July 15, 2008

Day One Report, and a Reader Question: Toddler Eating

Day One of the fast went way better than I'd expected it to. I had coffee with milk (and two accidental cookies--yoops) in the morning, coffee with milk for lunch, jitters all afternoon, and chicken for dinner.

I think the reason it was easier than I expected (certainly easier than any much-more-moderate diet I've ever been on) is that it was so dramatic. Instead of feeling deprived and sullen as I would have if I'd tried to, say, cut out desserts, I felt all interested in the novelty of this. What would it be like to just....NOT EAT for most of the day?

Today, though, I need to plan better: I had just-chicken for dinner because I was too hungry and distracted to manage figuring out a meal, and so instead I ate all the kids' leftover chicken. Today's goal: food groups plural.



Speaking of food, our help has been requested on a toddler food issue:

Vicky writes:
I was hoping you might be able to help me with an issue. I can't get my 3 year daughter to eat meals with us. She always wants something different. I figure with all your kid experience you might have dealt with this before. I wrote a post about it on my blog which explains stuff we have tried. Thanks for any help you may give.


Oh, Vicky! You have my full sympathy! It makes me hand-wringingly frantic when kids won't eat. Intellectually, I know the child is fine: I can look at the child and see that the child is not gaunt, or lying listlessly on the ground, or mewling pitifully with hunger. But I still really like to see a child EAT---and dinner especially, because it's so long until the next meal.

So, as a TOTAL EXPERT (*cough*) with FIVE children's worth of experience, here is everything I know about getting a child to eat:









Yeah. That's it. We've tried the things you've tried: the "this or nothing" approach, the "just eat a little" approach, the "choose what's for dinner" approach, the "you can have dessert" approach, the "you must take one bite" approach, the "okay, fine, we'll serve only Kid Food" approach, the "help cook the meal" approach, the "make it fun!" approach. Eight approaches. Score: toddler 8, dinner 0.

Everyone has taken a turn with this, and right now it's Edward, age 3. He's not eating dinner. Maybe one night a week, he eats dinner. When we tried making him take a bite (hoping he'd like it and keep eating), he barfed. The next night, we tried it again and he barfed again. He's a pro, really. And he's not exactly a hearty breakfast- or lunch-eater, either.

Here's a picture of him, withered and wasting:


Here is the approach I'm using right now: the "look at him and see if he is thin or sickly" approach. If he does get thin or sickly, I'll take him to the doctor. Otherwise, I just breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, and pretend every night that it doesn't bother me when he doesn't eat anything.

Anyone with more helpful advice, chime in!


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Pay-it-forward updates:

Sublime Bedlam is showing the giftie she got from Bethtastic.

3Giraffes has posted their new contest.

Seriously!? has a new contest.

32 comments:

Omaha Mama said...

Toddler: 8, Dinner: 0. That made me laugh! We are having similar issues with our two-year old. Only he'll eat a huge meal about three times a week, like he's storing up. I try to balance it all with lots of healthy snacks and don't worry about whether he eats a big meal. We always have him sit with us and introduce lots of choices. I usually try to make sure one part of the meal (usually a side dish of fruit) that he'll happily eat. And we do a small, healthy bedtime snack. I try not to make it a big issue although go too far at times with the power struggle of 'try just one bite'! The nice part is knowing that if a person is hungry, really hungry, he or she will eat the food provided. At least that's what I tell myself. A person is not going to let himself starve. Right???

Tessie said...

He BARFED! Oh, I love your kids SO MUCH.

I am fascinated (FAST-inated! Oh, shut up) by the fast. I'm sort of interested in intermittent fasting as part of a normal lifestyle. So cool. Also, I'm a wicked meal-skipper so I identify.

Jess said...

This post is brilliant. "Jitters all afternoon." "Toddler 8, dinner 0." HA HA HA.

heather said...

Did anyone else get the irony of Mom fasting but at the same time being worried about toddler not eating? I just thought that was amusing...

