Our family is in a huge transition right now. 11 weeks ago we moved in temporarily with my mother after selling our house before we could move into our new one. I knew there would probably be set backs in all areas of my 2 year old's life. Our routines are different and the dynamic with extra adults around has changed mealtimes in particular. I have always considered my nearly 3 year old's eating to be pretty good. However, since we have been in this state of limbo and I have been managing more difficult behaviors in other areas (aka pooping in his underwear), I have let his eating slowly decline. It's not like I didn't see it happening slowly, but I kept telling myself, "It will be better when we move into our new house. We will get back to our routine." I was hoping we would be moving in 2 weeks. Now it is pretty certain that it will be another 4-6 weeks. I decided, finally, that his eating needed addressed now, it couldn't wait any longer. I wanted to share with you some of the strategies that helped me rope his eating back in-- quickly!
Some of these strategies I have discussed before and some are quick tips to get you thinking. More than anything, I want you to get a feel for how I problem solve through feeding challenges at my table, in the hopes that you can apply some of the same strategies at your table.
Get a Game Plan
The first step in getting Sam's eating back on track was to come up with a game plan and get my husband on the same page. Obviously, he totally follows my lead in this department, but it's really important that I communicate with him exactly how we are going to proceed. Since my mom is a big part of mealtimes, I had a talk with her too.
I had to think-- what had really changed? I was still giving a preferred food at meals, spacing meals 3 hours apart, and serving a variety of foods (see Basic Strategies for more on this). Yet, he was getting so particular about what he was eating and playing with his food more than he was eating it. Once I reflected on his eating, I was able to focus on a few strategies in particular, I have outlined them for you below.
Cooking Together and Being Engaged Through the Whole Process
The biggest strategy I had forgotten lately is Cooking with Your Kid- Umm, Hello! If you follow this blog you know that I talk about this all the time and have written many posts on cooking with Sam. It has gotten him interested in many new foods! So, first step in my game plan: Get Sam cooking again. Last night we made tacos and after cooking together, he ate tomatoes and turkey meat willingly, which are foods he has been refusing lately!
Since I am fairly sure that the stress of this tranisition and temporary housing is having an affect on Sam, I needed to address why he may be acting out at meals. Was the meal really the problem? Was he getting enough attention?
A few nights ago I watched a webinar on Positive Parenting Solutions hosted by Creative with Kids (by the way, there is a ton of wonderful posts on positive parenting over there). It was a wonderful reminder for me that I need to really make sure that Sam is getting specific attention on a daily basis. I have been going out of my way to make sure that I am engaged with him, trying to put my agenda aside and really be present throughout the day. It is hard, but I am cutting way back on multi-tasking. By the way, the cooking time that we shared accomplished this plus it gave him a sense of purpose in our family. It is important for kids to feel like they are contributing to the family.
"I'm all done."
Sam has announced at a few meals recently, "I'm all done." It caught me off guard initially. I'm not going to get into a power struggle here, so I let him be all done, even if it was only a few minutes after the meal begun. BUT, I told him that there was no food until the next meal. Each time I make sure that he has heard me and make him repeat it back to me. I fully intended to follow through. The few times he tried this, he came back within less than 5 minutes and asked to finish his meal. You know what? He did! I wouldn't have let him do this if a longer amount of time had passed. I know that his little brain needed a minute or two to process what had happened.
Salvaging a Meal that is on the Rocks
Mealtime with kids can get out of hand in a hurry. Before you throw in the towel, can you make small, reasonable changes to the meal? I use this strategy a lot with both of my kids. I am not talking about getting something different to eat or jumping through hoops. There are times that legitimately the food needs to be changed a little. Kids won't force down cold food, or foods that isn't seasoned well the way most of us will. If it doesn't taste great, then they probably won't eat it. Also, sometimes kids just need to shift focus, it may have nothing to do with the food... you just have to get them interested. I had to use several of these today at lunch and in the end it was a decent meal. Here is a list of the some the tricks I use:
- Heating up food. A couple of quick seconds in the microwave can make the food a lot more palatable.
- Cut it up or give a big piece. I change up whatever way I originally presented it. Today I gave him a meatball cut in half, thinking he would like to take bites off or cut it himself. After seeing he wasn't eating them. I asked, "Would you like me to cut them into small pieces?" I did, and he ate 4-5 pieces. I was content with that.
- Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese, garlic salt, or parsley on the food. I only use a miniscule amount, but Sam thinks it is special and will often dig in.
- Give a different utensil. I might say, "Oh, would you like your digger fork, instead, to eat those meatballs?" This works more often than you would think.
- Add a sauce, dip, or liquid. Sometimes I mix more milk in the homemade mac and cheese or add some chicken broth to the rice. I let my kids see me do this and then re-present. Often, they see that has changed and you have engaged them a little so they may be more willing to give it a try. Also, think of offering dips or more sauce.
At the top of this post I shared that our family was in transition, and in this instance I think that is part of the reason for the decline in Sam's eating. BUT, it is very typical for kid's eating to go up and down over days, weeks, and months. They go in and out of phases. The important thing is that WE stay consistent. The times when their eating goes down hill a little, use some of these strategies to get things back on track!