Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Works For Me Wednesday: Backwards Edition

I’m so glad I saw Kristen’s tweet about this week’s WFMW being a backwards edition. Because I need some help.

Well, there’s nothing new there, but I do have a new problem I need help with.

How did you teach your kid to eat his dinner so he’s not wasting away into nothingness hungry at night?

Caedmon (age 2 1/2) is a weird kind of eater. He eats all the time. But he prefers lots of different things in small amounts and his tastes are constantly changing. One day he loves something, the next day he won’t touch it. And I’m not the kind of girl who thinks cooking separate meals for everyone is fun, so he’s expected to eat what we’re eating at dinner. (For breakfast and lunch he usually gets a couple of choices, but not always.)

The problem is that Caedmon doesn’t like to eat dinner with us. I know he’s hungry when we sit down to dinner. And I know that there’s always at least one thing on his plate he likes (or has liked in the past). As soon as I sit down to eat (“My mother hadn’t had a hot meal for herself in 15 years…”), he declares, “I’m done.”

So we instituted the rules as follows:

1) We all stay at the table until everyone is done eating. (If he’s decided he’s done, he has to wait for us. And if we are done and he’s not, we wait for him.)

2) If he eats half of his dinner, he may have a snack/dessert later. If he doesn’t, he must go back and eat at least half before he can eat anything else.

3) To avoid the last-second before bed “I’m hungry,” I’ve started giving him one more chance to eat what’s left of his dinner about 30 minutes before bedtime. I set a timer for 10 minutes and when it’s done, he’s done. He will usually eat most of his food while he’s sitting at the table by himself, and will sometimes ask for more.

I thought things would get better. Silly me, I thought that once he realized that he was getting nothing else until he ate his dinner, he’d start eating when he was supposed to. But he really doesn’t care that he has to finish his dinner later. It doesn’t bother him one little bit. And I guess that’s ok.

But here’s the problem. Nights like Monday night kill me. They are few and far between. But he didn’t eat his dinner. And he didn’t finish it before bed. And he’s kinda going through a rough patch. So he woke up at 2am telling me he was hungry. I gave him a drink of water and put him back to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat, and I finally ended up giving him a fig newton about an hour and a half later. I thought he went back to sleep, but he was still hungry. So an hour later, he was begging for something else to eat. I finally caved and he scarfed another newton and finally went back to sleep about 5am.

And last night, Caedmon hardly ate any dinner. When I gave him his “second dinner”, he mostly played. We warned him that there would be no snacks, and nothing else to eat until breakfast. But 20 minutes later as I put him to bed, he’s groaning, “I’m hungwy” and did so from his bed for the next hour. Convinced he wouldn’t starve, I refused to cave.

Look, I’m the first to understand how difficult it is to sleep with your stomach growling. When I was pregnant I had to get up in the middle of the night to eat almost every night or else there was no sleeping. So I get why he has trouble sleeping when he’s hungry. But I don’t know how to break him of the habit of a) not eating dinner when he’s supposed to, and b) wanting to eat at bedtime, as in literally the moment I’m putting him in bed.

So please, load me up with all the suggestions you’ve got. If your kid eats dinner and doesn’t starve to death before morning, you’ve done something right and I need your help!

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  1. For my 7 year-old daughter, she has a choice: she can eat what I fix, or she can have a peanut butter and bread sandwich (no jelly) that she fixes herself. No other options. There have been a few nights when she's chosen this, but mostly, she grumbles and decides to eat what I made. (And she started out just smearing the peanut butter with a spoon after I put it on the bread, when she was younger, but now she can handle it herself.) It's not the most nutritious meal, but it fills her belly and gets some protein & carbs in her.

    It wouldn't have to be PB, but maybe there's one acceptable food-- crackers?-- that he could always have as a second choice?

    Good luck! I'm stuck on a potty training issue at my house, so stop by if you have any good tricks for that. :)

  2. Oh motherhood. Full of trial and error.
    Are you concerned about his weight? Is he losing weight or anything?

    My kids always get "starving" when they're bored or right when I asking them to do something they don't want to do- like go to bed. My daughter is kind of a funny eater like that (and so tiny). When my kids say they are hungry (and I don't think they really are) I say "Okay, you can have carrots or bell peppers." My son usually is "not hungry for that" and moves on with his life. But my daughter often takes me up on it because she is really hungry. So I just offer healthy choices and she takes them. But definitely no later snacks or dessert if they did not eat the good stuff at meal time. If we have bread with our dinner I wait until they eat their veggies before I give it to them. Because they would just eat bread all day long. Who wouldn't?

    Sounds like you are doing the right thing with making them stay at table, setting timer for "last call" food. Unfortunately I think some things just take time. He will realize (if you don't cave, which is hard) that if he doesn't eat his dinner . . . it sucks.

