12 October 2006

Children and Food, Part Two

There were some great comments and questions on my previous post about eating, so I thought I'd respond to some of them here.
  • Phantom wondered about how to tell whether choices were helping her kids (who have strong personalities) or not. I realized that choices weren't helping when they became distractions, when the choice itself became conflicted. Sometimes, Curious Girl would say, if I asked whether she wanted toast or cereal for breakfast, "toast." But then when I brought the toast to the table, she'd dissolve into tears. "But I wanted cereal!" wah. Or she'd move back and forth between two choices and not settle. I still do offer a few choices--lately, I ask at dinner whether she wants chocolate milk or regular milk--but mostly I get her making some other kinds of choices, like getting her plate and cup off the low shelf we've set up for them, or getting placemats out for the family. When the choice leads to meltdowns, not good. (duh. Like you needed me to tell you that.)
  • Arwen noticed that sometimes, it's OK to let a child not eat and even, horrors, be hungry! Chichimama wondered about what I do if CG refuses to eat what I've served. That rarely happens, in part because I usually serve multiple items (yogurt, apple slices, and pasta, for example, or pickles, bread, soup, salad). Small servings are key, and I usually try to put something on her plate that I"m fairly certain is on her A list of foods at the moment. If she doesn't eat, sometimes I will encourage drinking milk instead. But Arwen's comment resonated with me: I still have trouble watching her not eat, but I need to be OK with that.
  • Elswhere noted that MG is prone to meltdowns if she hasn't had protein. It is hard, trying to teach a child to listen to her body. (And I"m like Renaissance Woman: very grumpy when hungry and not always quick to eat myself.) We try to deal with that problem by offering hors d'oeuvres (say, while cooking) or arriving at school pickup with a lunchbox and snacks--so I'll bring some string cheese or yogurt tubes to school with me so I can give her some protein right away. I'd rather have a biggish snack and a smallish dinner than a big dinner preceded by lots of grumpies.
  • One of our neighbors has a policy that the kids can always go make a PB & J sandwich if they don't like dinner. It's an interesting concept--not sure we'll go that route, but it's interesting.
  • We don't have dessert all the time, but when we do have dessert, it's available to all. If Curious Girl didn't eat her meal, I'm not likely to break out a dessert. (But maybe that's not true--at least some of the time, if she didn't eat dinner, I"m likely to break out the ice cream for dessert, figuring that it will convey calories, protein, and calcium.) Dessert is separate enough from dinner around here that CG isn't able to see dessert as something she can eat instead of dinner. We never make dessert dependent on eating a meal, though. It's a treat for anyone who wants it.
  • When CG asks for seconds on one item (say, the noncaloric pickles) before eating other things on her plate (say, the protein and calorie containing grilled cheese), I will usually say something like, "eat the food you have and if you're still hungry, I'll get you more pickles." That doesn't push cleaning the plate, but it does encourage responsible eating. Sometimes--like at a pot luck dinner we went to this evening--i won't insist she eat ALL the food before trying seconds of something she liked, but I will watch to make sure she has made some sort of effort to eat food she chose.
I really appreciated all those comments: I love trading stories about how different families negotiate these issues.


Arwen said...

So, I went back and read the previous thread a bit 'cuz I didn't see all the comments before. And I realized I said "I think this works well for all parents" - meaning your statements about de-stressing - and then proceeded to give my own practical techniques. Which won't work for everyone, and may cause stress! So pthhhh on me for not re-reading what I wrote before I posted!

Anyway: my mom tried a technique I liked for myself and my sister, although (so far) less success with my son. We got a teaspoon of each thing at every meal, and we had to eat everything on our plate. A teaspoon is nothing; I remember occasionally dramatically "gagging" things down with milk, and my mom would explain that that was rude because it hurt the cook's feelings. However, once we got that teaspoon down, we could have seconds of the things we best liked. That's the way mom introduced new foods; and it takes however many servings (3? 10?) before a kid starts liking a new food, so the wisdom goes.

On top of that, however, I was incredibly well suited to trying new cuisine, if just a teaspoonful at a time. In other words, seconds of nutritious dinner food was the reward for trying new things. We each were given three "outs" though: 3 foods we just wouldn't touch. They were posted on the fridge, though, and couldn't be negotiated during a meal - only after. Mine were brussel sprouts, marmite (who knows why: not a staple), and turnips.

I also agree with not making dessert a reward for the meal. My son will happily forgo supper for dessert, so I've got another strategy: when there's known dessert which distracts from dinner (ie: pumpkin pie at thanksgiving), then the size of the dessert is proportional to the size of the meal he's eaten. With reasonable assumptions about he can consume, obviously.

Of course, we have different food issues than CG, in that we're an easily sugar addicted, insulin resistant, and BMI heavy tribe. So exercise and fruit and veggies with sugar and "junk" being rare is extremely important... We drink water or skim milk or iced herbal tea, not more than one glass of juice, etc. etc. Calorie minimization with high nutrient yield is our deal.

susan said...

Well, everything needs to be balanced within the kid/family context: in a lot of ways, you and I share the same values about food, but because of our different families, they play out differently--you head for the minimal calorie/high nutrient foods while I look for high calorie/high nutrient, often willing to trade nutrients for calories at certain points. Much less so now--we're finally at the point where we are limiting desired foods to promote nutrition (last night, at a pot luck, I poured her a small glass of soda, and then after that it was water only). We might all agree that limiting stress is good, but what stresses CG might not stress Ripley or Tate and vice versa. CG will try most foods on her plate over time, just if they are there and she sees other people eating them. I think small servings are such a great thing--they're an invitation to taste a bit, and those small tastes are often the first steps to a new food.

PPB said...

My sister does the one "no thanks" food, too (not 3). If they claim not to like a new food, they have to decide if they like it less than their current "out" food. Younger niece has a new "no thanks" food each week. Elder has hated hamburger her whole life, and has never once switched it.

Of course, my sister needed a "no thanks" rule since she won't touch mushrooms---hubby's fave, and he won't touch mayonnaise, one of her faves.