We made the mistake of doing the dinner buffet because we were so concerned when he wouldn't eat. So now we're going through the painful experience of teaching him that what's on the table is what's for dinner. There are no other options.

Not really advice, more of a don't make the same mistake just for the sake of seeing them eat something...anything!

Farrell said...

OMIG I am SO glad to hear I am not alone with the not eating thing. Mine has NEVER been a good eater and I have learned to just not worry about it but like once every three weeks I go into a panic - but she's not eating!! And then if we get pizza, she eats almost two slices. Two slices! For a girl that is 30 pounds! That's a lot of food. Also, she eats yogurt every single day.
My mom tells me I was even PICKIER, so she thinks this is all very amusing.

Liz :) said...

I have to agree whole heartedly with Swistle.. she knows what she's talking about Vicky, she's got 5 kids for goodness sakes! haha.. Anyway on a more serious note, I have 3 kids.. 1, that's 9 and won't eat ANYTHING! She soley lives on cheese pizza, pasta with NO sauce, and chicken. She has the occassional cookie, chip and cereal but that's her entire menu. Insane right? Yeah I think so too, she used to eat chicken nuggets and macaroni but I think she ate so much of them that she got sick of them so she doesn't eat them at all. My 2nd child is 6 and she actually eats quite well, she went through the macaroni and chicken nugget stage too but I think that was because of good ole sissy there that she was watching... The third child, is 3 and she eats EVERYTHING! It's like feast or famine in my house... I don't know what happened to the third child but she eats really good.. I took the oldest to the doctor once and he said well, if you sit her down for 10 days in a row with the same meal she'll eventually try it. I'm like UMMM yeah that's realistic! Me... making the same dinner 10 days in a row just so she can TASTE it... whatever.. she can eat her damn chicken, at least it's something solid... hahaha... In other words, no need to worry Vicky, sometimes you just have to make Kid Dinners, they won't starve themselves.. they'll eventually eat.. SOMETHING.. :)

Fannie Mae said...

Hand to God, a toddler can subsist on a pea, two saltines and a sippy cup of milk per day for MONTHS! Whatever you do DON't start playing short-order cook; you'll NEVER get out of it.

bananafana said...

our pediatrician told us that most toddlers skip a meal every day and that, for most kids, it is dinner. I don't know if she was lying to me but I've decided to believe her and be blind to the fact that O just sits and talks (and talks and talks) at dinner many nights . . .
Is it just weird that I want to join the fast but can't? (actually it probably sounds good BECAUSE I can't)

MzEll said...

Thanks for making me laugh so very very hard. My kid does the barfing too. Woo I needed that...

moo said...

kids will eat when they're hungry. It's up to you as a parent to offer them healthy choices. So what if all they eat for three days is yogurt, peas, and corn and maybe a couple of grapes? Forcing food will only teach them bad eating habits. They get what they need, nutrition wise, over the course of a week, not the course of a day.

nikki said...

I fix dinner. If my 4 yr old doesn't want to eat it, then he doesn't have to, but I'm not making anything else. I just pray that his Flintstones Vitamin is giving him what he won't eat. Strangely though, I can always get broccoli down the kid. I think he just likes to torture me.

aoife said...

Ahh... food. The never ending source of frustration around here. I have an almost five year old who is 43 inches tall and doesn't quite weigh 40 lbs. I have to go by the sick and listless checklist for his health... and he is neither. He plays and runs and does all his 4 year old stuff.

If he doesn't want what I make for dinner (presuming what I make is edible), he can either have bread or a cheese sandwich. Those are the options. No short order cooking here! :D

Fiona Picklebottom said...

Oh, the never-ending battle. With kid 1, I didn't even know it was possible that a kid just wouldn't eat - she ate everything no problem. Kids 2 and 3 rectified my misperception in a major way. I wrote a post about it over a year ago. They're SLIGHTLY better now, in that the variety of foods they will eat has increased by 1 or 2 new foods. So far with my youngest, things are going okay (*knocking on wood*). There are foods she won't eat, but she's willing to try almost anything.

