It’s dinner time. You’ve sweated in the summer heat over a pot of mashed potatoes just because it’s the only thing your kid seems to want to eat this week. You’re in the middle of a heatwave, the air-conditioner’s on the fritz, and you’re boiling potatoes and mashing them in a steam bath anyway because you’ve just got to get this kid to eat. Something. Anything. It’s the fluffiest, butteriest batch of mashed potatoes you’ve ever made, so good it’d make Wolfgang Puck sob into his crisp, white chef’s jacket. You put one scoop of this semi-precious substance in a bowl and place it in front of your child. You hold your breath. This is going to be it. This is the one. This is the meal he’s going to eat, you think to yourself. I’m a good mom! I’m not starving my child!
You wait for him to pick up his spoon and start eating the one thing he’s been demanding for weeks; the dish no one in their right mind would be cooking in this weather with no A/C. He’s about to take a bite. All that sweat, all the effort and the dehydration standing over a hot fire are about to pay off.
Your kid slowly raises a spoonful of mash to his mouth, and you wait, holding your breath. It’s so close, now. He’s about to take a bite!
And that’s when it happens. The nose scrunches up. The head cocks to the side. His other hand points at his spoon. You can almost hear his eyes focus in on something microscopic and then he says it,
“Mommy, what’s that?”
Your heart sinks, but maybe there’s still hope.
“What’s what, honey? I don’t see anything.” and you don’t, it’s true.
“That little green thing.”
All you see is white. Creamy, fluffy white.
” I don’t see any green, hun.”
“MOM! THIS!” and in his fingers go to the perfectly-made spuds, little pincers and sure enough, out comes a nearly-non-existant fleck of green so small you’d need a microscope to identify it.
“It’s a piece of potato.” You said, exasperated. But you know, deep down, that this is it. The potatoes are for nought. Your kid isn’t going to eat a goddamned bite, and the hunger strike continues.
As parents, we’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled to get our kids to eat nutritional food regularly. We’ve pored over Google results for “easy, kid-friendly dinners”. We’ve tried the meal-kit delivery services and new restaurants when they appear in town boasting healthy, cheap and easy take-out (LOL). We’ve tried asking them what they want; we’ve attempted to have them help cook dinner; we’ve tried everything save for feeding them in their sleep, but sometimes, it just seems like nothing will ever work. It’s as though your kid is never going to eat again.
I got this email from a fellow sufferer last week,
I have tried everything I can think of to get my daughter to eat. She refuses just about everything I give her. The only thing she will eat without an epic struggle is french fries, and I’m so close to just letting her eat them for the rest of her life! The worst part is that she is nine years old! How do I get my kid to eat nutritional food without exhausting myself?
I feel this. I’m a food-obsessed mom who loves to try new, exotic foods and cook new recipes all the time. To have someone in my home who not only does not appreciate that but who actively turns their nose up at everything I make is heartbreaking. I also know that when my son overeats junk food and doesn’t get enough good stuff in him, he gets grumpy and loses focus at school. It’s super important to me to have him eating well, but sometimes that feels like the impossible.
That is, it did. Until I came to a significant, life-altering realization. Before I had this revelation, I struggled, friends. Every night, dinner was an ordeal. It got to the point that I was making two entirely different dinners every single night. I was doing just about anything to avoid the dinner table confrontation; the begging; the bribery; the pleading. I’d make a delicious, savoury stir-fry with care for my husband, daughter and I and then a bowl of rice, with a side of raw veggies for my son. If we were having a green, crispy salad for dinner, he’d have it deconstructed, without the dressing and the lettuce. If I tried to serve him anything that he suddenly decided he didn’t like, we were in for it. Pouting, whining, crying. It was as though I was torturing my own son.
Fellow parents, I dared to just make one dinner.
My friends, I put that dinner in front of him.
What’s more, my lovely heathens, when he told me he didn’t like it and wasn’t going to eat it, I said okay.
I looked my kiddo, this tiny force of nature, square in the eyes and said, “k”.
He was thrown for a loop. The whining stopped while he pondered what I’d said. You could almost see the little cogs spinning in his mind before he finally asked, quietly,
“What can I have for dinner, then?”
I looked at my little man, let out an apathetic chuckle and said, “that’s hilarious.”
“Huh?” He looked at me, clearly confused.
“Hun, that’s for dinner.” I pointed to his plate. “That’s all that’s for dinner. If you don’t want to eat it, that’s your choice, but there is no other dinner, and nothing else until this dinner has been eaten. If you don’t eat it, I’m going to put it in a container in the fridge, and when you’re hungry, we’ll pop it in the microwave. If you don’t eat it tonight, it’s going to be your lunch tomorrow and then your dinner after that if you still won’t eat it. This is the only food in your foreseeable future, kiddo, so if I were you, I’d get over the fact that it includes green things, take a bite and eat until you’re satisfied.”
He looked at me in disbelief and tears spilled out of his cute, little eyes. He tried to plead. He tried to negotiate, but I stood my ground. He refused to eat dinner that night, and I packed it up and saved it for the next day. Sure, it was one more night of tantrums and incessant “I’m hungry”s, and he pushed it well into the next day, but finally, his hunger got the best of him. Finally, that little tummy said, “Kid, if you don’t eat something, your body’s going on strike.” and so he sat, defeated, at the kitchen table and ate his dinner from the night before through sobs and pouts and protests.
The next time this happened, though, it took less time for him to give in and eat the offensive meal. He ate it with less protest and fewer tears. By the third time we went through this routine, he just ate it after a minor objection, and he ate it at the same time we did. Now, he doesn’t object anymore, and the only time I ever make him a separate dinner is when mine is so spicy, I’m afraid it’d kill my offspring.
The life-changing realization I had come to is that he has the same instincts as the rest of us. He has the same subconscious drive to survive, and as such, his very biology will not allow him to starve himself. Eventually, his instinctual need for nourishment will take over his mind and body, and he will eat.
My revelation was that kids won’t starve themselves. Of course, there are exceptions in kids who are not neurotypical and kids with other mental health concerns, but if these things are irrelevant to your kiddo, she is not going to starve herself. Eventually, she’s going to eat. You’ll have to cope with the fights in the beginning, but it’s all in the name of lasting dinnertime peace and healthy eating habits.
You also want to be cognizant of when your kid has had enough to be satisfied. Urging your child to eat new foods is different from forcing them to eat an entire plateful of food when they may have legitimately had enough. It’s important to let your child determine when they’re done.
I’d love to know how you deal with this, parents. Let me know your pointers and tips in the comments!
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Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay