Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Food Wars

I've been having a really hard time figuring out how to deal with Donovan's eating schedule. How often shoukd he snack? How long is a reasonable amount of time for him to sit and eat, and how much is a reasonable ampount to eat in one sitting? How much of a "schedule" should there be and how strictly to stick to it, vs just feeding him when he says he's hungry?

Here's how it's been going lately: meals are fairly "set" and consistent. He eats breakfast shortly after waking up, sometime between 6:30 and 7am whenever he seems to ask for food. Lunch is then around 12noon, and then dinner around 6pm. Meals tend to go fairly ok. It's the snacks inbetween that I'm having more trouble with.

Sometimes it goes fine, and he'll ask for 1-2 snacks between each meal and it works out. But then he goes through phases, like he is now, where he will ask for a snack, sit down to eat a couple bites, decide he's done, and then 20-30 minutes later ask for a snack again (I get the feel he gets distracted away from eating, and then keeps realizing that he's actually still hungry). I think this has been paertially prompted by being able to climb up onto his high chair on his own now, so he can just get up there when he decides he wants food. To be honest, this cycle on endless micro-eating drives me batty. And this is where I get caught, because I want him to listen to his own hunger cues and know when he wants to eat and when he is full, but I also don't want to have to cater to this fickle eating. It makes me tired and frustrated and also makes me tend to give him more boring snacks because I don't feel at all like being creative with snack ideas or putting much effort into preparing something that will just get rejected after 2 bites. And then there's the added complication that he's still hovering between 10-15% for weight for his age, and while I'm not that worried about it I also don't want to be denying him calories. So should I put in place a "snack schedule" and just ignore his own hunger cues, encouraging him to "eat while he has a chance" and refusing to give him more inbetween? Or set aside a "minimum time limit" between snacks? Or maybe just set out a bowl of cheerios that he can go to if he decides he wants to eat at a random time? What do you do?

There's also the issue of how much he eats, and of what. I realize that toddler appetites are incredibly fickle and so at times he just won't be hungry. But what do I do about times like tonight, when he didn't eat anything at dinner (6pm) but then after his bath and right before going to bed (7pm) he saw a container of puffs and really wanted them? Or when I set out a plate of food and he rejects it, but signs "more" to show he wants something else? I realize I may be powerless over whether he develops into a super-picky child, but at least for now I really really don't want to get into the habit of giving in to getting him alternate foods when what he's been offered isn't what he wants. I really don't want to end up having to have separate meals for Mom and Dad, and The Kids. I try to offer him at least 2 if not 3 (up to 4 for a meal) types of food at a time, and most of it stuff I know he likies or has liked in the past, so it's not like I'm trying to force him to eat something he doesn't like. At the same time, I also don't want to deny him food or calories.

I hope all of that made sense, and I would love to hear advice or just how you handle some of these things with your kids. Thank you!


  1. I have no kids, but I can tell you that it is more or less how I eat. I think as long as you are giving him healthy snacks and not junk food (which I'm sure is the case) it is much better to teach him to follow his natural hunger cues. Everyone I know who grew up like that is a healthy weight, whereas the people who have food issues (and correspondingly weight issues) usually had parents who had "rules" around food.
    Not sure about the alternate food types though.

  2. First thing: The fact that you are worrying about this shows how great a mom you are for Donovan. He is so lucky to have you!

    I haven't had any problems yet with Mira eating, and I don't have much experience with feeding toddlers, so take my advice with a grain of salt... I'm not sure that it's a good idea to try to get too rigid about when he eats and how much. It seems to me that that would only make him too stressed out about the whole thing. As long as he's eating a variety of healthy foods, I'm sure he'll do great. As for the snacks, maybe you could try just preparing a couple of bites of something easy to make until you see whether he's going to want more. Or maybe share a few bites of your snack with him. That way, if he loses interest there's not much food wasted and it didn't waste too much of your time in preparation.

    Are you pretty strict about WHERE he eats? Because if you aren't too worried about trying to keep him in his chair, then maybe you could try just setting out a bowl of grapes or cereal or something else that's not too messy and doesn't spoil quickly and then that way he could kind of graze on it all afternoon. Course, then you run the risk of the food becoming a toy...

