The Joy of Dinner

What is mealtime like for your family?

When the kids were young and in high chairs it was enjoyable — spooning food into their cute little mouths, watching them make a mess. Then they got older, pickier — mealtime became a struggle and could be exhausting. Now that they are more independent and starting to pull away (particularly the oldest) it can be a challenge to keep them at the dinner table — they eat, answer one or two questions mom or dad asks then exit as soon as they can. Ah t(w)eens!

My husband had a later-than-usual work call and my workday ended after I thought it would so dinner didn’t happen until right around the time the kids started proclaiming how hungry they were. We sat down to eat. My husband was still on his work call and I figured worst case I’d wait and eat with him. Something almost magical happened. My sons started eating, we were talking about our days and then we started to reminisce. I’m not quite sure what prompted us remembering old times, but I asked my son if he remembered his former youth soccer team going to a high school tournament game many years ago (their youth coach was also the coach of the high school team and had invited the kids to watch), and how they had poked fun at the soccer players that were flopping (in an attempt to get a red or yellow card for the other team). The boys were somewhere around 10 or 11 and when the opposing team would “flop” one of the boys would say loudly, “oh, does your boo-boo hurt? “ And another would chime in, “Do you need us to get your mommy?” Then the rest of his teammates would all start chiming in. The high schoolers heard them. The fans (high schoolers and parents) heard them, and no one said a thing. Seems the power dynamic worked in their favor as no one was going to go after these kids. It was humorous to see the kids doing this (I know that’s terrible but I was impressed with how they called out their older peers for faking it). In recalling this story my oldest started laughing. “Oh yea. That was hilarious.” I asked, “You’re the age now of the kids you and your teammates were giving a hard time to. How would you feel if it happened to you today?” “I’d probably think it was funny,” he shrugged. I’m not sure if he would find it as humorous, but the conversation had us talking and laughing well beyond our typical time at the dinner table. We were there so long, in fact, that my husband finished his call and was able to join us for a good period of time.

Oh the joy of dinner. It’s so hard to believe the nights where we’ll have dinner are so fleeting. Only a few years left before our oldest is off. Working to be present and really enjoying our time together whether it’s a ten minute or hours long meal at the table.

What is a favorite mealtime memory for you and your child? How are you finding joy at the dinner table?

New Year New Choices

Is your child a healthy eater?

Our boys are opposites in many ways. Regarding eating, my oldest has been a pretty consistent eater throughout his life. Food hasn’t seemed to be something that dominates his thoughts, mood, etc. His teachers talked about healthy eating when he was in elementary school and it resonated with him. He started to be more conscientious of his choices and wanted to be healthy.

My youngest has had a different journey. He was a very picky eater when he was young. He’d go days at his daycare without eating if the food being served wasn’t to his liking due to taste or texture (a big thing for kids on the spectrum). We often worried about him putting on weight, but that changed around the second grade. He started expanding his food universe, but it gravitated towards processed foods. Mac and cheese, bread, bread and bread. 😊 We’d attempt to get him to eat healthier options and would get gagging (sometimes regurgitation – yuck!), or he would dig in and not eat. It was a struggle. My husband and I had set out to make one meal for the family and everyone eat the same thing, but we failed. Three of us would eat the same thing (for the most part), and my youngest wouldn’t. #parentfail

Over the years the divide has grown. Our oldest is uber healthy. My youngest is not, but he understands the importance of eating healthy and is working hard to make better good choices.

At the start of the New Year, my husband recommended we hold eat other accountable in make healthier choices starting with making sure we’re each incorporating a fruit or vegetable into eat meal. He created a chart that each of us have to fill out daily. There was resistance as first, but we’ve all grown to like the chart. Seeing what we’re eating, thinking about what else we can incorporate. And our youngest has really stepped up to the challenge — Expanding his food universe in the fruits and vegetables category. It’s a small step but feels like a bigger (more important one to my husband and I). #parentsuccess

How are you helping your child to develop a healthy lifestyle? What challenge(s) have you come up against and how have you solved for it?

Small Victories — My Picker Eater

Do you have a picky eater in your family?

