stuff that drives us crazy. It has to do with balancing their crazy and your crazy. Also, I would be delighted if my kid would eat chicken nuggets. The child is a strict vegetarian. (He gets plenty of protein and nutrition and so on- the child is enormous!- but it would be nice if he would eat my damn chicken now and then.)

      Bug is also 3.5 and therefore more subject to reason (marginally) than a 1.5-year-old. He understands future tense enough to comprehend "Eat now, or be hungry later." I have mercifully forgotten whatever nonsense he pulled on us when he was 1.5. I think he ate PB&J at every meal for, oh, a year.

    2. I sympathize. Child #1 had hours-long screaming, hitting, biting, kicking tantrums, mostly set off by tiredness and hunger. After 3 years of various doctor visits, the tiredness issue turned out to be an allergy to dust mites, which caused large tonsils and nighttime snoring and sleep apnea. The hunger issue is something we are still dealing with, it's a struggle to get healthy food in him even at 5 years old. His key seems to be protein and fat, with not too much added sugar in anything. (His sugar crashes are particularly horrible.) plain yogurt + cocoa powder + stevia/sweet n low = chocolate yogurt. Fruits are favorites, as are tofu smoothies.
      Chicken nuggets have a fairly good ratio of protein, fat, and carbs. There was a teenage girl that lived for 12 years on chicken nuggets and fries alone. My kids get them at least once a month, generally plain, though Child #2 is adventurous and dips them in honey mustard.
      Do what you gotta do, and soldier on!

  5. Anonymous1:00 PM

    We visited friends at their beach house last weekend. They have a toddler who is almost 2yo. The child didn't sit for a meal the entire weekend. We were there from Friday evening to Sunday late morning and he never sat to eat, and barely seemed to eat anything.

    The parents just followed him around with a plate of food trying to get him to remove his pacifier and take a bite. They fed him wherever he was, playing on the floor, sitting on the couch, in his stroller, watching TV, being carried in their arms, even IN THE BATH TUB!

    It was bizarre. It made her comment about not being able to go out to eat because the child won't sit for that long, make a whole lot more sense.

    Like you, we all sit at the table for meal times (not always all together for breakfast or lunch, but 99% of the time for dinner). My daughter is almost 3 and does pretty well most of the time. My son is not even 4 months old and he's already sitting with us playing with his toys in the high chair and keeping us company.


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