Mealtime Rules for the Grown-Ups:
1. Always serve two things on the plate we know Kiddo regularly will eat.
2. Ignore “I Don’t Like It”s. They are less about the food and more about something else. No substitutions for this reason.
3. If he doesn’t try it, let it go. He’ll try it when he’s ready.
Mealtime Rule for the Kiddo:
1. If you can’t eat it without a great big fuss, go take a break and come back when you can. Nobody’s forcing you to eat anything.
Always seeking balance. If it’s not the first job of any mom, it’s surely one of primary importance. Kiddo’s had a stressful time lately. He’s been on amoxicillin for a week now, and fortunately for him, he’s got a mama who’s already relatively familiar with what to feed a kid who’s taking this antibiotic, which tends to be pretty rough on a little kid’s tummy. So, there were lots of soda crackers and applesauce at the beginning of the week. Noodles and capers are a favorite, and the trick with amoxicillin is to give the medication on a starchy stomach, which seems to help children better tolerate it. Meals were very Kiddo-focused for most of the week, which was fine with me as he usually eats earlier in the evening than Joe and I do. So when I made noodles and capers for him first, whilst cooking the broccoli and salmon, it was no big deal. He ate a bit of the other foods as well, and everything was fine.
By the time Friday rolled around, the cupboard was bare so I went shopping for some soup fixings and a few of his favorites: fresh blueberries and some of Milton’s Graham Crackers, which are small and heavenly, especially with almond butter on them. When I picked Kiddo up from preschool with a surprise snack of grahams, he was pretty darn happy. Afternoon snack time was some fresh blueberries and a couple tablespoons of soy yogurt. “After this” I told him “we should pick a veggie. You can have carrots or red pepper.” I offered, choosing two readily-eaten foods. It was snack time, and I don’t mind giving him a “you choose it and you can get it out of the fridge” opportunity, which he usually loves. He asked for red peppers and hummus; while I was making this up for him, he got down from the table to play, and so they went back into the fridge for future consumption.
Two hours later, Kiddo had played happily outside, helped me to make the soup I was going to serve for dinner (he’s a great Cuisinart button-pusher!), and was now loudly complaining of being hungry. Since the snack veggie plate had gone untouched, I served this first, along with a piece of good crusty bread and butter. Our house rule is to serve two things I know he likes at each meal; I know he’s not exactly wild about soup, but I served some of this with the broth strained out, so he just had the potatoes, carrots and other veggies he’d helped to prepare.
So I was a bit surprised to hear--
“Mama! I don’t liiiiiike red peppers!”
Okay, well, not that surprised. I often hear “I don’t like” such and such food, which he readily eats otherwise. I routinely ignore this statement, and he usually eats up the food just fine. Tonight, though, the whining continued. “I don’t like this hummus!” “Um, you did yesterday!” I thought to myself, but said nothing. Tonight he was digging his heels in. Perhaps he was tired. Perhaps he was just in the mood to see how far Mama’s patience would stretch, to see if I would put on my SuperMama cape and fly to the rescue and make him some separate dinner. Unh-uh. I wouldn’t budge.
“Well, you have plenty of food in front of you. Just eat what you like.” I wasn’t going to engage in discussing this with him. As I’ve written before, we do have a No Bite Rule in our house, which is to say that if you find it repulsive, I’m not going to force you to eat it.
Still, he fretted loudly and often. He said he didn’t want red peppers, he wanted carrots. While my internal reply was “yeah, right”, I kept my mouth shut and kept chopping up pickles for the tuna salad until enough was enough.
“You know, you don’t have to tell me what you don’t like. Just eat what you do like.” I was trying to stay even-tempered but frankly, I was tired too. It had been a long day. There’s a reason I call that window between 4 and 6 pm ‘the witching hour’—this is the time of day when they will complain long and loud about imaginary offenses, mainly because we are all tired. But when he began to scream at me about how he “DIDN’T LIKE RED PEPPER, MAAAMAAA!”, I knew the time had come to take a break.
“I see you don’t want to eat right now, and I need to make some tuna salad for our sandwiches for dinner. So I need you to go take a break and play in your room until you are ready to eat what I have for you.” I picked him up and carried him, crying, to his room. “You come on out when you are ready to eat what I have for you” I repeated, reassuring him that this was not a punishment, but that I could see he needed a break.
Three minutes later, he returned. He looked exhausted, but really had tried to recompose himself. “Mama, could I have some tuna salad please?” Ah. What a blessing. “Of course you may. Go sit down. Do you want it on crusty bread, or soft bread?” (The crusty bread was my vice, a loaf of fresh sourdough; the soft bread was a multigrain spelt.) I made it the way he wanted, on spelt, and he was so happy to eat it. Tuna, mayo, and pickle, the favorite of son and husband alike. I was just grateful I hadn’t put celery and red onion in instead. He gobbled it up just as Joe walked in the door.
The rest of dinner went without incident, but all of this reminded me that sometimes, considerations need to be made. I’d somehow forgotten that Friday is the hardest day for Kiddo. He had been in preschool for four days and was just wiped out. Finding balance would mean finding a very Kiddo-friendly meal for Thursdays and Fridays. Save the more challenging meals for earlier in the week, when he had plenty of downtime, or even better, weekends. Kid-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean mac-n-cheese, either, but something friendlier to him.
So tonight, we are having gnocchi and fresh sole— both of which he loves, and broccoli. I’m not sure he’ll eat the broccoli--maybe he’ll eat the tops. And I’m aware that he’s still stressed and that I have to soften my hard line. To be honest, I’m glad I stuck with it last night. Kiddo was able to find what he needed on the menu, and I was able to see where I needed to flex a little more. It’s all a little touch and go, and sometimes menu-planning requires mutual respect—he needs to eat what’s on the table, and I need to make a more kid-oriented table a couple nights a week or so. Finding balance isn’t bad… It’s just a constant parental discipline.