My youngest son is a picky eater. If it were up to my son, his diet would consist only of: bread, cheese, macaroni, chocolate, bread and chocolate (yes, I realize I put bread and chocolate in there twice). He will eat vegetables and fruits in very small quantities, but is reluctant to try new foods. We’ve had many discussions around eating foods that give us energy and help us live a long and heathy life, but my son’s not overly concerned (or particularly interested). At his age, I don’t think I was either.  It is common to hear him say, “No, thanks” when you ask him if he’s interested in trying something new, and common to experience a tantrum with him when you require him to try something new — we spend more time dealing with the tantrum – using logic, incenting, and then threatening consequences (and/or taking away privileges) than the actual time is takes him to eat the small portion. It’s very frustrating and can make me feel like a failure as a parent.

Imagine my surprise when we recently went into a local Subway to eat. Normally my son is only interested in their pizzas. If the Subway shop doesn’t carry the pizza, he’s not eating. Yet, on this particular day he did. “Mom, can I try a turkey sandwich?” he asked. “Sure, what changed your mind?” I said, trying to get over my shock. “I don’t know. What (my older son) gets looks good.” I decided not to ask any more questions, and instead ordered the sandwich.

Now, I have to confess that I was a bit concerned that when he got the sandwich, he would change his mind and say he didn’t like it after all, but that’s not what happened. Instead he took a bite and said, “This is AMAZING!” It felt like a small victory. My son was expanding his food universe and actually eating something that was relatively healthy (or healthier than the pizza would have been) and enjoying it. I was elated. As we walked back home from the restaurant he continued to comment on how much he liked the sandwich unprompted by me. “It tastes like the sandwiches grandma from Canada makes,” he said, “It was really, really good.” It made me smile (and I’m guessing it will make his grandmother in Canada smile too).

Maybe we’re turning a corner with our son, maybe now that he’s experienced something new he likes, he’ll be more willing to try new things in the future. Only time will tell, I’ll savor this victory for now.

How do you get your picky eater to try new things?

Meltdown

Do you struggle to get your child to eat the dinner you’ve prepared? My husband and I do. It got so bad recently, that our youngest had a meltdown at the table crying, “I’m so hungry, but I don’t want to eat anything.” Anything meaning the food we’d prepared. The meltdown continued and he eventually went to his room for the evening.

I have to admit fault, in that I’ve been a short-order cook for too long. When my children were younger it was fairly common for them not to eat much of anything. Growing concerned that they needed more nutrition than they were getting, I let the short-order cook in me emerge and live on.

I realized I needed to evaluate why I was cooking this way for my children and what I needed to do to change it. I grew up in a “clean-your-plate” household where dessert were scarce. As a result I’ve experienced fallout as an adult having to relearn how to eat (it sounds silly, but is quite a complex and emotional process), trusting my body to tell me when I am hungry and full, and knowing that I can have whatever I want (sweet or not sweet) whenever I want. No food is off the table or taboo. As I became more aware of my own eating struggles, I realized I was trying to overcompensate for them with my children, and instead of having the effect I wanted (e.g. allowing them to eat freely, and eating what they want) I was setting them up to potentially have weight or body issues too.

A book was recommended that really helped change this for me, “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School,” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. I found this book to be very insightful with actionable items to put a new plan in place for feeding my family. Part of the book talks about being authoritative (vs. authoritarian). It encourages parents to be in charge of what you serve your child, but you allow them to determine how much or little they want to eat. It makes sense and feels right to implement this methodology, however, my husband and I knew making this transition with our kids wouldn’t necessarily be easy. We expected there to be some rebellion, and were hoping to avoid any meltdowns.

Of course, the first week there was strong rebellion and it subsided, until our youngest had his meltdown. After going to his room and having a good cry and articulating his anger, I joined him to talk. I shared that while I didn’t like the way he was handling the situation, I certainly appreciated that he was disappointed that we weren’t serving food he preferred, however, Mom and Dad’s job is to teach him things and keep him safe, and part of teaching him things includes exposing him to different foods and providing a nutritious meal. He claimed, “I’m starving,” and I explained that if he was truly hungry he would find something to eat at the table. He asked for some broccoli which had been on the table, but we had already finished it by the time he decided he wanted it. He got upset when he heard this, but was able to calm himself down and asked, “Can I have some carrots instead?” There weren’t carrots on the table, but the fact that he was asking for a vegetable or fruit made it a reasonable request for us. He ate the carrots, and the rest of the evening went on without much fanfare.

I know there are likely more meltdowns in our future around food, but I’m hoping that as my husband and I continue to serve a family meal that we all eat, this will lessen.

How do you deal with meltdowns at the dinner table? Or how have you avoided them?