Our kids were glorious eaters. They would try anything. Sag paneer? Loved it. BBQ brisket? Couldn’t get enough. Ozzy could hold his own, but it was Abel who was the real superstar. We even nicknamed him Mikey. The kid would try anything and moan for more. We would hear parents complaining about their finicky kids and we would just shake our heads and count our blessings.
And then our boys turned one.
It’s been a steady downhill spiral since that day. Actually, it was more like a face plant you didn’t see coming. One day they were chowing down and the next day they wouldn’t touch a thing. My husband and I stood there scratching our heads, trying to reason this out. Surely it’s because they’ve been sick with colds. Oh wait, their molars! Yes, it’s because those pesky molars are coming in. But when the phase lasted one month, then two months – now going on four months – I realized something more was at work here. Our wonderful eaters had gone picky. Or a more accurate way of putting it, our babies had become toddlers. It’s as simple as that.
Since my frustration at meal times had also taken a downward spiral, I decided I needed to educate myself on ways to get my boys to eat. They are clearly not malnourished, and still have voracious appetites for all fruit, cheese, frozen waffles, tortillas and veggie sausage. But I felt like their diets were clearly lacking protein and veggies and I was determined to add these things back into their repertoire. Taking the advice of LauraC right here on HDYDI, I set off for my local Barnes and Noble in search of the magic bullet.
I ended up buying Child of Mine and gobbling it up in one sitting. It’s always so affirming to read your experiences, your every day, in black in white. I learned that my kids were, indeed, typical toddlers and I was a typical parent doing the typical things to get my kids to eat. Or rather to not eat. I learned that my bullishness and obsession with getting them to digest meat and vegetables were, more than likely, contributing and/or enhancing the problem. We were locked in a power struggle and I was going to lose. Every. Single. Time. Oh, and to my dismay, there is no magic bullet. And there is absolutely no way of “getting” your child to eat anything. It’s more about letting go and trusting that your child will eat what she needs to eat. And exposing them to good food so they can trust and learn to eat the wonderful things the world has to offer.
So I immediately set out to change my ways. Here’s the jist. It’s my responsibility to provide the what (a healthy variety of foods that we all eat), the when (three structured meals and two planned snacks) and the where (at the table in the form of family meals). It’s their responsibility to decide how much they want to eat and whether they want to eat at all. That’s the formula, plain and simple. After that you just need to take a step back, enjoy your meal, and allow your kids to do what they will with their food. No catering to them. No short-order cooking. No applause for touching a vegetable. No begging or pleading or putting a fork full of tender pot roast in front of their mouths.
So it’s been a week and I’m proud to say that we’ve had family dinner every single night. It’s been no small feat getting a homemade, complete dinner on the table by 5:30 pm. The first two nights I have to admit I was scared. I cooked like a whirling dervish, the kitchen was a wreck, and the food tasted so-so. But then I started figuring out good 30 minute meals that were yummy, accessible to 16 month olds, and satisfying to us. But my biggest fear was leaving the boys to their own devices for this long. To my delight, they are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, with limited supervision, for upwards of 45 minutes! I put on The Backyardigans (or Sesame Street), which usually holds their attention for about 3 minutes. And then they just run around the house, coming in and out of the kitchen, swiffering, mowing our hardwood floors with their lawnmower, playing with their pint-sized pots and pans, etc. I think they seriously dig doing their own thing while I do mine. They enjoy being just as busy and productive as I do.
To my surprise, dinner time is actually…fun! They get the same things on their plates that we do, plus we always have a fruit salad and some form of bread and butter (since, if worse comes to worse, they will almost always eat this). Some nights they won’t even look at the “new” food. Some days they venture a finger in the chicken stir fry. There have even been a few bites – not that we were paying attention! There have also been a few meals that Oskar hasn’t eaten a thing. And we just have to respect that decision (with gritted teeth!). It’s certainly been a transition, but one that I hope sticks. Because I see progress already, but more than that, we are starting a solid ritual of breaking bread together at least once a day. What better way for the boys to learn good manners, respect, delicious food, conversation, exercising their own judgement and quality family time? Solid things, indeed.
The most important thing in all of this is letting go of my own expectations. It’s an important lesson, especially for a parent of toddlers, or a parent of any aged child for that matter. To have confidence in what you have provided – the offerings, the lessons, the foundation. And then to let go and trust that your child/ren will make the best decision for themselves. Because when it comes down to it, isn’t that what parenting is all about?
Leaving you with my favorite, no hassle dinner from this past week:
1 lb ground lamb
2 minced green onions
A handful of chopped fresh parsley (or a few good shakes of the dried kind)
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1-2 Tsp Salt/pepper (depending on how seasoned you like your meat)
1 Tbsp water (makes the meat juicy and moist)
Mix all ingredients together, form into patties or balls, and broil for 7 minutes on each side. You can even line a baking dish with foil for a no-mess clean up. Serve with warm pita, plain yogurt and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onion and feta. Yum!