Aww – family pizza night. Don’t let this picture fool you. While preparing dinner may be fun for my 4 year old, eating the meal is a whole different story.
I’m going to let you new parents of 1 year olds in on something – your kid may be special to you, and you may think that you lucked out because your child eats everything and you don’t have one of those picky eaters. But you just haven’t gotten there yet. Trust me. Your perfect little angel just hasn’t really developed those taste buds fully yet. Your eater that will eat the delicious healthy meals that you prepare now is going to take a turn. They all do. Mine sure did. I was that parent that said that my perfect child wasn’t a picky eater, and was never going to be since I exposed her to all sorts of foods and made healthy meals and even made my own baby food and didn’t make “kid food” for her.
Didn’t matter. Ages 2, 3, and 4 are all about the struggle. The struggle is real.
She’s STARVING when we get home and begging for snacks while I’m making dinner. Once I’m finally able to put it on the table, after begging her countless times to go play toys or read a book or watch TV for three minutes so that I can actually step through the kitchen and open the oven without her underfoot, she all of a sudden isn’t hungry. It doesn’t matter if it’s mac & cheese & hot dogs or chicken nuggets or grilled cheese. Getting her to eat one bite is a struggle. And when dinner is finally over, after spending an hour arguing with a child to eat even two bites, all of a sudden, she’s hungry again.
I’ve tried the starve method. Doesn’t make a difference. I’ve tried making her sit at the table until she eats ONE BITE – which after she puts it in her mouth she practically gags from all of that mental buildup. Her record is one hour and 15 minutes.
And so far, I am still standing firm on my refusal to either make kid only meals (she will not eat chicken nuggets every day of her life) or to make her a separate meal. I may adapt a meal I am making for her, or let her eat an applesauce & yogurt dinner combo after she’s tried what I have made and didn’t like it, but I’m not giving any more inches on this one.
Here are the methods that I’ve tried that have kind of worked… Let me know if you have a different child dinner war method that has worked for you.
1 – Eat it or starve.
I mentioned this method briefly above. If you don’t eat what I make for you, you don’t eat. Well, normally how that turns out is the child just doesn’t eat. Prepare to be really strong for when they are hungry later. I don’t find that I’m really winning with this method – it never actually teaches my daughter to try the food, and it usually ends up with bedtime being an absolute bear because she’s hungry. I just end up feeling guilty about it, and then I know she fills up on the less than healthy breakfast at school the next day.
2 – Try one bite and if you don’t like it, you can grab something from the pantry.
I don’t recommend this one unless you are trying some brand new food and the kid truly does give it a try. This can quickly turn into the child playing mind games – if they know what is in the pantry that they will be offered as an alternative, they can use this to their advantage. It does reward them, however, for giving foods a good try. So use this sparingly.
3 – Roll the Dice
This was a suggestion of a friend of mine that works better than I had anticipated the majority of the time. On our dinner table, we have a large foam dice. For each portion of her meal – main dish, veggies, and side – she has to roll the dice and eat the number of bites that she rolled. Seems simple, and since it’s a game, she loves it.
The added bonus – and the bonus that I had not seen coming – is that after she eats the bites necessary, SHE ROLLS AGAIN! I felt a pretty big mom win in that moment. I figured dinner time was over. But no – she had so much fun playing the game that she wanted to play again!!! SCORE!
This is a great method – the only risk you run is that they will get away with only eating one bite. But – if it avoids dinnertime battles, it’s worth it.
4 – Number of bites = Number of Years
This is another method that was introduced to me by a friend of mine. Five bites if you are five, three bites if you are three, and so on… The nice thing about this is that the child knows each day what to expect. “I have to eat four bites.” Consistency can pay off with this one.
I don’t know if this method alone worked, or if it’s the fact that my daughter’s peer talked about it, so it works because it’s cool since her friend does it. But regardless – the consistency pays off, and the child feels in control of their own destiny. And really – isn’t control what it is all about?
5 – Let the child help make the meal
So I’ve read this one a lot, and I’ve got to say, I personally think it’s crap. I have let my daughter help me prepare meals, and she still won’t eat them. But she does like to “help!” While it’s good to get your kids into the kitchen, it can often be more trouble than it’s worth. So by all means – include them as much as possible if for nothing else than to teach them and expose them to new things. But don’t expect it to work miracles. And be ready to try all of your patience…
6 – Just give in. It feels good.
One of the things I like about my daughter’s pediatrician is how down to earth and realistic she is. Her piece of advice when Lucy became “that age” is that dinner time should be a nice family time. It doesn’t have to be a war. Enjoy yourself. Children are not going to starve themselves, and if they don’t get 100% of their nutrients today, they will get them tomorrow.
I do think that you should have a time when you aren’t battling, and you are talking and laughing and bonding. It doesn’t always happen in my home, but when it does, it sure feels good.
It seems to all come down to choices. Kids want to feel that they have some sort of control in their lives, and choices give them that control.
This morning, I made egg sandwiches for breakfast. English muffins, a slice of cheese, and an egg. All of those things separately my daughter likes. But for some reason, combined, they create a poison that is deadly to four year olds. After first getting frustrated that she wiped the egg yolk that got on her finger onto her chair because it was acky, we started the battle of “I’m not eating this.” I got to the desperate parent stage after about 10 minutes this morning and went into bargaining.
I gave her three choices. She immediately perked up after she heard the word “choices.”
Choice 1 – Eat one bite and then if you don’t like it you can be done.
Choice 2 – Roll the dice and eat the number of bites that you roll.
Choice 3 – 4 bites for 4 years old.
I then told her that i know what choice I’d make if I were her, and I’d choose to eat just one bite.
Much to my surprise, though, she chose number 3 – 4 bites for 4 years old. Hey – a win is a win, and I’ll take it. Parenting isn’t about logic, it’s about taking whatever wins you can get and holding onto that feeling.
So she enthusiastically ate 4 bites – because she was being cool like her friend – and even said that she liked the sandwich. “It’s just eggs, bread, and cheese, Mom.” Yeah, kid, I know. Granted, she didn’t want to eat any after her four bites, but that doesn’t matter. We both won, and the day moved on.