What do you do when your child refuses to eat or is a picky eater?

Eat your veggies!!!! Image borrowed from: http://www.foodonthetable.com/

One thing that I have always been proud of as a parent, is that my kids are not picky eaters. They have always eaten their veggies, didn’t consume much sugar, and just had a well rounded diet. They ate consistently, ate well, and was always open to new foods.

That has all changed in the past 3 weeks. I have a 6 year old and a 21 month old. And both kids have decided that all the food they eat just doesn’t taste good. My 21 month old, I get it, he is testing his limits on what mommy will give him. He is playing with his food. You gave him bread and butter once and now he has decided that he won’t eat unless you only give him bread and butter for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whatever…. with him, I just need to figure out how to incorporate vegetables back into his mouth and I will be satisfied as a mom. Does marinara sauce count as a veggie? In my house it does.

But my daughter is a different story. She has decided that she is a little princess and your job is to wait on her hand and foot. And if she doesn’t want what you give her to eat, she will fuck with your head and return the meal back to the kitchen, asking for something else to eat. And it is all my fault. I take full responsibility for this behavior. Now I have to figure out how to reprogram her.

You see, summer is here. And summer camp now has begun. She is expending lots of energy. According to her, an applesauce cup is enough for breakfast. A bag of fish crackers is enough for lunch. And some oranges and a string cheese is enough for dinner.

“The sandwich doesn’t have honey on it. The sandwich doesn’t have the right bread. The sandwich doesn’t have enough honey on it. The cheese wasn’t cold. The apple was yucky. I don’t like bananas now….”

This is the same girl who will down a chicken tostada at the end of the day when we treat to take out.

So after about 3 weeks of this going on, I lost it this morning. After 3 weeks of me tending to her every need by allowing her to return the food and giving her a different option, (since I am paranoid that she will die of starvation), allowing her to eat one bite and return it, I went totally bonkers and freaked out (check out that run on sentence).

It all started with instant oatmeal…. 3 mornings a week, we rush out of the house each morning with a car full of bags, laptops, lunches, backpacks, etc. We struggle to get hair and teeth brushed, beds made, get dressed, and attempt to not leave the house as if a complete tornado had just flown in. And 3 mornings a week, I have no time to put up with kids not eating breakfast or at least taking breakfast with them in the car.

Ok so the oatmeal. Rushing around this morning, mistakenly allowing the TV to be on before she had started her morning routine, she asked for oatmeal. I think to myself, Great, she wants oatmeal. That will be a great meal to last with her until lunch time while she is at summer camp playing hard. I prepare the oatmeal. I put yummy butter and milk in it. I bring it to her on the couch with a towel and a smile. She ate one bite and said, “it is yucky, I want something else”.

“Are you (fucking) kidding me, girlfriend! There are people starving in poverty that have no food. I don’t have time to make you a different meal. Why don’t I just go into your piggy bank and take a dollar out and throw it in the trash. That is what you just did by refusing to eat the oatmeal. ” (of course I communicated my frustration with throwing the f-bomb at her)

And that, my fellow mommies, is the moment of clarity for me. The moment where I realized that I was the asshole in this situation. The moment the clouds parted in sky and the light shinned directly in my eye. Then I told her, she can go in the kitchen and find herself something to eat, cause I am done.

The rest of the day, as I sat at work pretending to do my job, all I could think about was how I was going to communicate to her with this massive discussion about how she needed to eat the food that is given to her, or she will go hungry. How she will be offered food and if she refuses it and it goes in the trash, it is her loss. That I will not be her short order cook anymore. That I am disappointed that she would waste food because we should be so lucky that we have food in the first place. How it takes work to prepare a meal and it should be appreciated. I was basically going to make a big huge stink about it.

But there was no huge talk. In the end, I decided to take it meal by meal. And basically gently remind her that if she didn’t eat the food provided to her, she would not eat, and that is really too bad. I am also thinking of having her start making her own meals, help with dinner, and basically start having her learn what it takes to prepare a meal. I am not going to get mad anymore. It really just goes in one ear and out the other. But I am going to give her the freedom to learn on her own what it means to be hungry if she chooses to not eat the food that is given to her.

