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May 26, 2011

Dinnertime Debacle

When I was growing up, I don't recall a time that I refused to eat what was placed in front of me.  Actually, many a childhood memory centers around the fact that my parents spent a lot of time trying to get me to STOP eating everything in sight.  I had a healthy appetite and I LOVED food.  I still love food!  

And...here is where I wish I was funny, witty and fast with pop-culture references...because writing the rest of it (and reading it I'm sure) would be so much more fun!  Perhaps some of my fellow funny bloggers (Amy--Jessica--anyone?) can relate some of their struggles with the humor attached.  

I am not sure where my children picked up their picky eating habits.  Not one of my children has graced me with a happy eating toddler-hood. Sarah and Dani have progressed into childhood and pre-tween-hood eating almost everything we place in front of them, so I know that eventually, they come around.  At some point, we can reason with kids to the point of at least trying something and then they figure out they like it and we're good to go.

I have had my share of Dinnertime Debacles, though.  And Helen's are taking the cake.  The child has faked choking, thrown horrendous fits with full mouths of food, chewed for 10 minutes and refused to swallow...you name it, I have lived it with my 5-year-old lately.  

The other night, Craig made a deal with Helen that we'd go out to eat dinner the next night if everyone ate their dinner.  (Yeah, yeah...bribery...)  

She sat there and didn't touch her dinner while the rest of us ate, but of course, we (parents) didn't want to punish Sarah and Dani, so we extended Helen's dinnertime and put the timer on to 25 minutes.  I proceeded with feeding Helen her bites of chicken/rice/broccoli casserole.  It was excruciating.  She threw a fit.  After she calmed down from that, she chewed one bite for 7 minutes and refused to swallow her food.  Somehow, we coerced her to eat all of her food within the allotted time and the family got a much-needed night out Wednesday night.

Tonight, the special was crock-pot pork chops and mushrooms over egg noodles. (I tell you what we're feeding the children so that you can see...we are not feeding them Gruel or Mush!)  We all sat down, said the blessing and began eating.  I announced that I'd be going for a walk after dinner and that I'd take any daughter(s) of mine who finished their food with me. (Yeah, yeah...bribery...of a different sort...we're getting desperate.)

And, so began the Dinnertime Debacle of Thursday night.  Helen allowed me to feed her a bite...she kind of fussed through it, but I thought things were going to go all right.  But then she started putzing around so I started the timer.  25 minutes is enough time for anyone to eat at a reasonable pace...especially a small 5-year-old's portion of food.  The meal went down hill from there.  She chewed the next bite for something like 9 minutes...pretended to swallow it and allow me to put another bite in her mouth which she chewed an additional 8 minutes and swallowed after I had completely lost my cool and yelled at her and removed her from the table and yelled at her again.

I really hate it when I yell at my kids.  I'm not the yelling type and I always know when my voice is raised to that extent and my teeth are gritting and I am balling my hands into fists, that I am hitting the pinnacle of my frustration.  It makes me cry if I get to the point of yelling at my kids.  And I don't like to cry in front of my kids, either.  I'm relieved that I hardly ever resort to striking my children (I can count on one hand the times in the last 3 years I've resorted to a swat on the bottom of any of my children), but I'm not so sure I'm proud of how much restraint that actually takes at times.

The timer ticked down the final five minutes or so and I took off to go on a walk with Sarah and Dani who had finished their food, without complaint, even (sometimes they finish, but they complain about it).  Helen was in all-out-sobbing-fit mode at this point.  I managed to tell her that it broke my heart that I couldn't take her on the walk and that I wanted to take her more than anything (and that was true), but that since she hadn't finished her dinner, we were going without her.  And then the tears started flowing as I walked out the door with the other two girls.  

I would like to note that were I to serve chips and dip, chicken tenders and french fries at every meal, I would never have a fight with any of my children about eating (okay...Dom would not eat the chicken tenders, but he'd eat the other stuff).  What is up with that?!?

And it's not like I've played short-order cook and then all of a sudden stopped doing that, either.  I think Sarah was the only toddler who got that kind of service and even then, we struggled because we wanted her to drink milk and she refused.  But since 2004, the entire family - parents and children - have been fed the same thing at dinner.

Am I the only person in the world that has picky toddlers?  I mean, I have heard of some families that have one picky kid or maybe two out of the lot.  But I have gone four-for-four here on unbearable toddler years with regards to consuming healthy food. 

I have considered that they've learned this behavior from each other since we've always allowed whoever the baby is, to sit in the high chair with the family at dinner time and "eat" with us whenever they start solids.  But I'm actually considering NOT allowing new baby boy to sit at the table and watch his picky older siblings (most likely the two closest to his age) refuse to eat what's set in front of them and give us a fight.  Perhaps if we bar him from the family dinnertime debacles and feed him individually until he is eating everything in sight...we can get a reprieve of this exhausting and aggravating problem.

After each dinnertime debacle, I feel like the biggest failure of a mother.  I know it's kind of silly and my hormones might have typed most of that last sentence...but seriously, it's a horrible feeling to wonder why your kid won't eat the food you put in front of them, over and over and over and over and over...

Have any of you ever dealt with this?  Any techniques that have helped you actually come through it with your sanity intact?  What do you think of my idea to keep new baby boy isolated at family dinnertime until we might be "safe" from continuing this problem?

