Thursday, September 10, 2009

a question for you about fussy eaters

Here's a question my lovely bloggy friend Meredith sent me about her son's eating - or lack of it! She asked me to post this letter so that you can give her any suggestions you have for encouraging reluctant eaters. Please add your ideas to the comments.

Dear Jean,

Six months ago you wrote a post about your precious Andrew’s lack of enjoyment of fruit and vegetables. At the time my then 3 ½ year old was exhibiting similar characteristics at the dinner table. I took great comfort from your post (ah, the solidarity of realising that you are not the only one in the universe who has a son who won’t eat his vegies!) and also from the very helpful comments that followed. I was particularly encouraged by the suggestion of waiting until said children were a bit older (ie. 4) when reasoning with them might be a possible strategy.

Well, my 3 ½ year old will 4 in a week’s time. I had secretly hoped that merely having his 4th birthday would do the trick! Alas, he is showing no signs of being any further down the track than he was 6 months ago with respect to fruit and veg, despite the imminence of his birthday.

So I was wondering, how is Andrew going? I hope you have made some progress. And I was also wondering if you might ask if any of your readers have any ideas or suggestions about how to encourage a reluctant 4-year old child to eat? I feel like I have tried most things…but there may just be something I have missed.

Love Meredith.
Now it's over to you. I'll update you on Andy's eating next week. But in the meantime, have you got any advice or suggestions for Meredith? I know she would dearly love to hear from you!

image is from Savannah Grandfather at flickr


Miranda said...

I just read in a magazine that you could try getting your son to choose which fruit/vegies he wants at the shops. And then when you're cooking dinner he could choose from the fridge which ones he wants that day. Might be giving him a bit too much power over you though!

mattnbec said...

Hi Meredith!

Well, as I think I mentioned in the original post (or in another conversation/email?) our fussy 4.5yo has been hard work at times with food. As in, slow to eat, needs to be parent-fed at times STILL...bit gradually improving.

Anyway, a curious thing I've noticed is that by giving the kids a couple of toothpicks, and calling something "dinner on a stick", our stick-loving kids will eat things they were far less willing to eat only a few minutes earlier! eg rissoles (with hidden grated carrot but all peas were carefully picked out!), some salad items etc.

The advent of f/t school and school lunches has meant she is suddenly more aware of what is healthy or not, so we are having more positive conversations about food, which is at least putting food discussions and awareness on the table (sorry-bad pun). In addition, it has also meant that I am buying more individually packaged foods for snack times, which has caused more interest in foods which might me less interesting otherwise.

Also, our alternately greedy then food-refusing 2.5yo has taught me that sometimes, going for unusual foods can be more successful than the things you think will work. He recently went through an utterly obsessive pickles phase. It even included a little dance if you offered him pickles! Likewise, he really enjoys smoked cheeses! Not offering him smoked salmon or caviar because his savoyey tastes would probably jump at them ;-) !

These things may be nothing more than curious little observations of the food quirks of our offspring and of little benefit to yours. But just in case it might help, I thought I'd share...

Love Bec

mattnbec said...

Just in case you're wondering - that typo in the last para was supposed to be savoury!

Sarah Sholl said...

I love Barabra Hughes' advice (I think in Common Sense Parenting/ Disciplines of a Godly Family). From memory, her line is, "I didn't ask you to like it, I asked you to eat it." I give very small quantities and make it an obedience issue.

Although, about a year ago my children made a big fuss about eating zucchini and it's become such a family joke that I don't buy them at all. This week as practical joke, my daughter slipped one into a bag of beans at the supermarket. I served it up to them to the expected protests.

I just put a bag of M&Ms on the table and said that they could have one for each piece of zucchini they ate. There were no battles, and all of them realised that zucchini is not the filthsome snozcumber that they made it out to be. It's not something I'd recommend as a regular thing, but it broke a bad cycle.

Lucy said...

We've had 2 very very reluctant (bordering on food phobic in one case) eaters in our family. One has improved out of sight now that we know not to give her food that makes her sick (she has coeliac disease) and the other is still struggling.

Like Sarah, in the absence of medical issues (which could be worth checking out) I've found that small quantities and making refusing to eat an obedience issue is the only way to get through.

We've also found that using a timer really helps our 4 yr old, but she wasn't cognitively ready for that until pretty recently.

For my 2 yr old I know that he's heaps worse when he's tired, so I give him food I know he'll eat without too much of a battle when he's really exhausted (hello Nutella!!) and save the other stuff for when he's in a better frame of mind.

Hope that's some help... it's no fun when mealtimes are a battle!

Anonymous said...

I, too, have expressed the Barbara Hughes sentiment of being more interested in the consumption than in their critique of the food! We also reinforce that God in his wisdom gave them parents that know more about nutrition than they do, and that on this occasion, zucchini is the food of choice to supply what they need. Because of availability and cost, we can-t accommodate all their tastes.

Obviously I dont serve up hated foods in large quantities, but they need to eat the tiny quantity served up. If we are eating something where you choose your ingredients they dont have to choose everything. For example, Chilean hotdogs have tomato and avocado and sauerkraut as options. We have one who doesnt choose tomato and one who doesnt choose avocado. So we-re not totally inflexible.