  3. Monika9:49 PM

    Unfortunately I have no good advices; we have good days and bad days - sometimes she wants to eat some food all the time and suddenly it is icky. Any way for now I just make sure she eats something, and trying to stay as healthy as I can.

  4. We are in a very similar situation. Lilia can climb into her own chair too and seems to want to eat constantly which is exhausting! She's in the 20th percentile for weight and on the small side for her age too.

    I am a big believer in following her hunger cues and feeding her on demand but I also am with you 100% about not wanting to cater to her alternate food requests. If she's rejecting what I'm offering, she's not hungry, she's peckish at best. I have a friend that would make 2 or 3 ALTERNATE meals for her toddler after he'd say what he wanted. He's a horrid eater to this day, in 2nd grade now, eating nothing more than plain noodles with butter or scrambled eggs for most meals. Ack!

    I also stress that she sometimes asks to eat out of boredom as bogus food requests are rarely made when we're at the park or really involved in play. Between this worry and her ability to hop right into her chair, I started introducing some non-food related activities we can do while she's in her chair that work some of the time to distract her, like coloring and a paint with water activity board.

    Also she seems to eat best when we're eating with her. Since she eats all day long, this isn't always possible, but even if I just sit with her it seems to increase her attention span. It's difficult to resist unloading the dishwasher or picking up the house while she's contained in her chair but it does seem to help.

    All that said, I still totally struggle with this too, so report back whatever you find works best for you!

  5. Welcome to my world! I went from the world's best eating toddler (she ate everything, no issues at all) to the world's worst. It's not so much that she's picky as she'll still eat everything, just not when you want her to. At her age (3), it's more an issue of control I think. She wants to choose what she eats, when she eats it.
    Part of the time I want to insist I'm the mom and she doesn't get a choice, the other part I recognize that at 3, she has very little control and she needs some.

    She is also in the lower range for weight, higher for height (so tall and skinny). I have been determined not to make food a battle ground, however we do have some requirements. We give her choices in her food, but she can only chooses between those things on the table. She has to sit with us or at least be in the dining area during meals (I don't expect her to sit still longer than 5-10 minutes,but she also can't go to another room to play). Meals = family time. We don't necessarily make 2 different meals, but we do realize she doesn't like all the same things we do - e.g. we eat a lot of salads, while she eats cooked veg well, she doesn't eat raw veg much. So we'll provide the cooked veg for her.

    re: snacking - basically she can snack as often as she wants,but snacks are only certain foods. We don't have any real junk foods in the house (no chips for example). I know she gets stuff like that at daycare and I don't worry too much, but at home "out of sight out of mind" works. The "worst" she gets are goldfish-type crackers, and even those are baked. She can eat some snack foods in other locations, depends on the messiness factor, which she's learning. I'm ok with the grazing habits, as I don't think that's unhealthy as long as it's good foods. I do think it's important to eat meals together though, so she's learning that even if she snacks, she sits with us for dinner.

    All that said, it's still a struggle and some nights she barely has a bite. Other days she eats all day. She's also older than D, so can understand a lot more and is able to make choices.

  6. You have some good advice from ladies who've been there and know what they're doing. But I'm going to throw you my 2 cents anyway. :P

    I agree with Sara that making rules around eating (when and how much) can lead to eating issues. As you do and say, "follow the child" and let him follow his hunger cues.

    However, going along with that... as lilialately said, if he's not eating what you're offering he's not hungry (or not that hungry). Maybe you can offer one alternate choice, but not three or more: if he's hungry, he'll eat what you're giving him (especially when you know it's something he does like). If he's not eating it, then he might just be asking for food because he's bored.

    The Love and Logic school of thought on eating and snacks is you ask the child, when he says he's done, if he has enough food to last him until the next meal (or schedule snack time). If the child says yes but then asks for a snack before the next meal/scheduled snack time, then you make the child "suffer" the consequences of not eating enough in the first meal: no, you can't have an extra snack now (then next time, when child doesn't want to finish dinner, he'll think about it more when he's asked if he has enough food in his belly to last him until breakfast).

    Obviously, you can't do that with D because he's too little to talk, but I still like the logic. The child will not starve to death from being denied that snack before the next meal (when the guy explained this, he did point out children have died from parents forcing food down their children's throats -- literally force-feeding them the rest of dinner). The point of this rambling is that if he doesn't eat "enough" at that snack time, he'll be okay. I know you're worried about him not being at the "right" weight for his age, but when has this child been at the "right" weight/height for his age? (Remind yourself of what you've said before: these are children. We don't know how they work, and they're all different. In addition to this, this is Zach's child. His purpose in life is to mess with your brain.)