I realize this isn't the most profound blog topic.  But it's seriously, really what is on my mind tonight.  I'm so tired of this problem. 


  1. I'm not a mom, but I am a teacher and I've had my share of food 'fights' with kiddos. And if I've learned nothing, it is this: they will eat when they are hungry and consistency is the key. No lunch? No cookie for dessert. Simple. No arguing, no bribing, no nothing. I used to think this sounded so cruel, until I was almost in tears because one of my students wouldn't eat her lunch.

    I also found that letting the kids serve themselves helped immensely too. Sometimes that meant getting an extra tray from the kitchen and letting them 'serve' themselves from their lunchboxes, but hey, it worked.

    As an adult, I struggle with eating way past when I'm full because of being taught to clean my plate at every meal instead of to listen to my bodies signals and stopping when I am full. Kids are waaaaay smarter than us about eating just enough - they don't try to outsmart their stomachs (a generalization, I know).

    Anyway, I know it sounds crazy, I would've thought someone telling me this was crazy, but I've seen it work with more than 10 kiddos who I'd spent hours fighting with over food.

    Prayers for peaceful meals!

  2. Does she get snacks in between meals? Give her the 25 minutes. You don't feed her, she feeds herself (she is 5 after all!) and if she doesn't eat, tough, the food goes away and she doesn't eat again until the next meal.

    Okay, I know I'm not a mom yet, but I know that this works. Of course it may be harder on the parent because you feel bad about it, and then they complain that they're hungry!

    But at 5 she should be able to understand that at dinner time you sit down with the family and eat a reasonable amount of what's on your plate. We weren't expected to clean our plates either, as you're not always as hungry, but she should be able to eat and not chew for 9 minutes. That's just pushing it.

    Take what I say how you want though since I haven't been there. But I was a very picky kid!

  3. All of mine have started outbgreat as babies, not picky at all. But once they hit about 18 months they go crazy for some reason! Our 4-year-old is finally coming around a little bit. Now I can get her to at least take one or two bites of things she "doesn't like". So I just decided not to deal with it too much with the younger ones since when I try to push it everyone just ends up mad and frustrated. I don't make anything special for them though. If they don't want to eat, they have to wait until the next meal. Although i do try to make at least one item each meal that there will be no fight over, even if it's only rolls. Just to make sure no one goes to bed starving, they all get something I know everyone will eat as a bedtime snack - crackers, half peanut butter sandwich, butter bread, etc.

    Good luck!!

  4. Hi! I love this post, it is so true and I think all of us moms have been there. With my boy (4), I am STILL there. :) My daughter (10) will eat anything and everything and then some... which can be a whole nother problem in an of itself. But my boy? He will literally, no-joke, throw. UP! if you make him take a bite of something he has decided is not on his menu tonight. No matter that he didn't like lunch either and he only nibbled on his two snacks in between meals. If he's not in the mood, he's NOT. And he's very healthy, extreeeemely active, and if you gave him pizza every night there would be no problem whatsoever. :D So I've come up with a "back-up" menu, with something easy I can just throw in the toaster oven or warm up on the burner, if he is gagging about what's for dinner. It's not even his fault (no, I'm not an enabler!)... he really does gag--no drama--and then throw up. He just doesn't like certain things at certain times. When I think about it, I'm that way too nowadays, although I too ate fine as a kid. So, I don't know if any of this helps, but maybe just to know you're definitely not the only one dealing with it every night. Hugs from a fellow mom! :) E

  5. I haven't hit that extreme of pickiness (yet), but I am a big believer in kids will eat when they are hungry. (This is likely because I've never had a big appetite and I get extremely ticked when someone tries to force food down my throat.) We offer my son a [usually] balanced meal at every meal and he will eat if he's hungry. He is almost two and very active... if he were being picky, refusing to eat and had no energy to play then I'd be more concerned, but so far he eats when he's hungry.

    My BIL and his wife have their kids to take one "no thank you" bite of each item on their plate and then they can be excused if they don't want to eat any more. It at least gets them to try new things if that's the child's issue.

    Good luck!

  6. I should clarify that "forcing food down my throat" usually comes from my in-laws telling me I don't eat enough or trying to guilt me by saying I don't like their cooking... I'm a grown woman and know when I've had enough! Haha!

  7. My parents always made everyone finish their plate, and sometimes that involved feeding it to them like you describe with Helen. When I had my first 2 kids 14 months apart, I decided I wasn't fighting that battle, not enough time or energy to make more than one kid eat! I don't cook indivual meals or anything, I give everyone small servings, I usually let them eat their food separatly if they like (such as noodles, with spagetti sauce on the side) Sometimes they will eat part of their meal, and not the rest (although I try to get them to taste it) Sometimes they will eat it all and ask for more, sometimes they don't really eat any. Before bed, we always have a snack (bread, fruit, or cheese depending on what was for dinner) so they don't go to bed hungry. I find my kids either eat, or they don't. It's not so much pickiness as it is hungryness. I also don't allow anyone to say they "don't like" their food, or that it is "icky". I remind them that if they do not want to eat it, they may leave it on their plate, but no commentary allowed!
    Not sure if any of that is helpful, but not fighting that battle has saved my sanity at times. I can so resonate with the feeling like a failure as a mother, I remember feeling so stressed about my then 1 year old first child while visiting my family and trying to make her sit still and eat!


Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)