Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Dinner-Challenged Individual

My daughter is definitely dinner-challenged. The majority of the evening meals she eats (well, sometimes eats, but we'll get to that later...) are serious attempts at judicial negotiation, almost bordering on coercion. Some might even call it bribery.

But, how do you balance the idea of making sure your child is eating a healthy well-balanced diet with holding onto your principles of serving a legitimate meal? Every day, I battle this. Do I give her exactly what she asks for, so that I make sure she eats? Or do I give her a little bit of the thing she asks for, and withhold the rest as a "reward" for eating the food I want her to eat? And how long do I let dinner drag on, while encouraging her to eat what's on her plate? We've gone some nights with dinner lasting almost an hour! Last night, we tried setting our kitchen timer, but it was NOT a big hit. The munchkin got so focused on worrying about the timer "dinging," that she couldn't eat. We told her to try and forget about it, but that's all she could think of. So, you guessed it -- dinner lasted 45 minutes again.

We seem to have a rotation of about 5 dinner choices -- scrambled eggs, a Boca burger, chicken nuggets, ravioli (or some other form of pasta), or fish sticks. She varies the accompaniments (cous cous, green beans, broccoli, applesauce, etc.), but the "main dishes" always seem to be on this narrow list. I often wonder if she'll grow up to be an adventurous eater -- something my parents could never claim about me. She does like unusal things -- olives, mushrooms, avocados, pickles -- but her overall diet seems to be about as un-adventurous as any other almost-four-year-old's. I'm not worried, I just wonder what impact it will have in the long run.

Often, all of the basically inconsequential dinnertime issues just pile up into one big round of frustration. Not for her, but for Mommy (and Daddy). Every night, we struggle with whether to "stick to our guns" and make a point, or be a little looser and let things slide a little. Sometimes she eats what we consider to be an acceptable amount of the approved menu items, but other times, she ends up eating just a few mouthfuls of food and a few sips of milk. I always think she'll be too hungry to fall sleep that night, but somehow she makes it until the morning. (And then, thankfuly, eats a nice big breakfast!)

But, no matter what happens during dinner, as soon as she's finished, the munchkin "pays the toll" to Mommy and Daddy. Each of us gets this toll (a quick kiss!) as she scoots off to her playroom to attend to some other much more important matter. After all, dressing up as the Princess from the Planet GreenPail, or putting together a Clifford puzzle in the middle of the living room floor is waaaaaaaay more exciting than eating dinner! Right?!?

1 comment:

jami said...

I was JUST thinking we hadn't heard from you in a while! We struggle with this, too. We have a couple of strategies that I implement depending on how late (at night) it is, how well she's eaten earlier in the day, what phase the moon is in, etc.

1. Think about her food intake (both amount and variation of foods) over a 10-day period. Since I can barely remember what happened yesterday, that generally means letting it go and assuming that over a week and a half, she will consume appropriate amounts of protein, dairy, whole grain, vegetables and fruits.

2. Make her eat some vegetables (or whatever you're afraid she's not getting enough of) first. If necessary, don't serve the other stuff until a small serving of the required food - 4 bites is what our pediatrician recommended - is gone.

3. Remember how truly LITTLE portion sizes are for 3-4 year olds.

4. Cook her only stuff you know she'll eat and don't make a peep regardless of how much she eats or doesn't. Offer more if she finishes.

5. Put less on her plate to start.

6. Cook her only what you and S are eating and that's what's for dinner tonight. (Hardball, but an option.)

7. Don't worry about it. :-)