Food Fight

When S-Boogie started eating solid food I made the decision to let her determine how much she was going to eat. Several books I read and the nutrition class I attended told me the same thing: you decide what they eat, the child decides how much. I feel like I've done a good job offering her regular, healthy meals and snacks. And mostly we have had stress-free eating because sometimes she chooses to eat and sometimes she doesn't. I learned to offer her small portions so I didn't worry about wasting too much food, and we have times that are for eating and times that aren't so that she isn't just snacking all day. The system seems to be working for Little Dude too.

Unfortunately now I have a preschooler. And over the last few months I feel like we've evolved into being the parents I didn't want to be. We find ourselves bargaining over how many bites she has to eat before leaving the table, bribing with the promise of dessert if she'll clean her plate, forcing her to sit in her chair for nearly an hour until she finishes her cereal. Now that she's older, she often doesn't eat because she doesn't like the appearance of the food or because it's something new. Or she is distracted by singing or talking (she really never shuts her mouth, I'm not kidding). I feel terrible, because I didn't want food to be this big of a deal. I sometimes don't clean my plate. I don't expect Little Dude to clean his plate. But I also know that if we don't strongly encourage her to eat she'll wake up in the middle of the night complaining of hunger.

So, now I'm trying to figure out what my options are. I'm tired of every meal feeling like a battle ground. First of all, I think we're going to mostly cut out the treats. And make them unconnected to eating. I'm not sure how to do that, because we were both raised with the mantra "you have to eat real food in order to get a treat". But I don't like bribing my kids. So I think we're just going to have treats at Family Home Evening once a week or if we have friends over. I think I also need to be more strict about afternoon snacks and not allow them after four o'clock. Hunger is a great motivator for eating your dinner. I do serve healthy snacks, but eating yogurt at five o'clock ruins dinner and isn't enough to last all night. I also think we need to stop bargaining on bites. She needs to try everything, but if she wakes up hungry from not eating she's old enough to remember that the next day.

The hardest battle we have is one I don't want to give up though. If we didn't force her to do it, S-Boogie would probably go all day without drinking anything. She doesn't like to drink, but she often complains about pain when she goes to the bathroom. Which she only does once a day at most. I've asked her doctor twice about the possibility of her having an infection, but she keeps telling me it's not likely without a fever. I also suspect that S-Boogie's wiping technique could use some help and could be contributing to the problem. But I think we have a problem with hydration. Trying to get her to finish a glass of milk is like pulling teeth. I give her milk because she refuses to even touch water, even though I know it's not as hydrating.

I guess I've been feeling kind of frustrated lately because I feel like everything with S-Boogie is a major fight. I know part of it is being a preschooler, but it still drives me nuts. Last night she picked "The Wise Man and the Foolish Man" for the opening song for Family Home Evening. However, as we started singing she kept interrupting us because she was sure the words were "the clouds came up" instead of "the floods". When we tried to explain to her what a flood was (water rising up) she still didn't believe us. So we sang the rest of the song with her shouting "clouds" and us shouting "floods". I guess it shows not only how stubborn she is, but how stubborn we are too. Some days I don't know how I'm going to get through the next thirteen years of her life since I'm already irrelevant.


Lindsay said…
Man, this does sound rough. I wish I had some experienced advice for you, but I don't yet, since I won't be fighting these sorts of battles for a little while yet. As for the not-drinking-water problem, have you considered those Crystal Light flavor packets? I don't know their nutritional value or whether or not they'd be good for kids, but if they are okay, maybe something like that would give her incentive to drink more. I don't know...just a thought. Good luck, though!
Mama said…
I can just say what I did- maybe it will help you.

We did a FHE on nutrition and made a chart about food. (It was a big poster and had on it the times we would eat - and that included snack times. Next to the time, we had choices of items. Everyone got a say about some good choices during those times.

And that was that. The kids LOVED the chart and getting say about food and I loved getting to say no to a snack when I was sick of being in the kitchen. I wonder if something like that would work for her -seeing when meals and snacks are and seeing that a drink WILL be part of it?


Maybe included in the food chart could be a sticker chart for every glass of water, juice, whatever it is that she drinks a day. There are loads of healthy drink choices for kids - maybe there is at least one she likes?!

I got my daughters' dance teacher involved, too. Mine was more a food problem (my 4 year old decided she needed to diet) and I had the dance teacher (as well as the pre-K teacher) talk to her about food. They did miracles with her that I could not!!!

I often worried that my child would not have enough nutrition to make it thru school if I didn't make her eat a healthy breakfast. Then, I quit worrying and you know what - she made it thru the day juuuuuust fine. They start to adjust and eat a bigger breakfast, etc.


I know a good site to make really easy charts if you ever want the link....
Jenny said…
This sounds like our dinner as well, only ours involves our son copying and ingraining everything his sister does to memory.

We have been giving our kids bigger breakfasts and it works well and they get a lot more nutritional value, and then on days when they successfully eat dinner it's because I didn't let them eat anything except water for an hour or two before dinner and there was lots of screaming and crying on their part.
Last night Savvy cried for and hour in her room because she didn't want to take her plate to the sink and threw it on the floor. So annoying.