Julie said...

This is probably old school, but I'm currently trying the "this is dinner and the kitchen is closed once the last dish hits the dishwasher" approach. It has been hard on the nights the 6-year old went to bed hungry but she eats dinner the next night. The 2-year old eats anything. The issue with him is getting him to actually stay at the table and eat!

Update on day 1 -- modified the order of things and decided to make lunch my one meal. I can skip dinner and be okay, especially with Sid out of town and the eating patterns of the children.

Lippy said...

No advice on the eating...other than what others have said, they won't starve. I also have an on demand barfer! I am totally afraid to try and make him eat anything. So awesome. I got so excited when I saw that you came over and gave me your input. Thanks!

nicole said...

Like so many others, our toddler does not eat dinner most nights. He will be 3 in September. He gets a plate with food on it just like everyone else. Sometimes he eats some of it, sometimes not at all. We stopped worrying about it. You should not feel obligated to provide an alternate choice for your child. It might be hard to do, but stand your ground. Consistency is worth the effort.

d e v a n said...

The one thing I know is that you can't make a kid eat. YOu can try, but most likely, you will not be successful.
What we do is make dinner, serve dinner and if kids don't EAT dinner, then they don't eat. We sometimes try to get him to eat this or that, but most nights he eats what he wants that's on the table and nothing else (or nothing at all.)
I'm not about to make several different meals.

Linda said...

My 10 month old eats everything but bananas, but the two 4 year olds are just like everyone else's. I do the same test as Swistle: Are they too lethargic to play? Well, then. They're fine. And here is your daily multivitamin.

This has always seemed to me to be a LOSING BATTLE. I cannot force my child to chew and swallow so instead I choke on my own tongue to keep from issuing rules and decrees that I can't back up. Because kids KNOW when you can't follow through and they will EXPLOIT IT.

I serve what I serve and that is it with minimal (healthy-ish) snacks. I try to make one thing I know they will eat, even if it is garlic bread or a random bowl of fruit. I am told that if you keep offering food, eventually they will try it and maybe like it and that has happened a few times. Maybe twice. However, I have said "Hmmm . . . that's too bad that you don't want to eat dinner. I guess you'll be really hungry for breakfast!" about a bajillion times.

Stacey said...

My 5 year old is just starting to mostly eat the food on offer without nagging. My 4 year old goes to bed dinnerless most nights, unless I make pizza or spaghetti with spinach pesto. I make dinner. They can eat it or not but there is nothing else available but what is on the table.
I've been told at some point boys will eat you out of house and home. It will make an interesting change if it happens.

Kelsey said...

If we're battling over meals it is usually because of manners. I just won't fight with Harper about food. My brother, who is nine years younger than me, spent at least seven or eight years of his childhood eating nothing but hot dogs and cereal. He was allowed to have a bowl of cold cereal in place of whatever we were eating for dinner. He was always healthy, smart, athletic. . . so it wasn't really a problem is what I'm saying.

It is difficult not to make a big deal about food, but we try really hard to be neutral about it.

I have a friend who can't give her kids their vegetables at the beginning of the meal because they love them so much they won't eat anything else. Can you imagine?

catnip said...

I let my kid watch various Food Network shows - and then we try to make the recipes that he's interested in. The more we cook together the more foods he tries and likes.

We started when he was about 3.5, when he fell in love with Rachel Ray. :)

Tara said...

My son is 3, and recently decided that HE is not eating dinner anymore, period. Except the occasional broccoli, maybe.

I am a fan of Ellyn Satter, and I subscribe to her division of labor with regard to kids & nutrition: parents are in charge of WHEN to eat and WHAT is offered; the kid is in charge of WHETHER to eat and HOW MUCH. The end. So I try not to take it too personally when my boy pushes his food around, takes 2 bites and announces that he's done.

