I worked hard to instill good eating habits in my firstborn. I breastfed for 18 months. Sugar did not pass her lips until after her first year. She drank only milk (organic) and water, no juice. I was sure baby food would spoil her palate so I gave her only table food. And for the first two years, she was a great eater. My heart swelled in warm waves of parental hubris as she gobbled broccoli like it was candy.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. She now likes (a) peanut butter and chocolate sandwiches (unsweetened peanut butter, 100% whole wheat bread, and a smear of hot fudge topping), (b) apples, (c) milk, and (d) junk food.
I can’t find the quote, but Dr. Dobson writes that you should serve your child whatever you’re making and not make a big deal if she turns her nose up at it. Just keep offering it to her when she asks for food. Once she’s hungry enough, she’ll eat it.
Well, the first time we tried that, Girl 1 went all day eating nothing after breakfast. It just about broke my heart. The real kicker was when she woke us up at 3 a.m. whining for a snack, which woke up the baby. Dr. Dobson didn’t tell me that would happen.
The good doctor also didn’t warn me that my hungry child would be less like this:
and more like this:
Forget trying to run any errands or go out anywhere with a hungry toddler.
Scratch that idea.
More recently I tried to limit our battles to just one meal per day. We have a few moderately healthy breakfast options that Girl 1 usually will accept; I cook one main meal per day, and our other meal usually is leftovers or something thrown together. I figured I would make her a PB&C sandwich for the non-main meal but hold my ground for the main meal.
The problem here is that Pat comes home for lunch but works kind of late into the evening. It works best for our schedules if our mid-day meal is our main one. If Girl 1 turns up her nose at the mid-day meal (and she almost always does), then I am in for a looooong afternoon of her bad behavior and whining for snacks. If I give her an afternoon snack too soon, then I’m basically making her a second lunch, which is what I’m trying to avoid. Plus we can’t go anywhere unless I prepare a snack for her first, again, defeating the point.
If I cook our main meal in the evening, on the other hand, I have a different dilemma. Pat usually gets home at 6:30 but the girls are hungry for dinner at 5. I go through the pointless exercise of preparing a meal in time for Girl 1 to turn her nose up at it at 5 pm and whine and pester me for the rest of the evening. I try to keep dinner warm or re-heat it for Pat and me to eat when he gets home at 6:30. At this point Girl 1 is really grumpy from being hungry and tired. Pat and I postpone our dinners to get the whiny rascal into bed first. Then we don’t eat until 7:30 or so, at which point we are hungry and grumpy and tired.
And she still wakes up hungry at 3 a.m.
On some days, like Friday, we have hybrid situations. Girl 1 woke up hungry at 7:30 a.m. and asked for cereal. I served it to her but she only ate a few spoonfuls before asking for something else. I insisted she finish her cereal first; later I also offered her the paleo pancakes I was making for myself. Neither was acceptable to her, however, and an hour-long cycle of violent tantrums and time-outs ensued. She eventually ate a small pancake and I later served her a snack, which got us through until 11 a.m.
At 11 a.m. she was really hungry and I hadn’t yet made lunch, which would be our main meal. I made her a P B&C and she wolfed it down. I refused to make her a second one, though, because I was in the middle of making fish and rice for Pat and me. Of course, Girl 1 turned up her nose at the fish and rice. I then made the mistake of taking the girls to the grocery store after lunch, thinking the 11 a.m. sandwich would be enough to tide Girl 1 over.
We got as far as the second set of doors to the grocery store before Girl 1 threw a tantrum, complete with hair-pulling and kicking. We turned around and marched back through the parking lot. I pushed Girl 2 in the cart with one hand and dragged all 40 pounds of Girl 1 with the other. I then struggled to stuff the writhing and kicking Girl 1 in the van while keeping the cart and Girl 2 from rolling away. The cart did roll along the side of the van far enough to leave this little memento of our outing:
I find myself caring less and less whether Girl 1 grows up to be a picky eater. But . . . I really can’t be her short order chef for each and every meal. As it is, I prepare each meal (a) for Pat and me, and (b) for the baby (she is blissfully omnivorous but still can’t eat everything we do, and when she can it needs to be ground up, etc). If I prepare a third meal for Girl 1 too, that’s 9 meals a day (not to mention snacks)!
Sometimes I wonder if a food sensitivity that is affecting her behavior. I just get overwhelmed when I think of doing an elimination diet. She’s so picky now, what am I going to do if I eliminate her PB&Cs? We won’t be able to leave the house . . . ever. Plus we eliminated gluten and dairy for several weeks over a year ago and I didn’t notice any changes. I haven’t noticed any signs of food sensitivity, other than a rash around her mouth when she eats certain fruits (fruits we don’t eat regularly). Her behavior did get markedly worse after her post-mass doughnut on Sunday, but her last meal was over two hours prior and she refused the meal I made when we got home. So her blood sugar was probably doing crazy things.
Basically, I am at a loss. I really don’t want to be too hard on the spirited, sweet little girl who just happens to have the tough luck of being my eldest child. This is probably something that just wouldn’t be an issue if we had a larger family. Also I know this may well be a stage that will seem really short in retrospect. But I’m in the now, and the now is hard.
I generally shy away from the giving and taking of parenting advice, but I’m desperate If anyone out there is still reading and you have any suggestions, please share!