Tonight for dinner, The Who ate filet mignon, broccoli, and 2 fruit wraps. He gave Yukon Gold potatoes and cauliflower a try, but was not a fan.
Why am I detailing this? Because it’s monumental. Despite our best intentions, we fell into the trap that so many parents fall into: we started making separate meals for our kid at dinnertime. We started him on the same foods we ate when he was a baby (even chili!) but gradually, as he became more choosy about what he would put in his mouth, we succumbed to the whine and would offer up a more palatable alternative. Over time, he began to expect this and although we knew it wasn’t the best idea, we kept it up because he was still eating a few decent things (mostly a steady diet of cheese, [organic] mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese [on whole wheat], and [organic] eggs with cheese.) But, then, within the past month or so, his list of “sure things” dwindled. He started to refuse grilled cheese, requested eggs and then regularly left them untouched, got very picky about the type of mac-n-cheese he would eat, gave up hot dogs (not the worst thing in the world) and basically left himself eating toast and milk with a few pieces of bacon every now and then.
I think that in our effort to develop a healthy eater by keeping our food rules to a minimum, we actually ended up developing an unhealthy eater. (I think that’s actual irony, not “Alanis Morissette irony,” right?) We decided that some changes had to be made — that we needed to develop and enforce some rules around food and eating. But doing that in a way that didn’t compromise our belief that “restriction begets obsession” was (and is) difficult. These are some of the things we noticed and the changes we made. We discussed all of this with him before implementation. Not that he had a say in it, really, but we wanted him to understand the rules and have them explained beforehand. He does a lot better when he is prepared.
- Hunger. The Who is a more willing eater when he is hungry. Shocker. Unfortunately, because we are relatively free with snacks, he often came to a mealtime not very hungry. Thus, it was easy to turn up his nose at something that he didn’t already love. To this end, we started limiting snacks close to meals. Sometimes we will counteroffer a snack with the meal instead. So, if he is asking for a snack, I will say, “It’s almost dinner, but I will give you some Pirate’s Booty on your dinner plate.” Sometimes this works. Other times? Not so much. Like, tonight for example: when I picked him up from school at 5pm, he was famished and cranky. He cried real tears for a long time about how hungry he was, despite my promise that dinner would be on the plate within 20 minutes. Once he realized I wasn’t changing my mind, he accepted the offer of a drink in the car to hold him over and actually remained pretty cheerful and helpful throughout the dinner prep. He washed potatoes. Learned how to press garlic. Seasoned the steak. And, as a result, he was really hungry when dinner was served. True to my word, I added a snack (fruit wraps) to his dinner plate, and true to his, he gave every food a try and ate the ones he liked. Which leads me to…
- New foods. The new policy in Whoville is that we all eat the same thing — or a version of the same thing — (though I promised to always include some element that he liked so he would not go hungry) and every food on the plate gets at least a bite. He already understands that tastes change over time and seems to agree that you need to keep trying things to see if you like them. Last night, for example, I made patty melts for m* and me. For him, a plain grilled cheese (something I knew he liked, but has been refusing lately) and burger on the side with ketchup. Although he has always turned his nose up at burgers in the past, under the new regime, he gave it a try. And to his delight, loved it. Ate it all. Plus the damn grilled cheese. (It helped that he was hungry. See #1.)
- Hunger, part two. As the parents of an infant who was a terrible nighttime sleeper, we have an old belief that a full belly means a better, longer sleep. (I’m not sure this was ever proven to us, but we seem to believe it.) So, if he didn’t eat dinner, we worried that he would be hungry in the night and wake up. Thus, we weren’t willing to say, “my way or the highway” at meal times. Now we are. If he chooses not to eat the dinner we served, he goes to bed hungry, sad as that might make him. It hasn’t happened yet, but I suspect that if it does, it won’t happen too often after that.
- Weekly menu. A while back, I found a meal plan craft idea on Pinterest. As someone who dreads meal planning and shopping and dinner-making, this project was a life-saver. If I keep it up every week, it takes all the stress and angst out of shopping and cooking. And — bonus — The Who loves helping me set it up weekly. Back when we had talked about eating the same things at dinner, I told him that some nights would be his favorite thing, but other nights wouldn’t be. So, I let him choose at least one night’s dinner. Last week, he chose “homemade chicken nuggets” and this week, he chose “roast chicken.” (The side dishes aren’t on the meal plan.) So far, so good. We’ll see what happens when we get to “corn chowder” night. I’m not sure how I can adapt that for his tastes or what I can add to the meal that he will like. Guess I’ll think on it.
So, that’s what’s going on around here at dinnertime. My hope is that, soon, he will be eating a more diverse diet that actually includes some vegetables. And if the last several days are any indication, I think we may be well on our way.