Some evenings I just dread dinner time. There I said it – dinner time can be a struggle, annoying and heart breaking. Yes, granted it is a time for the whole family to gather around the table, to share a meal and stories about our day at work and school. But wait , I said “share a meal”! The MEAL part is the problem – that’s the aspect of this family event that sometimes just leaves me defeated and tired (more tired than usual – and for a narcoleptic mother that’s A LOT!)
Our four boys range in their eating temperaments from one extreme to the other. I don’t want to shed negative light on any one of my kids. Let’s just say that Jonah nurses like a champ without any issues. One of them will eat anything I am eating, the other is entering into “sampling mode” – he will at least try new foods, chances are that he won’t like them – but he’s trying, so that’s a huge win. The fourth boy, well – he is as stubborn as his mother or a mule – I am not sure which is worse, and he is currently going through a bread phase… He eats bread with every meal – if he eats at all. So thankfully only 25% of our boys are truly picky eaters, but that is enough to add stress to dinner time and take the fun out of cooking.
The nutritionist I met with a while ago gave us great pointers – wonderful ideas. Some we have successfully implemented, however a number of the tips never make it to the implementation stage because we are tired and quite frankly we forget what to do (and not do) in the heat of the moment.
- Eat dinner together at the kitchen table without TV or other distractions. – We do this every night – although avoiding “distractions” when you have four kids is like expecting little boys to go an hour without talking about bodily functions.
- Serve everyone the same food. Banish “the kids’ food” and “the adult’s food”. – OK, I can do this step too – granted I will get backlash from everyone at the table, but I am capable at least of putting the same items on all 5 plates.
- Make sure that each meal includes something that everyone will eat. There has to be food even the picky eater will eat. Now we are closing in on the tips that I may fail to comply with all the time. Finding something the picky eater will eat is like trying to hit a moving target or changing the diaper on a toddler. One day he LOVES strawberries, the next day I am a crazy person for even thinking he likes strawberries.
- Calmly encourage the kids to try everything on their plate. Calmly?! After I just failed miserably at identifying what his one “food du jour” is, I now have to CALMLY ask him to at least TRY one bite. The kid that cannot be bought, at least not for a low price, and who is probably having a meltdown is expected to sample new foods…
- Ignore negative reactions or comments. At this point I am anything but calm on the inside – I am frustrated, tired and sad… so ignoring the teenage-like comments is not easy, but I try. I really try not to engage and encourage the negative feedback – I try!
- Excuse the kids from the table after a specified amount of time. Dinner time should not be longer than 20-30 minutes – after that they have lost their concentration and interest – NO KIDDING – it never takes THAT long!
- If they did not eat enough for dinner, wait 45 minutes and then offer them two healthy snack options. THIS is the reason why I like this method, you are never sending your kids to bed hungry – they have a chance to fill their bellies and save face after a short while – hopefully they have recovered from the evening’s meltdowns and tantrums at this point.
So anyway – that’s how dinner time is supposed to take place – but it rarely does… The reality is a sliding scale from the picky eater running up and hiding in his bed to all six of us eating and talking about our day.
However, the silver lining – because there is ALWAYS a silver lining… I have tried to chart exactly what our picky eater consumes in a day – factoring in all the snacks, all the drinks and then looking at the consumption of healthy foods vs not-so-great food items and total calories – and I was so relieved. The little stinker grazes throughout the day. A slice of cheese here, a banana there – well – you get the picture. Lo and behold – he is getting enough calories, eating from most of the food groups over the course of the day – and the end-result is that he is growing and getting bigger.
I can spend my days stressing and worrying – or I can just relax, breathe and enjoy dinner time – remembering that he does get enough – it might just not be exactly when and what I want him to eat! Counting and rewarding only the green items he eats will lead to unnecessary stress for everyone involved. Celebrating his growth and spunky personality is what he needs and deserves from us.