I was the world’s pickiest eater.
For years, all I wanted was cereal, pasta, bread, cake, muffins, croissants… Anything bready, and I wanted it. Even better if it was bready AND sweet.
My mother watched in despair (and amazement) as I somehow managed to grow without seeming to eat a single vegetable. That all changed, however, when I went to boarding school at age 14.
Faced with how gross the food was at school, I suddenly realized how good I had had it at home. I returned after my first semester away and would eat anything. (Or, at least almost anything.)
I am happy to report that I now enjoy a varied and balanced diet (though I still have a weak spot for all things bread…).
What Goes Around…
I can only imagine my mother’s smug reaction to the fact that the Bear (our second son) is just such another picky eater.
He would forgo all vegetables, and even most fruit if he could. Like his mother before him, it seems he would happily live on bread alone.
Following my mother’s approach with me, we instituted a “one bite of everything” rule. That has always worked remarkably well for the Bug, and we figured that way at least the Bear would get the occasional vegetable.
Oh, how wrong we were!
What works for one child, does not always work for another.
Dinnertime became a battle of wills. At first, hearing what was for dinner would make him cry. Eventually, just hearing the call of, “Dinner time!” was enough to set off tears.
It was a battle to get him to the table. It was a battle to get him to eat even one bite of each thing.
Finally, it came down to his choice: calm down and take one bite of everything, or go to bed. He would usually calm down and sniffle through the meal, but it made dinner time (and even lunchtime) stressful and unpleasant.
The Breaking Point
Things finally came to a head one evening. The Bear had been particularly threenager-ish all day, and when I called down to the playroom: “Dinner time!” a howl emerged from the basement.
The wailing mounted the stairs and burst forth through the basement door as his tear-streaked face came into view. We wrestled him to the bathroom to wash his hands, and got him to his chair.
When we were finally gathered at the table, he was given his usual choice: calm down and take one bite of everything, or go to bed.
He threw down his fork and screamed.
I jumped up from my chair, swiftly (but calmly) rounded the table, scooped him up and whisked him upstairs. I bathed him (by which time he had calmed down), got him ready, read him his story and put him to bed.
The following morning, what he hadn’t eaten at dinner was on his breakfast plate.
There were a few quiet tears, but he had understood the point and quickly took one bite of each before having his breakfast.
Then, Relief Came
I was fed up, and in my frustration I vented on a Facebook group. I got lots of sympathy, but then, relief. A friend shared with me the Ellyn Satter Institute Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
This. Was. A. Game. Changer.
The basic premise is this: parents are responsible for what, when and where to eat. Children are responsible for whether and how much to eat.
Important to the process is establishing regular meal and snack times, and not letting children eat between meals.
Luckily, we’ve tended to do this anyway: we sit down together at table to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Snack times are mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I have a pet peeve about crumbs on furniture, so we’ve never let the kids eat anywhere but sitting at the table. That’s a firm family rule.
With that already established, putting this into practice was relatively easy. Chico and I talked about it, read through the materials on the website, and agreed to give it a try. Anything had to be better than what we were dealing with now.
Freed From Food Fights
What a relief to be freed from the responsibility of making my child eat!
The first time we sat down to dinner after reading about the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, we made a quick announcement:
“Boys, Mamá and Papá will give you food at mealtimes. We’ll decide what to give you and when. But you guys will decide whether you want to eat it, and how much you eat. All we want is for us to sit together and have a nice time as a family.”
There was a little complaining at first, but as soon as they realized they could choose to NOT eat certain things, the fussing stopped. We try to make sure there’s at least something on the table that they’ll like, but we don’t cater exclusively to their tastes, or make a separate meal for them.
Oftentimes, the Bear has nothing more than a glass of milk and a slice of buttered bread for dinner. It’s hard to take. But we’re working on trusting him to eat as much as he needs to, and on the whole mealtimes have been SO MUCH BETTER.
Now, we spend our mealtimes talking and laughing. Instead of nagging and arguing, we’re listening and chatting. We’ll talk about our days, talk about our plans for the days ahead, and just enjoy time together.
It’s just so freeing. Old habits die hard, and I do sometimes slip back into the occasional nag. But Chico and I encourage each other, and it’s so much better than it was.
According to the Ellyn Satter Institute, following this method will teach children by example how to eat a variety of foods. She does say it can take years, and sometimes it feels like it will never happen for our Bear.
But we must have faith and persevere. As long as mealtimes are a joyful time that we spend together, we’ve got to be doing something right.