  3. I think you're doing exactly the right thing. Stick to your guns, even though it's so hard; he'll come around!

    Two things I always let kiddo have if he didn't eat dinner, or barely ate, were a banana and a plain tortilla. I started out doing the "if you don't eat what I served you, you're not getting anything else." Turns out, he is really susceptible to low-blood sugar and would wake up THROWING UP the mornings after he didn't eat. Oops! So, if he didn't eat, he got a lovely dinner of banana and tortilla. ;)

  4. I just got done last week writing a 4-wk series about this very topic! Unless your son has very specific health issues (like the aforementioned low blood sugar or a doctor-specified diet), I honestly think you're giving him too many choices. And now? Now he's seen that if he holds out long enough, he gets cookies. (Not saying I blame you- sleep is precious and we all do what we have to to get through the nights!) But to reset his behavior, I truly believe you need to stand your ground and set firm expectations. Good eaters are made, not born. He will not starve. It's great that he likes a wide variety of foods... it doesn't really sound like you have a "picky eater"... it sounds more like a control issue. And, as the parent, you deserve to be in control. This comment is going to get way out of hand if I go on, because I have so much to say on the issue. (Hence the four-part series...) Feel free to check it out, if you want. Either way... good luck!

  5. Curly9:57 AM

    Do what mom did! If you don't eat your dinner tonight, you can eat it for breakfast!

  6. Someone shared with me that she leaves a plate of raw chopped veggies on the table with some type of dip while she makes dinner. That way, her "starving" kids could munch something healthy before dinner, and she wouldn't worry about them getting their veggies in. Maybe since he doesn't want real dinner, he'd go for pre-dinner munching while you fix the meal, and then you can still sit him down with a meal and make him wait for all to finish. Good luck!

  7. I was going to say tough love and stick to your guns about night time eating. But it sounds like you already do that. (I had to do the same thing.)
    Is there a possiblity he is not all that hungry at night, but just doesn't want to be alone? Or some other issue?

  8. I think you have an interesting situation, but you are definitely on the right track! I agree with some other commenters that you need to stick to your guns and he will learn. It doesn't sound like choice is the problem, but timing, which is a little different. However, maybe it would help if you just changed his interaction with food altogether. You said he likes eating small amounts throughout the day. You might try setting stricter meal/snack times for the entire day and not allowing any eating whatsoever outside of that. And at each mealtime, set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes, and at the end of it, the food goes away and he gets nothing else until the next set mealtime. As long as he will drink water and eat a little something, he won't waste away before he figures out that you mean it.

    If choice of food is a factor, our rule is to 'take a taste'. Not until you have sampled everything on your plate can you request more of what you like. That puts a positive spin on it, that you are being allowed a choice rather than being forced into something. And kids often find that a visually less-appealing food actually tastes pretty good and will ask for more.

    It has also helped my daughter enjoy our meals more when she "helps" me prepare it. It might be something as simple as asking her to taste it and tell me if it has enough salt, but it makes her all the more eager for the meal when she feels somewhat responsible for it.

  9. I think you are giving him too many choices. Our pedi always says, they will eat when they are hungry. So don't worry about what they eat and how much and when. Just provide healthy food each day and he is likely to eat something. I think it's more of a control thing than anything. He uses it as an excuse, to see what Mommy will do next.
    Although I will say, you might be doing the right thing, I don't know. We all parent differently. I sort of parent my son differently than my daughter. So it really is a matter of you and Chris sticking to what you feel is right and what is best for Caedmon.

  10. My mom and sister think I'm a drill sergeant, but I have always made my "non dinner eaters" eat their dinner for lunch/dinner (sometimes both) the next day. Not for everything, but certainly for barely touching the meal.

    For anyone who has a tendency to not eat a good dinner, I also cut snacks during the day. Maybe he is eating too much prior to dinner??? Just a thought

    Some great suggestions by these readers! I agree that good eaters are trained, not born.

  11. Two of my 3 weren't very good dinner eaters. But, as long as what I made wasn't hot and spicey or something that a toddler shouldn't eat, they had to eat what I fixed or not eat at all. One of my boys would choose not to eat probably at least 3 nights a week. As a mom, you hate that choice, but I stuck to my guns and now he is a MUCH better eater and eats things I thought he never would. (He is 8 now)

    Also, I never gave dessert unless ALL dinner was eaten. I tried not to overfill their plates, though. This is a rule that still stands.

    I know how hard this can be, so I hope things get better soon!

  12. I'm with your first commenter. I make one meal and if the kids don't like it, they are more than welcome to make themselves a pb&j. I don't make multiple meals...I'm not a short order cook!

    The rule in our house is if you don't eat your dinner, you don't get your bed snack before going to bed. That seems to have helped us with our picky picky eater!

    Good luck!

  13. "Grazing" on small meals and a variety of foods is a great way to maintain a fast metabolism that will prevent him from becoming overweight. If you insist that he eat more calories at a sitting and eat when you say so rather than when he's hungry, you are teaching him to IGNORE his body's cues. What will happen when you're not there to guide him and he's out in the world with junk food being pushed at him from every direction?

    Offer healthy foods at times that work with your schedule, at least 6 times a day, including just before bed. Put a snack in his bedroom that he can get for himself if he's hungry in the middle of the night, something that can be left out and isn't too bad for his teeth, like nuts or pretzels.

    Since he likes a lot of foods, let him have what you're eating or leftovers. Put some variety on the table, and then stick to the policy of not getting up to make him something different while you're eating! (My kid never tires of asking, but I hate to do that!)

    Family mealtimes are important for social reasons as well as eating, so stick to your rule #1. But I'd modify rule #2 to, "He may not have sweets or junk food unless he ate at least half a plate of healthy food at the last meal." What was "for dinner" this night is not as important as getting enough nourishment before filling up on junk.

    My opinion is pretty different from the others here. I guess I see this as being more about eating habits than about discipline.