The most senior pediatrician at our doctor's office also made me feel better--he said he's never seen a kid starve himself. "When he's hungry, he'll eat," he said. What a concept--and what a change from the "clean your plate" rule of my youth.

Erin said...

I TRY to take the "make it a non-issue" approach, but DAMN THAT IS HARD. I have to fake it. I offer them food, then I act like it's just fine by me if they don't touch a bite of it. When really I am pulling my hair out over the deep biological need to FEED THE CHILDREN, and also frustrated over throwing away food because of the wasted effort. Arg! There is no good answer here.

houndrat said...

I think it's a complete fallacy that toddlers need to eat at all.

And I have a 'fession to make---I'm sort of glad I realized I was nursing and couldn't do the fast. Especially since I baked chocolate chip cookies as part of my prize last night (which I actually mailed today, thank you very much). And of course, ate at least half of them.

Not that I wouldn't have eaten half of them if I was supposed to be fasting. But I would have felt more guilty about it.

Kim/2 Kids said...

There is a great book by Ellyn Satter called "How To Get Your Child To Eat...But Not Too Much". It really helped me when my daughter refused to eat anything except pasta.

SLynnRo said...

You are like the most supportive person ever. Seriously.

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

My first two would lose their appetites on occasion but it would pass before very long. But my Bear, oh he eats and eats and eats. At 8 months he liked black bean hummus. For his first birthday party we fixed his fave: smoked salmon and black beans and rice. We've taken him to every restaurant you can imagine, from Mexican to Thai, and he eats. It is fantastic!!

Mairzy said...

I laughed and laughed over the pithy way you condensed all your expert knowledge, and also the pictures of "wasted and withered" Edward. I sent the post to August, who also thought it was very funny. We, too, have a barfer in our house. He's won most of the food battles. But August has persisted in making him eat just one bite of whatever it is he doesn't like, the result being that he's a better eater at age 5. We sympathize.

desperate housewife said...

Ugh. I wish you could hook kids up to IVs to feed them until they were old enough to fix themselves their own darned pb and j. I mean, Eli at least EATS what he's offered, so while it's messy and tedious, it IS satisfying to see food going in his mouth. But with Addy we just get, mess, tedium, and at the most a TASTE of whatever we're having for dinner. And we, too, have tried every suggestion in the book. But she still cries and moans and asks for cheese and crackers for every single meal lately. Or cereal. And you know what? I give it to her. Cheese and crackers are somewhat nutritious. As is cereal. And she'll eat applesauce with it, which is a fruit. She drinks her milk pretty reliably. She doesn't seem weak or lethargic. So I have quit wringing my hands over it. I want eating to be pleasant and pressure-free in our home, and if that means cheese and crackers for the next eighteen years, so be it.

MaggieO said...

I really liked the book "Child of Mine" by Ellen Satter. It's all about how to establish a healthy relationship b/w your child and food. It explains things well, is backed up by research, and best of all is realistic (go ahead and let 'em have the Oreos!) The basic premise is that it is your responsibility to provide good wholesome, healthy food, and it is your child's responsibility to eat it. So your job ends when you put the food in front of her, and from there you just let it go. (So, um, basically what Swistle said.) Her book helped to give me the reassurance and info to be able to do that without freaking out.

Vicky said...

Thank you everyone for advice and letting me know I am not alone with this problem. Sometimes when I ask the moms in my playgroup about a problem like this they make me feel that my kids are so weird. Swistle you gave great advice and were funny as always. I'm going to stop the battle and hope she outgrows this soon. I offer food and hope for the best.

Kristin.... said...

My 3 year old is the same way~3 foot 4, 33 pounds. You can see his ribs!
So, if he eats, we're happy. And on a day when he is opposed to eating, he drinks one or more Pediasure drinks, okayed by our doctor. Because he needs to get SOMETHING into his system. But, he's also a kid that loves tacos (which filled with tomatoes, cheese and beef are pretty healty) and beets (yes, he loves my favorite vegetable) so we just go with the flow. It's the best we can do.