Tag Archives: picky eater

The food is not the point

I started reading the picky-eater book with a very defensive attitude. It had been recommended, and I felt ready to maybe tackle this thing again, but I didn’t want to. At every page turn I saw obstacles and roadblocks, reasons why I couldn’t do this, why it would never work for us. My inner monologue went something like this:

– But we can’t do that. He won’t even sit at the table.

– I don’t want to feed everyone together. I can’t get all that food ready at the same time.

– Think of the washing-up! All those serving plates! And we can’t fit all the food on the table in dishes as well as each person’s plate. We’d have to eat in the other room, where the table is covered in homework and filing, and where you have to walk a mile around the counter to bring everything there.

– How can I get us to sit down together? B comes home at 6 and the kids are yelling for dinner from about 4:30 on.

– This will never work. I don’t even see why I would want it to. What’s so great about sitting at the table? Sure, there are studies that say families that eat together every night have kids who are better behaved, more academically successful, more wonderful in every way… but my kids are pretty good already. Kinda. Why would I give myself all these headaches just to be “good”?

/Heaves giant sigh of put-upon-ness./

On the other hand, I have been starting to feel lately that, well, sometimes living here is like sharing a flat with short ungrateful people who never do their share of the cleaning up. What’s the point, really? When do we get to be a family, if we’re just the people who live in the same house as them and bring them to the places they need to be?

And I’m really sick of people announcing that they’re hungry, again, right when it’s bedtime or time to start their homework, or just when I’ve put away everything from dinner. All the separate dinners.

So maybe – just maybe – something wasn’t working so well after all. Maybe it was worth trying to make a change.

As I said yesterday, I really liked the fact that the authors said you can start a bit at a time. Going all-out with a totally new way of doing things is great sometimes, but I feel like that would be doomed to failure, for us. But small steps, when it’s easy-ish; I can maybe do that.

And the more I read the more I understood that what I’ve to aim for isn’t for Dash to be an adventurous eater. It’s not even, necessarily, for him to branch out much. It’s for us to all sit around the table and have a pleasant time. At the moment, that’s a big enough end-game to hope for, and also makes it seem a little more possible that this isn’t all a wild flight of fancy. Eating at the table is a social skill that both my kids lack right now, much as I pretend they don’t – and maybe it’s within my power to change that.

So I started out very small. I’d noticed that when Mabel goes to her friend’s house after school they have a snack at the table. I asked her how she’d feel about doing that at home. I figured if she was on board that would be a start, and maybe Dash would join in if there was no cooked food in the room with us at the time. She said it would be okay, she supposed. She sounded a little bit, secretly, happy about the prospect, even.

We had a snack at the table, served family style, sort of, as much as you can with apple slices and pretzels. Just me and her, and her brother for half a second before he flitted off. Since then we’ve had dinner at the table twice, the girl and her two parents and no brother, and snack at the table a couple more times. Dash says he can’t eat a sandwich at the table. It feels too weird. He runs away from french toast. He’s like a skittish kitten around humans for the first time. Maybe we’ll try pancakes over the weekend, because he likes those. (Not waffles. Won’t touch a waffle even though he knows the batter is practically identical.)

But the thing is, I think I get it. Mabel really likes it. I like it. It’s nice sitting at the dinner table having a conversation. It’s nice having Mabel there. It would be fun to have Dash there too, because he’s entertaining company. The food is not the point. I’m starting to understand.

 

The Picky-Eating Book – what you want to know

Well, I finished reading the book and I’m all fired up with renewed enthusiasm. I’m going to outline the basic plan from it in this post, and then I’ll write another post about what I’m thinking and planning and doing and how it’s going so far. (Very early days. But that’s why I have a “Best Intentions” tag.)

This is the book: Helping your Child with Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin.Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating - cover of book

When I showed it to Dash he spotted the flaw in the title’s phrasing immediately, and said he didn’t need any help with picky eating. Indeed: he’s an expert. But I read it anyway. And it was good.

This book is entirely complementary to everything Ellyn Satter wrote in How to Get Your Kid to Eat (and, I’m sure, her other books; that’s the one I’ve read). It takes Satter’s principles of Division of Responsibility (DOR) and draws them out to show you how to work it for an extremely picky eater, or a child who has physical problems that make it hard for them to eat, or even a child who’s been fed by a tube and is transitioning to solids. (And I thought I had it bad.)

Division of Responsibility, if you’re not familiar with it and didn’t just follow that link, means that you are responsible for where and when eating takes place, and what food is offered. The child is responsible for what and how much they eat.

The whole premise of the plan is that you get your child to the table, and once they’re there you take all the pressure off. You make the table a pleasant place to be, not one where they’re bugged and hounded and stressed about what they should and shouldn’t eat. You put a bunch of food on the table and everyone takes what they want and nobody talks about who’s eating what or how much. And your child always has at least one or two of their “safe” foods available, so they don’t have to go outside their comfort zone until they’re ready to.

The first part of the book basically lays to rest most parents’ fears and guilt about their child’s eating. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you did, and we can help you fix this without pressure or anxiety or making your kid cry. It talks about how if the dinner table is a place associated with stress and fear, your child is very unlikely to want to eat or to enjoy their food.