    I'm rambling, so I'll try to get back on task: at this age, let him follow his hunger cues. Don't force him to eat more if he tells you he's done; let him listen to his non-hunger cues (but I do agree with lilialately's suggestion that when he eats, you sit and eat with him also, which will "tell" him that this is "eating time" and he'll be less likely to get distracted and stop eating because something caught his eye, instead of because he's no longer hungry).

    But as he gets older and you can communicate better with him, start establishing "minor" rules: at dinnertime, we eat enough to get us to the next meal (at some point he's going to go to school, where they strictly limit when you can eat -- which sucks, but don't get me started on the problems in education...)

    If he's not eating what you're offering, he's not hungry enough. Leave that offering there, or put it away for later, but don't bend over backwards catering to his whims, because then you are setting the stage for a picky eater and/or turning it into a game (how many things can I get Mommy to bring to me?)

    Can you ask your pediatrician if there's something you can give him to beef him up? I was talking to Freddy's sister who mentioned a student who was allergic to several basic food groups, so the parents gave the child Pedialyte (sp?) to supplement his meals/give him the protein he needs (or something like that). You probably don't want to give D protein shakes (Weightgainer 4000 -- "Beefcake!! BEEEEFCAAAKE!!!") but something along those lines... you get the idea.

    And you need to realize your kid is a tall and skinny kid. I've seen that belly he has, so quit fretting so much about his calories. He's got a skinny daddy and a healthy belly. He'll tell you when he's hungry.

  7. Follow the child!
    I know it can get frustrating when you have invested time, energy and good food in producing a wonderful meal or snack that is then ignored, but you don’t want meal time to become a battle ground.
    Little Guy is exactly the same (and exactly the same age as Donovan) I go through cycles of stressing about it and have to remind myself that he knows what he needs better than I do. One day he will be picky and hardly eat anything and the next he just doesn’t stop eating.
    What sort of snacks are you offering? Most of Little Guys snacks are simple things like cheese or fruit (he is part fruit bat I am sure). He eats cherry tomatoes straight from the bush when we are out side and will happily munch on a whole apple in the car or as we walk around the shops. His vocabulary is a little advanced for his age and most of it revolves around food so things have become a little easier lately as he can ask for exactly what he wants. That works pretty well, except when he fixates on something like blue berries and just stands at the fridge asking for berries, berries, berries like he is addicted! We only really have foods in the house that I am happy for him to eat as he likes, the only things I really restrict are the “cakies” that Grandfather bakes and delivers. Little Guy can spot a Grandfather Tupperware at 50 meters even if he has been asleep when it is delivered!
    Donovan looks to be a good size for an active little guy with slim parents, what charts are you measuring him against? Little Guy dropped back down to the 10th percentile late last year when his sleeping issues were at their worst and I was starting to get worried, then I was alerted to the fact that the chart he was being measured against where produced in the 50’s or 60’s and only measured American bottle fed children. I now measure him against the World Health Organizations current charts that looked at children from across the world who are breast fed and although his weight was falling back on that chart too it was never as low as the 10th percentile. In any event he has always looked happy and healthy, met or exceeded his milestones and been a bundle of non stop energy, so I don’t think there was ever anything to worry about.
    So the point of this long rambling post was to say, don’t worry, I know it stressful, he is doing fine, you are doing a great job. Tomorrow the thing to stress about will be different!

  8. Since you've been working on self-help Montessori type skills, maybe you can do those during snack time to help keep his interest at the table during snack time. ie-pour a drink, set the snack up, clean up when he's done, etc.

    Also, I fully endorse the idea of eating with D during snack time as well as main meal times. You can always try and learn new signs for the foods you are giving him and begin teaching him those. You can 'create' snacks that need to be put together. ie- fruit salad, cheese & crackers, then have D help you put them together at the table. When done, you can trade/share what you have made.

    Finally, I wouldn't worry about his weight. Zach was & is still very skinny, as are you. He just has his parents genes. I have no doubt that once he reaches puberty he will be eating everything he can lay his eyes on! :)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...