I wish I had advice. All I have is sympathy and similar questions.
Oh, foxy, I totally understand. The hard thing is something you haven't yet seen yet--my second, a real sweetie, is starting to to emulate this behavior he has seen so long from older brother. My six year old is just getting to the other side of ALL this.

About dinner--I hate sending my kiddos to bed hungry. It just causes too much grouchiness in the evening AND the next day. If my kids will at least TRY dinner then they can have bread and butter (ONLY: no PB or jam) if they don't like it. You are right about snacks. I never feed my kids later than two hours before dinner. I try to never eat past six.

Also, I don't make my kids eat everything, but at least for dinner I make sure they have a vegetable or fruit and a protein.

I like the chart idea. We did that for a while: my oldest is good with charts. We do treats as incentive, but I don't feel too badly about it because it has helped so much with getting them to eat more. If I'm serving something for dinner that is more empty calorie than something else (like jello or fries) they don't get any until they eat the "important" thing.

But stick to your guns about not being a short order cook. It might take a while (meaning a year or two), but they'll get it.

Oh, and on the liquids (don't even get me started on constipation), but have you tried smoothies? Not the nasty sugary kind you buy places, but just yogurt, frozen fruit, water or milk, protein powder, juice concentrate and ice in your blender? (If you use plain yogurt a shot of sweetned condensed milk is amazing too.) My kids LOVE these. My oldest especially would probably have a smoothie every day. I serve them for supper or lunch or breakfast or whenever we want to. Fiber, liquid and protein all in one delicious package. This also makes a good "treat." My kids have also been drinking more water since I got them each a water bottle and sharpied their names on them. I also put them low in the fridge so they can reach them any time.

Good luck!
'sposita said…
We've had much the same problems - but I think we had much to do with it because of food allergies making it impossible for him to have what we were having, so we got into some bad habits.

We just had a lesson on nutrition, and now have a chart - so he knows the reason now why we need to eat fruits and veggies, and I have to know what vitamin or mineral that the fruit might have. The Drinking thing hasn't been so much a problem for us, but we have a general rule that he drinks a cup after going to the bathroom.

Good Luck! =)
Emma said…
It is a struggle. It's good to have a set time for snack, so it doesn't interfere with dinner. My kids still ask for food close to dinner, but I just remind them that snack time is over and the dinner will be soon.
I agree that she is old enough to understand if she doesn't want to be hungry at night she needs to eat more dinner (not that she will always choose to eat more). I used to have a fun water bottle that my kids could drink out of any time of the day. We don't use it anymore, but they stay pretty hydrated now.
I like the other ideas of Crystal Lite and smoothies. David is really into nutrition right now, so maybe a lesson/chart might not be a bad idea. Good luck.
Kailey said…
I think EVERY mom has been in this pickle. I totally agree with the not forcing your kid to eat, but also not changing the meal plan for them. When something "looks funny" or is something they think they won't like, I tell them they don't have to eat it if they don't like it, but they DO have to take at least one bite and try it first. And if they are still hungry but they haven't finished what was served, then it's too bad (unless they want to substitute the thing they didn't like with more of something else healthy that was served). I mean, we all have foods that we don't eat if we don't have too.

As for the liquid debate, maybe it would help if you got her some of those flavored waters for a little while to try or let her put the tiniest bit of chocolate in her milk if she drinks half the cup. With my boys, it always helps it I tell them why they need to eat or drink certain things. They like to know if it makes them smarter or stronger... or if it will make their hair curly (like my Grandad told them peas would do back when they wanted curly hair like Anakin Skywalker). :-) Just some ideas... every kid is different.
Lots of good things. I like the idea of talking up nutrition. We have had everyone my son knows talk about how good water is for you. We also talk about what color your pee is supposed to be. My son is very into bodily happenings so he has always been into the idea that he needs to drink more because his pee isn't the right color. We also have cool water bottles that help.
skyeJ said…
Have you considered the temperature of the water you offer S-Boogie? I know you guys have that water filter thing in the fridge, and maybe she doesn't like really cold water. I don't. When I'm really thirsty it bothers me to gulp down cold water, I prefer it to be room-temperature or tap-temperature. It isn't my teeth, it just is too cold for my mouth. Good luck with the hydration.
Terina said…
i so feel your pain. this is what we do: if my 4 year old doesn't want to finish his dinner, thats fine. if he becomes hungry later in the evening, then he still has to finish his dinner. i will either leave it on the table, or put it in the fridge. i make sure not to give him too much so that he will finish what he's been given. it works a lot of the time. sometimes he'll come back at 8 at night and want to finish. so i heat it up for him. i like the ideas about talking about nutrition. we have no problems with meat as he is a boy, and we tell him eating meat gives him protein which gives him big muscles. so, meat always goes over well.:) hopefully some of the suggestions here work for you!!! good luck!! oh, we have a cool water bottle that my kids love to drink out of. its kind of expensive, but they are worth it if they drink a lot. they are the camelbak ones where you have to bite on it to drink out of it. they really like that they each have their own. just like their dads....
Anonymous said…
I thought I'd tell you what I do with my daycare kids that don't like to finish their milk at lunch. I race them- and let them win. plus the cows will be sad and start crying if you don't finish your milk... hope this helps!

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