Two things that completely confuse me about kids are why they dislike eating and sleeping so much. Both activities I wholeheartedly love and constantly wish I could do more of. So, this post focusses mostly on the topic of food, which although occupies less time than sleeping seems to induce more frustration. Both my girls could be considered picky eaters, although in different ways. Ellie loves food, but not it’s consistency. Whether it be preference or more mechanical, she wound rather eat a purée of sweet potatoes, kale, and zucchini than a chocolate chip cookie. Mya, on the other hand has so many random food aversions, it’s hard to keep track. For an entire week she will only eat cheese and them declare after I just returned from Costco with an endless supply of cheese, that she has decided she’s allergic to her former favorite food. She likes chocolate cookies but won’t touch peanut or oatmeal cookies. She is terrified to even try creme brûlée and cried for 15 minutes one morning when I asked her to try, just try, waffles with maple syrup. One morning, a school morning, my most relaxed time of the day (detect sarcasm) I found myself sitting at the kitchen table about the start crying. The tears were welling up in my eyes and I literally had to rub them to ward off my own tantrum. I had made chocolate hearts for Mya for breakfast, a meal she had adored all week. This involves me cutting toast into hearts and covering with a layer of Nutella. Let me repeat, I cut toast in the shape of hearts at 6:30am, into hearts people! Mya looked at her plate, pushed it aside without so much as a bite and said, “I don’t really like this anymore mom, maybe next week.” Chocolate hearts! Then I took a glance at Ellie who was crying at the site of Cheerios on her high chair tray. Looking at me with a “seriously mom?” face. I spent the next five minutes trying to bribe Mya into eating chocolate for breakfast while stuffing the Cheerios by hand into Ellie’s mouth. At that moment, as the tears flooded my tired and crazed eyes, I had a moment of awakening. An “ah-ha” moment as Oprah would say. And I completely changed my approach to mealtimes with my kids. And would you like to know what my new life changing strategy regarding food entails: NOTHING. I do nothing. Countless books and doctors and nutritionists have told me over and over again not to make a big deal about food. Provide healthy foods and they will eat if they’re hungry. But I resisted, the control in me wanted Mya to finish breakfast, wanted Ellie feeding herself by a year of age. But the more of a big deal I made about food the more defiance I saw. This had turned into a battle of control, chocolate hearts included. So now I make 3 meals and 2 snacks for Mya. I refuse to make a variety of meals that she can choose from. We sit at the table, food is placed infront of her and it’s her job to eat it. But, and this is the most important, if she doesn’t eat it, it’s okay, she will survive. I don’t make a huge fuss that results in time outs, toys being taken away, or tears. There are only 3 rules: she must sit at the table like a big girl and not cry or complain or say things like, “I hate this,” she must try at least one thing, and she has to sit at the table till everyone is done. And would you like to know what happened, EVERYTHING! Dinner started being fun. I don’t have to make a thousand meals or raise my voice. We all play dinner games and talk about our days. And amongst all this, Mya started eating food she had never eaten before. I wouldn’t say she has completely transformed and is requesting spinach and mushroom frittatas, but mealtime has become more about family time, which in turn makes eating fun, and less about rewards for eating and punishment for not. I will say, I can do this because Ellie and Mya are both a perfect weight, I’m not worried about malnutrition because somehow, they’ve known what they were doing all along. And Ellie, who has witnessed everything may even be benefitting from the good vibes at the dinner table, last night she ate an entire meal, all by herself. I admit I still have transgressions, we all slip back into bad habits on occasion. Just the other night I desperately wanted Mya to try home made potato chips which she refused. I started to feel the escalation, took a deep breath, and let it go. Just as dinner was ending, Mya took a bite of the chips, all on her own. Apparently they were too “potato-y” but she tried them and no one cried. And that is a win, for everyone.
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