Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Food Wars

Rich and I swore we'd not get into big food-fights with the children. Well, we're in the midst of the food-wars with Rafi. He's basically stopped trying anything new; the only vegetables he'll eat are peas, and if it was left to him he would eat nothing but toast (of course!), sandwiches, cookies, lollipops and apples. It's also increasingly difficult to get him to sit at the dinner table...

We're feeling a bit lost as nothing seems to be working. I offer other foods all of the time, and his response is invariably, 'I don't like that dinner'. Mind you, he basically don't touch anything unless it's one of the foods listed above. This past few days we've started to say no sweet treats unless he tries his lunch/dinner - but that's not been terribly effective. And tonight I felt so sorry for him that we gave him a cookie after eating 4 small mouthfuls of brown rice.

We'd love some ideas!

He has suddenly started eating porridge for breakfast (oats, oat bran, and flaxseed) but he seems to be getting more and more restrictive in his choices.



  1. Alex, have you read anything by Ellyn Satter? Great, great stuff about feeding kids (and ourselves) without getting into battles or playing into the culture of food crazy that we live in. Highly recommended xoxo

  2. I love Ellyn Satter too. But don't worry too much - a picky eating phase is almost a rite of passage. They do grow out of it. My 13 year old is now more adventurous than me and he used to live off pasta and peas!

  3. I've heard to put a variety of different things on their plate and then at least if they reject half they've gotten something. My niece is really picky, too and it frankly would frustrate me if I had to feed her every day! J is really not except for fresh basil and kale and a few other harder to chew things and really spicy things.
    Oh and since I can't FB you right now I will just hijack your blog to say my u/s went well this morning and my SCH is half its original size.

  4. Hi my dear,

    I agree with what everyone else said! It will pass. It seems like all kids go through this phase where the only thing they'll eat is beige-colored carbohydrates.

    I am not familiar with the Satter book (though I wish I were!), but one thing that works for us is to use humor and play. So you call the veggies absurd names or you make cool little animals or dioramas out of the meals. I used to troll the web to get ideas, as on this page:

    Finally: fun-shaped cookie cutters! They make anything suddenly more interesting.

  5. You know, Alex, I had a funny experience - the twin girls I look after on Fridays just turned five, so they are a bit older than Raf. Their parents definitely don't practice the Satter "division of responsibility" approach, and the girls are really focused on sweet treats. It's complicated further by the fact that one of them has really serious food allergies, so there is always conversation about food and some focus around that. A few weeks ago I was preparing lunch and Jane said "I'm not going to eat any lunch". I told her that she needed to sit with me and her sister, and she said she would but repeated that she would not be eating lunch. I mentioned that she would likely be very hungry later if she didn't eat, and she said "I'll just eat a lot at dinner". I started to get stressed out and want to argue with her or try to coax or bribe (I believe there was a sweet of some kind that her parents had said they could have later in the day or something), but then I reminded myself that I am committed to not getting into food battles with kids... so I totally had a geek moment and told her about the division of responsibility! I said "Ok, that's fine. Kids and adults have different food jobs. The adult's job is to make sure there is healthy and delicious food at mealtimes. The kid's job is to decide if she wants to eat it and how much she is hungry for. So I'll still make your lunch, and you can sit with me and Miren and decide what you would like to eat". She was totally nonplussed :) As it happened, she didn't eat more than a few bites of lunch, but when we had a snack in the afternoon she ate a big helping of healthy food, and I'm sure she had a good dinner. She didn't starve herself and I didn't get all freaky and fight with her over food. If they were my kids I might even have gone as far as to put the treat out with lunch and just have it be another thing, but as the babysitter that's the kind of decision that's not mine to make. It was a really great moment, though, because I released myself entirely from getting upset and angry and worried, and she had the opportunity to exercise agency over her choices. In the end she got what she needed and no one had to be upset.

    This is of course a simplified version, because Jane is not my child and she is not, in general, "picky". But I think it illustrates how this can work. As Lou said on fb, Rafi's body is wise :) If he is growing and healthy and happy, and if you are (as I know you are!) offering him a range of foods in a nonthreatening and non-stressful way, he will be fine and will ultimately learn to feed himself in a way that nourishes his body. I love the "kid jobs/adult jobs" way of looking at it, because it takes the pressure off of you/Rich AND off of Raf.

    Ok, done rambling for now.

  6. Okay, you guys are the best! (and FB friends, too!). We are usually very relaxed around Rafi's food, but because my mum's just left and eating has been out of the usual I was feeling to get back on track with things. For example, as his nana, my mum let him have more lollipops than we might, and there was also a lot of snack/TV watching time (whereas we have dinners and snacks at the table). Raf much prefers lollipops watching the telly :)

    I started reading the 'division of responsibility' today, Fi, and it made so much sense. I called Rich and said, 'oh boy, have we got to shift here', because while we have been doing a lot of stuff as she suggests, when I became a little anxious that he's going to die from scurvy, or something, I feel the need to change things NOW! Last week Raf was reading Goldilocks and the The Bears. Now he used to eat porridge but suddenly it became a yucky food.. however, after watching Goldilocks he suddenly took my porridge and polished it off! Now he's back to eating porridge. This evening when I got home (after reading all of your comments and checking out the Satter stuff, Rich and I decided to be as relaxed as possible. I had brought home a sweet treat from work and just put it on Raf's plate with the rest of his food. Invariably he ate that first and then wouldn't sit at the table. This past few days I've become very frustrated when he's not sat with us, but tonight (thanks, Jen!!) I turned it into a bit of a game and started to play Goldilocks! It totally worked and he came and ate the hummus on bread that I'd put to accompany the veggie chilli and salad.

    I can see that in just a few days of pushing 'EAT THIS NOW", that I've effectively made meal times really unfun since he just hasn't wanted to sit with us. Ugh. Bad parenting moment.

  7. excuse the typos, etc... nursing little C here!

  8. Nah, not a bad parenting moment! Feeding kids is tough, and you and Rich are awesome attentive parents. Approaching food as Satter proposes is also really hard to do in our culture of food/body moralizing!

    On the Satter website there's a section on "forbidden foods":
    And then a lot of links from there to other good stuff :)

    Raf's probably old enough to start talking about the "division of responsibility", too. Jane was pretty impressed when I laid it out to her that way! Of course, I have babysitter cachet...!

    You are such a great parent, Al.

  9. I am so going to talk to Sage about our respective food jobs the next time this comes up! ;-)

    Glad Goldilocks worked, Alex! That is so cute. Anyway, it's another thing in your tool box for those days when you want to mix it up. For the longest time, Sage wanted to eat her oatmeal pretending she was one of those Martians from Sesame Street that invaded Ernie and Bert's house. (I think I'm dating myself now, but we do have the original Sesame Street boxed set!)