I have 2 fantastic eaters, and 1 fussy eater. This is a common scene at mealtimes in my home: my 20-month old will make a beeline for the table because she is SO ready for lunch or dinner. My 6 year-old, well, let’s just say I’m watching his diet and soon I think I have to start him on going running. As for my middle child, well, I guess there must always be something or someone to keep you busy, isn’t it? He requires feeding most of the time, and it’s a rare occasion that he will feed himself an entire meal. In fact, I’d be happy that he feeds himself at all!
I’m sure many of you can identify with either “types”. The funny thing is that I have both, despite them all being brought up the same way! The only difference was perhaps that Abacus was exposed to less solids between 6-12 months because he had a few rounds of stomach flu, so I didn’t want to risk allergies, etc. But more than that, I’ve noticed that eaters and non-eaters are just wired SO SO differently. The eaters are game to try almost anything, even if they may spit it out later or declare they don’t like it. Yes, even at 12 months. Some of them may slurp at the thought of food very loudly and embarassingly, and sometimes need to be stopped from eating too much (Mittens). The other day Scout excitedly pointed to all the hanging chickens, ducks, roasted pork meat, hanging in the stalls of the hawker centres, because she knew that was going to be lunch – that was epic! If it’s snack time and she’s being served fruits she will diligently sit at the table and sometimes ask for more of whatever it is.
Non-eaters, can practically live on air. They always declare they don’t like something even if they haven’t tried it, and they’re very seldom hungry. I think my (or rather, his!) main problem is the interest. He just doesn’t have the interest in food. He can finish his meal if he’s fed, or really famished, or it’s something that he really likes, but at other times it is such a pain and a chore to be sitting there waiting to feed him and for him to chew. Perhaps he is part of the Slow Food movement but just doesn’t know it yet -.-
I used to subscribe to the ideology that we should try to have our meals at the dinner table together, no TV, no chasing them around the house, and goodness no feeding at the playground. With eaters anything is an easy task, but with a fussy eater and a baby, and with most meals on my own since the hubby usually gets home no earlier than 8pm, it created some pretty stressful meal times for everyone.
At the end of my wits, I came to an ephiphany of sorts when I read about how family dinner time and dinner conversation is really quite over-rated.
“It turns out there’s only 10 minutes of productive conversation in any family dinner. The rest is taken up with take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup. And what researchers have found is you can take that 10 minutes and put it in any time of the day and get the benefit. So, if you can’t have family dinner, have family breakfast! Even one meal a week, on a weekend, has the same benefit.”
– Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families
Did I really need research results to realise what I’d known all along?? I decided that I’d forget about having the picture perfect family dinner. For now. On a typical day at home I now concentrate on getting Abacus enough food (since he is exactly HALF the size of Mittens!!), and making sure everyone is fed and watered, and usually to achieve this I will eat after they’re done. I try to have their mealtimes without any TV, although on some days I just give up and give in. Sometimes it’s easier to hide all the veggies and other bits of food when the fussy eater isn’t paying attention! 😀
It is of course much easier if the ratio is 2 adults or more to 3 children, but usually hubby and I can manage the brood even in restaurants, but let’s not dream about having any decent dinner conversation with the kids yet. I’m just happy if no one has broken any tableware or toppled an entire drink or dish on the floor. These days I’m usually armed with a small collection of colour pencils and note and activity books from goodie bags to keep them entertained if just for a bit. Hopefully when the kids are a little older, we can have a decent dinner together without me having to remind someone to chew their food or even to eat their dinner.
I do have ONE rule though, and that is that he has to have ONE mouthful of whatever we are serving up. And usually that one mouthful, although difficult to get him to open his mouth, will gain his acceptance for a few more mouthfuls that sometimes unbeknownst to him leads to him finishing up his portion.
Perhaps fancy bentos and McD’s would help fussy eaters, but seeing just how very different the two types of eaters are, at this stage I highly doubt that my fussy eater is going to turn into a good eater anytime soon. On some days, I spend more time feeding my almost 4YO fussy eater than my 20 month old baby! So I think it’s ok to do what you think it takes to get them to eat, and if that includes bringing the meals to the playground, well that’s your prerogative although I haven’t and probably won’t ever go there.
And if, like me, you’re wondering when your fussy eater is going to outgrow this stage, well, you might still be shoving food into their mouths at 8 years old (oh, yes, I have seen this!), begging/bribing/threatening them to eat, they might still be gagging at having food in their mouths, wanting to spit out, etc., but eventually, or so I hear, they will outgrow it. Like so many things in childhood, the phase will soon pass, although it might seem like torture in the meantime!
What are your family meal times like, and do you do to get your fussy eater to eat?
You might like to view my other posts in this series: