Raising My Twins

It's what's on my mind.

Food Wars: Finding Peace Time

on February 17, 2012

My almost-two-year-old girls have (typical to their age I understand) slowly slid from awesome, adventurous tryers of most things, into rather particular and petulant eaters.

I sensed that catering to their whims was probably reinforcing their pickiness, and maybe two weeks ago I somewhat meekly started—at dinner only—a program of offering the girls only what we eat—no special meals just for them. And milk is always offered when they are done eating.

Rachel tucks into some fried rice—with vigor and mad big-fork skills.

Well, I was emboldened after reading an article sent from my dad, which described how French parents give three meals and one late-afternoon snack to their children, to start a four-meal-per-day schedule, which I started last Thursday. I also decided to extend my “take-it-or-leave-it” dinner plan to all four meals. So dinner has remained as it was, where I serve a healthy dinner without thinking about what they like (very much). Breakfast is, and has been, the same for a long time—oatmeal with cinnamon and blueberries. Goes like gangbusters most days. But now “Lunch 1” and “Lunch 2” as I like to think of them (because I offer hearty stuff at each, unlike a “snack”) each consist of 3-4 offerings, which I get ready before they are in the chairs, and show them to the girls as they are seated, telling them that’s what their choices are.

If they reject everything, then mealtime is over. If they throw their spoon, they must eat with their hands, etc. You get the idea. (And if they only eat two orange slices, then I resist the urge to rifle through the fridge for something they like, or hand them an easy snack food.)

I’d been thinking about doing this anyway, to formalize eating and thereby start to institute manners. But the article gave me much more conviction to follow through. So meals now require the girls sit in their high chairs, either in kitchen or dining room, rather than my former “lazy” lunch/snack method of handing them sandwich pieces or forking tofu cubes into their mouths as they play. Or piling some cheese and crackers on the table for them to graze at. (Oh yeah, I did that…often.)

At first, the girls rejected most of dinner as usual—didn’t even try a bite of very delicious lasagna no matter what we tried. But soon they started at least trying more items, especially Rachel. And then, almost a week into the new schedule, they ate broccoli again! And tons of it. They hadn’t eaten broccoli—formerly one of Audrey’s tip-top favorites—for months now, at any meal, probably because there was always the possibility of something more interesting if it was rejected.

That night’s dinner was broiled flounder, broccoli and red potatoes. A hungry Rachel tried the fish immediately—no suspicious eyeballing—but didn’t like it (no problem) and she even tried the potatoes, a food she’s rejected since birth, inexplicably. And she liked the potatoes enough to have maybe six forkfuls. Audrey tried a bite or two of potatoes, wouldn’t try the fish. But both girls saw in the broccoli an old familiar, it seems, so it went down the hatch…in droves!  It seems they were hungry enough to eat what was available. I actually had to run and cook two extra “trees” of broccoli for those maniacs! Rachel was downright scowly with impatience as we tried to cool pieces rapid-fire for her!

It’s been a few more days since that night and both girls are eating so much better than they were with the old system (which was based on the current American mainstream advice of three meals and two snacks) and I am happier and more organized. I haven’t even thought of handing them a cereal bar since I started the new schedule, and here’s why: I can easily, happily make four meals with a few healthy items each. Especially when I am not concerned about whether they eat or not. Before, it seemed like it was always time to think about yet another nosh for them, and it was so exhausting, prepping or thinking about toddler food all day like that, that I’d end up just handing them cereal bars sometimes, or a pile of bunny crackers. When we went out, I’d pack four or five varieties of finger foods, to be sure they liked something. Now I plan to bring one complete meal. And I’ll reserve “snacks” only for an unlikely car breakdown. Oh, I should mention too, that I’ve dispensed with the term “snack” for now as well, as it was causing me to choose cruddier options, I think, because of their “snackiness.”

The new way is working much better, and the girls seem brighter and more interested at mealtimes as well. I am not rigid with the times…if they are having an extra hungry day, I’ll feed them early. But it’s still only four meals each day. I think they like the formality better too. They know the rules (no throwing) when they are in their chairs, and this way I’m not compromising these new manners by feeding them in the living room or wherever. Bonus: they get an attentive, relaxed mother again, who typically eats with them and goofs around a little. I used to love mealtimes and feeding these girls. And now I do again!

Cross your fingers it lasts a while.

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