Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fitness For Tots...Getting the strong-willed child to eat his stinkin' dinner!

OK, so I don't know about you, but I DREAD mealtime...namely DINNERtime with Mr. Stubborn-2-year-old. Every night, it's a power struggle. The food will sit untouched on his plate for HOURS until he realizes that I'm not going to budge and let him have bread/cookies/cereal instead.

I'll admit it. For a long time, I've used dessert as a reward for eating dinner. But don't the "experts" say not to use food as a reward? Isn't eating something that should just be done, regardless of what one is going to get afterwards? It's kind of a responsibility as a member of the family. We eat dinner together. We eat what's on our plates. We don't whine and moan and groan (and gnash our teeth) until we finally give in, and eat the vegetables. We just eat.

I'm not a short order cook. And I don't think you should always get "something" for eating. Just eat, d**n it! Mr. Moody (yes, the I'm-never-going-to-get-out-of-the-terrible-two's-phase-toddler has many names and faces) NOW says (before taking a single bite), "what will I get when I eat my dinner?" If I answer with, "a brownie-goodie-treat-candy-whatever," he'll eventually eat.

But I'm done. I'm trying something new. Something I started last night.

I'm doing NOTHING. I'm putting his plate in front of him. We're sitting down as a family to eat. I'm not negotiating. I'm not even talking about it. When we're done eating, he can get down from the table, even if he hasn't had a bite. If he starts asking for something to eat later, I'll direct him back to the table. He can choose.
This doesn't mean there will never be dessert. But there doesn't NEED to be. Dessert should be something occasional, something special, something you don't get EVERY time you eat your food.

Am I wrong to think that this will empower him to eat better if it's his decision whether or not to eat? Tonight he went to bed hungry. He didn't eat his dinner. But he didn't cry when he went to bed, because he knew he'd made that choice.

I'm actually going to try the same approach with potty-training. (And sorry for getting side-tracked with potty talk...this really should be another post on a different blog. Just have to say it.) Anyway, I'm not going to make a big deal out of it (he did great for 3 days, and is now rebelling and refuses to go in the potty). After the dinner non-episode (non-episode because I didn't make a big deal about his non-eating), he actually told me he needed to go potty (for the first time in weeks). I just looked at him and said, "Then go. You know what to do." He looked at me funny, then went in the bathroom and pooped!

So this is my experiment. I'm tired of negotiating. I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of rewarding for behavior that should just be expected. We eat dinner. Period.

Am I mean? Unreasonable? Right on? What are your tricks for getting your kids to eat their food? And what are your opinions on rewarding with sweets? Share your knowledge, advice, opinion, whatever!


Tami H. said...

we used to say that to abby to get her to eat her dinner, vegetables ect. It would make her eat it, but obviously not for the right reason. Right now, we are not giving her any sugar, desserts etc (she had an allergy to sugar - she has since been treated, but we do not want her to re-attain this allergy). And now, she eats ALL her dinner ALL the time.
Our current problem is she does not want to quit eating. She is ALWAYS saying she is hungry and eating more than adult portions. We don't know quite what to do about that. Her little tummy is huge and looks distended after we go somewhere and there is lots to eat, like the Super bowl pary.
Anyone else with this problem?

Kristin said...

Robyn, we must be on the same wavelength because I had the exact situation last night with my 3-year old. I agree. I think that when we have to "reward" every night for eating dinner, it becomes more of an expectation--especially for my older children-- and, for me, it has become ineffective. It really is more of a power struggle than it is about the food. I've decided to try a new job is to offer healthy meals and his job is to decide what and how much of that he is going to eat. He's not going to starve himself. Eventually, he IS going to get hungry and then I will do "my job" again and stand my ground. Easier said than done when your 3-year-old is throwing a fit for more sweets. I'll let you know how it goes.

Jake and Jessica said...

I have said for a long time I am not a short order cook. My almost 2 year old, goes to bed without eating a few times a week. He is so picky. He usually drinks water or milk and doesn't care about the food. I think most kids know how much their bodies need. So I try not to force portions on them, unless we are at grandma's and there is cake after dinner. I think it is important not to force kids to eat everything that is on their plate. I have seen my sister push this with her kids and has not helped their health. We don't have treats every night after dinner, but I need to be better about not rewarding.

Diane said...

I think you've probably got this one right on. Kids do what is expected. If you expect him to eat only if he gets rewarded, that's probably what he'll do. If you eat because it's dinner time and the opportunity is there for everyone to just eat, I think the expectation will be to simply eat it. No reaction is probably the best too. They say just let kids know what the consequence is and then enforce it. The hard part is enforcing the law. Good luck! I guess I was lucky with you kids because none of you were picky eaters. We didn't have dessert every night either. To some people that's strange, but in our house it was normal.

Maylene said...

I have been having similar headaches with Sophie. She just plain does not want to eat. Even foods she would stuff her face with (like blueberries, fishies, etc.), she just won't touch. It is so frustrating when I make her something and she dumps it on the ground. Then she is up lots at night, probably because she is hungry. Hopefully she will grow out of this stage and appreicate that I make pretty good food. At least I am not making her eat liver or something.

Kara said...

I feel for you! We don't do regular dessert either, but I have been known to dole out gummy vitamins as a treat (snicker, snicker). My twins are pretty good eaters but my 3-year-old has, let's say, opinions. I just got interviewed about food/fitness/mothering over at Culinary Competitor--so more of my thoughts on this very issue are there!! (