There are a few key points to the plan:

  • You schedule “eating opportunities” at regular intervals, following the same principles for snacks as for meals (and maybe offering something more nutritious then than you might have thought of; chicken nuggets, anyone?) So if they don’t eat much at dinner, they know there’ll be another chance for food in a little while.
  • You serve meals and snacks “family style”, meaning that you put everything on the table and each person helps themselves, or is helped if they can’t manage.
  • You put one or two of your child’s safe foods on the table, always available. If they eat nothing but bread rolls for days on end, say nothing.
  • You put the dessert on the table too. They can eat it whenever they want. No bribery, no “do this to get this.” It’s food, just like everything else.
  • You don’t encourage anyone to eat anything. You don’t say “Mmm, try some of this,” or “Just take a bite,” or “You need to eat some protein” or “That’s not enough to fill you up.” Just don’t. You can talk about how you like your food, and you can ask them not to “yuck someone else’s yum” – that is, not to say something on the table doesn’t look good, but mostly you’re there to enjoy a pleasant time with family. The food is not the focus.

The book goes on to show how you can plan meals that everyone will eat (at least some part of), and offers suggestions for ways to manage if you don’t have time for cooking or don’t want to cook much yourself. It also gives lots of advice for parents of children who have physical difficulties eating, and discusses types of therapy that might be useful and how to approach these. They also talk about how to deal with eating out of the home – at a restaurant, with other family members, or with friends.

My favourite part was near the end, when they said you don’t have to do this all at once. It’s not an approach that’s doomed to failure if you don’t go cold turkey on your old, bad ways and turn over a new leaf that never turns back. It accepts that maybe you can only commit to one step at a time, and that things might backslide for a while, but that you can keep going and this will become your new normal and it will work. I also really like that this is a plan for the whole family, not just something you’re doing for (or with, or especially to) the picky eater in your life.

Sounds good, eh? Come back for the next post to see what’s happening in real life.

True Lies

Do you remember back at the start of the year when I made the monumental effort of having everyone eat at the table, together, every night?

It’s wonderful, we still do it, it’s become second nature now. We are so much closer as a family as a result, and my children have expanded their palates wonderfully too.

No. No, that’s a lie. Sorry, I couldn’t find the sarcasm font, but here I am admitting once again, just for a change, that I fell off the good parenting wagon. Or the good housewife wagon, or whichever wagon it is that applies here.

(No comments from the rabble down the back about silly wagons, now. The Americans won’t understand you, anyway.)

All summer, we slipped out of the habit, and I said “Well, when school starts again we’ll get organized and the TV will be off and they’ll be doing their homework and we’ll have dinner at 6pm all together.”

Nope. Nope nope nope. They come home from school and they want to flake out in front of the TV, not sit down with books and pencils. And they want snacks, and more snacks, and then they just want dinner, with no perceptible pause in between. And then, when he’s had some snacks, Dash wants to go outside and bounce a basketball or kick a soccer ball with his friend, and even Mabel does too, sometimes, or else she wants to play with her animals and her babies and her tiny bits of who knows what, making them do things and say things and basically working out her whole day’s experiences and frustrations the way she always does, re-grounding herself through her imagination.

And guess what? I want to let them. Because that’s what they need to do. And because it’s easier for me to give them a plate with food on it that I know they’ll eat, while they watch TV in their vegging out time, and then they can play while I get the other dinner together and we adults eat it in relative peace, and then the push for homework can begin, and because they’ve eaten early, it won’t all push on and over into bathtime or bedtime.

(Mabel’s homework is quick and easy and she doesn’t mind doing it, so long as I don’t pester her but let her come to it in her own time. Dash’s homework takes longer, but he does it in his room now on his new desk. The hard part is getting him there, but once he’s started he’s pretty self-steering.)

But the whole thing – routine, lack thereof, whatever it is – conspires against eating dinner together, and they still won’t eat what we (the adults) eat, which I fully understand is a circular argument and a self-fulfilling prophecy if I never sit them down with us and offer it to them; but I’m fighting one battle at a time here, and right now the dinner battle is not the one I’ve chosen. I don’t know what this one is, maybe it’s called giving up for the moment, but this is what I’m doing.

——–

I just didn’t want you to think I was all bloggy perfect in my life. I’m not. I don’t want to pretend to be. I want us to be honest with each other, so that the world inside the computer is as imperfect and real as the world outside the computer. That’s when you make connections, not points.

autumnal leaves on the ground

Random picture of leaves on the ground, which you are at liberty to believe is a metaphor for anything you like.

 

Cheeses

Actual conversation I just had with Dash, aged 7.75 tomorrow:

Him: Why do you get more popcorn than I do?

Me: Mine has parmesan on it. Cheese is good for you.

Him: I don’t like cheese. And I can say that even more than usual, because I’ve tried cheese.

Me: Really. When did you try cheese?

Him: Twice. One time at the park.

Me: Yes.

Him: And a second time in late 2013.

Me: Oh. That’s very specific.

Him: Yes, it was October or November. And I didn’t like it.

Me: Okay then.

There is nothing more to say.

Dash balances on a bollard

Fully documented non-cheese-eater