I really think, for whatever reason, she decided she would going to try out this power struggle with me. I believe it really it has nothing to do with food itself, but more about testing the limits. It took me 3 weeks to catch on, but I am hoping that we see a turn of events.

Now getting my toddler to eat his veggies…..

*Disclaimer…. I am living off of 5 hours of sleep and a full work day, please taking 2 hours to get the toddler to go to sleep. Pardon the miss-spelling or grammar issues.

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11 thoughts on “What do you do when your child refuses to eat or is a picky eater?

  1. When my daughter was born, my father-in-law gave me the best advice I think I have ever received. He told me “Kids will not starve themselves.” This has become my mantra, as I am also dealing with a 4 year old that used to eat everything and is now becoming increasingly picky. There is a non-negotiable rule in my house that applies to everyone, regardless of age: If you don’t eat something that counts as ‘real food’ there will be no snacks, no sweets, no junk. This is my atom bomb when my daughter refuses dinner and later asks for ice cream. I say no, you didn’t eat your dinner so you can’t have anything else. Nine times out of ten, she will ask me to reheat her dinner plate. Works, for now, until it doesn’t work anymore and I have to figure out a new tactic.

    She has some food-weirdness too. Like, she won’t eat spaghetti if it isn’t served with a side of green beans and won’t eat a sandwich unless it’s cut on a diagonal into four pieces (but at least she eats the crust! I refuse to remove bread crusts!).

    It pains me, but I have put my daughter to bed knowing that she hasn’t eaten anything since lunch. But, the mornings after nights like that always include her eating a hearty breakfast!

    Stay strong!

  2. My kiddos will eat almost any oven roasted veggie with glee. Bread is their main food group though. Hey, they’re still breathing.

    • I tried that tonight, thinking of you. I roasted a bunch of veggies and put butter and salt on them. My daughter loved it! Granted she didn’t want anything with her dinner. But when she saw me eating them, she wanted to try a beet. Then said, I LOVE BEETS, and ate a ton!

      Thanks for the great advice.

      • Yay! Our favorities are broccoli, cauliflower, corn, and kale. I’m glad you had some success, little victories!

  3. I tell my 3 year old it is the only meal I will serve her. I will not fix another lunch for her. She can eat it, or she can be hungry. If she protests I take the food away until she realizes her whining won’t get her anywhere. Some nights she chooses to only eat some of her dinner, and then she is hungry later. I will give her the rest of her dinner. It is tough! Eating is one thing that they can control, and they like to use it against us.

    • I was too Hippie Cowboy 420 (fabulous avatar name BTW).
      In my house we weren’t allowed to play video games. We had to go outside and play. My husband on the other hand was not brought up in the same manner. So we have to find a happy medium in our house.

  4. I do better some days than others. The truth is, two have or had food allergies, and I’ve been making at least 2 different meals (sometimes 3) 3 x a day for a few years now. It’s exhausting and I hate it. So, many times, I resort to just letting them eat crap so they will at least eat. Other times, I’m super strict and just let them go hungry. I guess it depends on what type of mood I am in. But lately, I’ve been feeling this nagging feeling that something has to change too. Because there is way too much crappy food going into their mouths everyday!

    • Food allergies are hard. We don’t really do junk food in our house. We don’t buy soda, chips, ice cream etc. However….. we eat a lot of mac and cheese from Trader Joes, lots of chocolate, and did I mention lots of mac and cheese?

  5. Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments! I never thought I would be a parent who would tend to my child’s picky eating habits. I always said they would eat what I gave them, I would not take the crusts off the sandwich, or the apple peal off the apple. Then I got worried they weren’t eating enough. But it is true, they won’t die of starvation and they will eat if they get hungry enough.

    Since I stopped making a big deal out of it, and have gently reminded them that if they want to eat, now is the time and they won’t be offered anything different, they have been eating more. For the first couple of times, my daughter just didn’t eat. But then she got hungry and was unhappy about that. So now I am noticing her eating more. And not complaining about what I have given her.

    SO YAY!

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