I do think that well established obedience in other areas can flow over into eating. If there-s a lot of negotiating rather than obeying going on in other parts of life, you could end up pretty frustrated in the food department.

we once broke a non-pea-eating cycle with a series of more and more tempting desserts which he obviously didn-t need unless he had finished his 5 peas. It took a good number of meals to get there though!!


Rachael said...

One of my children (aged 5) really loves local ni-Vanuatu food, but isn't that fussed about food Australian style, especially vegetables. She keeps telling me to cook like the other women, which, as it requires cooking over an open fire or over hot stones, I have resisted. (Like other commenters) She gets small quantities that she has to eat.

Jean said...

Thanks, all, for your advice - funny how much agreement there is on getting kids to eat a little even of what they don't like, whether we use dessert or discipline or a combination of the two to enforce it! Which is pretty much what my husband and I have always done too.

I'm not sure this works so well with very young children or with certain personalities and issues, though. We couldn't have done this with Andy last year when I raised my original question about fussy eaters, partly because he was resistant to ANY eating and making an issues about peas would have been just too much(!), partly because of a particularly strong-willed personality which would have made insistence on such things a recipe for complete eating resistance, and partly because of his age.

Now he's older and eating again (more about that this week!) we are once again using an approach similar to the one many of you have mentioned. But we only insist he eat a small amount of foods he likes (e.g. carrot sticks) in order to get dessert - this is enough of a battle for now! When he's a bit older we'll move on to the "eat a bit of what you don't like as well or you won't get dessert", which is what we do with our older kids. So much depends on personality and age!

Rachael, I love your example from another land!!

Meredith said...

Hello everyone.

Sorry that I haven't popped in to comment yet! Still grieving over the death of my computer last week and needing to squeeze computer time on my husband's computer around his work and when I have a free a moment!

Thank you so much for all these great tips. There are some great new ideas here which will be good to try.

Interestingly, just before I wrote to Jean, I instituted a meal schedule. I vowed I would never do this. When I grew up you knew what day of the week it was by sitting down to dinner each night. But I am doing it. So on Monday we eat pasta, Tuesday we eat pizza, Wednesday we eat meat and veg, Thursday we eat stirfry and rice (which requires a bit of tinkering for children if it ends up being a curry), Friday we eat fish, chips and salad, Saturday we eat meat and veg and Sunday we eat home made hamburgers. After four weeks the kids have picked up the pattern. There are no surprises and in keeping with the whole "kids loving routines" thing, mealtimes are much, much calmer. I'm truly amazed.

This hasn't caused one certain child to eat his vegies as yet however it has created a much more level playing in which I think we can introduce some obedience training, eating with toothpicks and the incentive of sumptuous desserts/M&Ms and the like. And eventually we will widen out the menu again too.

The good outcome is that dinner is calm and I am not getting a knot in my stomach as 6pm approaches! (And that's got to help too!!)

I do need to work harder at working on this during the daytime when he less tired and emotional - that is a great tip - and while turning 4 didn't magically help, I am also vaguely hopeful that fruit time at Kindy next year may also help!!

And (I should have put this first!!) I have started praying about this purposefully and on a daily basis. That is no doubt the real reason for the calm that has returned to our dinner table in actual fact.

So thank you for your encouragement (it is always good to hear others' stories) and for some nifty new tricks to try. We press on.

Jean said...

Meredith, I love your meal schedule!

I worked with a similar one for a while, but I cope best as a household manager with more flexibility in my life (us perfectionist types have to steer clear of too much structure, I've discovered, as we easily turn it into guilt-inducing legalism!!).

But we still have some structure in our meals every week - very old-fashioned structure! Saturday nights are "roast nights" which we can't do because our oven is too awful(!), so in reality, they're special meal nights (anything too long and complicated to cook other nights) and strong on meat: lancashire hot pot, corned beef, veal cordon bleu and chicken parmigiana (both done the cheat's way), casseroles etc.

Sunday lunches are for soup (most weeks) sometimes with potato pancakes, hash browns, scones, or sausage rolls, and sometimes for eggs and bacon type meals. Fun!

Thursday nights, when the kids have gym, are for fun, easy stuff like tacos, hot dogs, and ravioli.

So we have regular meal nights too - just not every night. It works beautifully!!

Love Jean.

mattnbec said...

The meal schedule is interesting. Never occurred to me to do that! I think our kids have that more than we adults do, because we don't make them eat curry and sometimes do 'date nights' where we eat once the kids are in bed, eat more exciting things and feed them the usual things they like to minimise stress before you are supposed to be relaxing with your spouse!

I kind of assume the 'eating = obedience' kind of thing for kids who are a bit older (ie we enforce it more with our 4.5yo than our 2.5yo and allow more room for tiredness etc with him). We too don't usually force the kids to eat things they really strongly don't like. But I have been thinking of adding in the 'I didn't ask you to like it, just to eat it' line more frequently - I'd forgotten what a good one it is!

The timer tip is a good one - I think I might mention it to my husband because it could well be useful with our daydreaming/dawdling daughter.

Looking forward to hearing the update about Andrew too, Jean!