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?