Sunday, August 26, 2012

What I Forgot To Tell You About Eating At Our House

See, this is one of the reasons I haven't been blogging lately! Because I forget important details like giving you important background information before I throw the chart of foods the children will eat at you and ask for your help!

So, let me introduce you to the key players in this neverending nightly drama!
  • 13 year old:
    • sensitive gag reflex: used to frequently, involuntarily, throw up at the table (thankfully, he usually just gags now)
    • strong-willed: would rather starve than eat something he doesn't like
  • 10 year old:
    • no obvious sensory issues
    • strong-willed: would rather starve than eat something he doesn't like
  • 8 year old:
    • has issues with strong flavors and some textures
    • has never been overly interested in eating: small boned, can usually count her ribs, looks as though she is being underfed.
    • strong-willed: would rather starve than eat something she doesn't like
  • 6 year old:
    • no obvious sensory issues
    • more steadfast and immovable than a mountain strong-willed: would rather starve than eat something he doesn't like
    • defiant: regularly "cuts off his nose to spite his face"
  • 2 year old:
    • no obvious sensory issues
    • generally too busy to sit down and eat
    • used to be willing to try new foods, but has been negatively affected by his siblings' behavior
Why, OH WHY, can't the children be more like their father?! Having overly-sensitive taste buds myself, I understand what it is like to be surprised by an unexpected texture or overwhelmed by a strong flavor, and I know that you cannot force a child to eat. I have always tried to calmly put the food on the table, and if the child chooses to eat, that's fine, and if he chooses not to eat, that's fine too; he knows when the next meal or snack will be served. We do not require anyone to eat a certain amount of anything, although, sometimes we require a person to use their utensil to try a bite of one thing (this way the person can choose the size of the bite). We do this for foods that the child used to eat and like, and for some new foods because, every now and then, once the food is in the child's mouth, he/she decides it tastes good after all. If the child tries the food and doesn't like it, he/she can go fix something else.

Meal-times at my house
*Anyone may eat any fruit or vegetable they would like in between our normal eating times.

For breakfast, the children have 3 options. (The reason they have 3 options is because I was tired of watching people wandering around the kitchen for an hour in the morning while whining, "I don't know what to haaaaaaaaaaave!") The 3 options are: oatmeal, cereal (usually frosted mini-wheats, raisin bran, or granola), or waffles/pancakes/French Toast (depending on which one we've made that week; I make a big batch and freeze the extra for breakfasts).

For lunch, the children pick any (reasonable) thing they want: sandwiches, left-overs, cheese and apples, that sort of thing. I encourage them to try to include some protein, whole-grains, and some fruits and/or vegetables, but, as long as they aren't trying to eat candy for their meal, they can choose what they have. (They are allowed to have ice cream/cake/candy for lunch on their birthday, if they so choose.)

For snack time, the children pick from the snacky foods: cheese, left-overs, crackers, popcorn, homemade cookies, yogurt, etc.

For dinner, we have long had the rule that if you come to the table and make a negative comment about the food, you are excused to go to bed for the night, and you may eat again in the morning. We talked about how much work goes into making a meal, and that it is very inconsiderate to complain about something someone has used their time and energy to do for you. Up until a few months ago, I planned and fixed most of the meals, and I often asked the kids what they would like for dinner in the coming week. I would fix one meal and try to include at least one item that everyone liked, without ending up making more than one meal (this can take a lot of mental energy to figure out). If a person didn't like what was served, and refused to try any of the prepared meal, he/she was welcome to have oatmeal, fruits, or vegetables.

It only took one or two time of someone being excused from the table for the night for the "THAT'S what we're having?!" or "I don't LIKE that!" comments to stop, which was nice, but I still had to see the disappointed shoulder slump, or the devastated head dropping onto the arms on the table, or the eyes closed grimly. And, many a night, at least one person would choose not to eat anything on the table, or any of the default choices, and leave the table while sobbing something to the effect of "WHY don't you EVER fix anything *I* like to eat?!"

A few months ago, in an effort to make dinner more pleasant for us all, I told the children that they each needed to pick what they would like to eat on one night of the coming week; if they are old enough, they get to help make the dinner too. This has cut down on some of the complaining, and it's a lot easier for me to not take their reaction to dinner personally if I didn't make the dinner, but I'm getting REALLY tired of having spaghetti, rotini, and chili for dinner over and over and OVER. Husband Nobody has been planning dinner ahead of time, so 4 out of the 5 nights of the week, 6:00 rolls around, and somebody starts saying, "So, what are we having for dinner tonight?" and THAT is how we end up eating so much pasta and canned chili.

Since writing the previous post, I have made a couple changes.
1. I have added "choose a meal for the week" to the children's list of weekly chores that have to be done before they can play computer/watch movies on Saturday.
2. When Husband comes home, I am going to my room to catch up on the reading I am behind on and to miss out on the dinner drama.

Thanks to all of YOUR suggestions, once I have recovered from the dinner trauma sucking the life out of me caught up on my reading, I am going to:
1. Try to make it a habit to put out a veggie/crackers/cheese tray while dinner finishes cooking.
2. Make sure there are always spaghetti noodles in the fridge for those who don't like dinner, or maybe have a batch of popcorn ready.
3. Specifically tell them that I respect their food preferences as much as I can, so they can show respect to me by trying a bite of something without a big fuss.
4. Use the Chuck 3 Cheese tokens I bought for motivational purposes to reward those who are polite at the table. Everyone who is polite and respectful about the food served for dinner will earn one token; we will go to Chuck 3 Cheese in a month and everyone can use the tokens they've earned (or they can sit there and watch their siblings if they haven't earned any tokens).

In response to some of the comments:
I think some of them WOULD actually eat steak, but I haven't figured out how to cook it so that it tastes good, and it is so expensive =(.
I have been willing to dish up things without the final ingredients, but the person still wouldn't eat it =(.
I do try to indulge their food preferences as much as I can; we serve the noodles separate from the sauce for those who don't like sauce, we use large plates so the different foods don't touch each other, I don't fix a lot of food that *I* like but that none of the kids like...but they don't realize that not everybody's parents do that.
I have tried hiding various things in the foods they like, but they can usually tell. The only casserole-type thing they'll eat is lasagna, IF it doesn't have ricotta or cottage cheese.
Thank you all for your suggestions and sympathy, even though I didn't explain things very clearly!! It really helped me to "talk this out" with you =).


Mouse said...

Good Lord! This sounds exhausting! I don't have kids, but I suspect that if I did, this area of parenting would be a big FAIL for me. "Oh Kid, you want cereal for dinner? Great! Me too!" Done. :-)Your method sounds much more responsible. I've heard many of my friends with kids talk about this same struggle. For some reason, I don't remember my own parents struggling with this when we were growing up. Have times changed?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mouse. This sounds exhausting. I don't know how you do it, just reading this gave me Nervous Tummy.

I think all of your plans/actions/consequences sound well thought out and very reasonable. If only children weren't such ungrateful beasts.


twisterfish said...

You are amazing and dedicated and awesome. One day -- maybe not soon, but one day -- your children will be thankful for all you do.

Jessica said...

Geez. I think I'd just quit. Spaghetti, rotini, and chili for THEM, whatever I wanted for me:)

liz said...

I think you're doing a terrific job. I like what you're doing already and I like the changes you're making.

My parents (divorced) each had me cooking one night a week starting about when I was 11. That really cut down on the amount of complaining I did about eating, but ramped up my complaining about chores.

Elsha said...

Man, that just sounds exhausting.

Emily said...

It sounds like you're doing an awesome job, given what you have to work with. Your solutions sound good to me, too. I hope all this stuff helps!