Last month I shared a video on Instagram stories of Edie and Dot screaming at the dinner table. You guys delivered with over 200 sweet messages of solidarity, and loads of brilliant advice for handling picky eaters…
So here’s the backstory: In general, dinner has become a super stressful situation at our home. I usually make whatever sounds good and healthy to me. I try not to think about how the kids will react because they need to learn how to eat all kinds of food, right?
Then dinner is served, and the girls take one look at it and refuse. Freak out. They are so mad at us for making something they don’t like (which is most days). Things get heated. We try to bribe them, beg them. The freaking escalates and Dot takes it up a notch into screeching. That’s what you saw in the video (posted on my IG stories again today). The bribery is usually something completely rational and respectable (to an adult), like “eat 5 bites and you’ll get a treat after dinner”, or whatever really comes out in the moment.
Clearly, this is not a well thought-out strategy. We end up reacting to the chaos instead of responding and managing. No one is managing. It’s mayhem at this point. The girls really want a treat, but can’t seem to bring themselves to eat the required amount (or anything at all), and this makes them really angry and upset. I should clarify here, it’s mostly Edie that won’t eat but Dot goes along with whatever Edie has decided and meet her (if not surpass) her ability to bring on the drama. Oh, it’s real fun guys. On top of it all, it’s super frustrating to spend all this time cooking and have other humans tell you how gross it is. If this were a paid gig I’d be on strike. Ugg.
See, the bottomline is that we don’t think about it until the moment where everyone’s screaming. It’s just not something we’ve prioritized. Jared and I end up getting annoyed at them, one or more children end up spending dinner in time out, we try to finish the meal while pretending we don’t hear them screaming in the other room. Then try to block it out until the next evening. Coping skills, guys. Well, I got super over the routine of it one day, and posted that video in need of some advice!
Hundreds of comments flooded into my direct messages. Everything from “OMG yes this is my house every night too, please help!” to buckets of advice and solutions from wise mothers, child nutritionalists, and psychologists. It made me so grateful for this amazing community of brilliant and supportive women! You all deserve access to the the advice I was given, so I thought I’d compile some of the best and most popular pieces of advice from those DM’s here today:
1. A no thank you bite. A really popular bit of advice was about a ‘one no thank you bite’. I hear this a lot and it’s sometimes the route we go. It seems to work for some people but to be honest, we haven’t had a lot of success with it. They take a bite. They spit it out, and then they’re whining and complaining still at the table. It works for some kids though, give it a try!
2. Ellyn Satter. Again and again this woman’s name came up from really smart, well researched women and professionals. I hadn’t heard her name before, but she’s a child nutritionist and clearly the go-to expert for eating issues with children. There’s a lot of great stuff on her site, but the idea is not to force them to eat. I particularly love her idea of division of responsibility in feeding. As parents, we decide what/when our children eat, and they decide how much/whether they eat. It gives them power to make their own choices, we just provide a healthy framework for them to do that. The way this would play out is eliminating snacking so they’re actually hungry at dinner, providing a lot of (acceptable to you) options for them to choose from, but essentially giving them the power of choice.
3. Cutting down on snack time. This makes sense. They’ll be hungrier if they aren’t snacking up until 5pm. It’s just hard to enforce (we have a bin of healthy snacks within their reach in the cupboard). It’s tricky too when our 11 yr old has different needs/eating patterns than the girls. He does eat his dinner, but also snacks a lot and needs more frequent eating as a pre-teen.
4. Give them one thing they like. Similar to what Ashley, my friend and pediatric nutritionist recommended in a post last year. Have at least one healthy and easy thing on the table they’ll eat. A plate of raw carrots or cut apples. Slices of whole wheat bread. This is hard to stomach when I’ve worked hard to make a delicious meal, but it makes sense. I need to get over my pride in cooking!
4. Don’t accept screaming at the table. Yup. We always wait until it’s got out of control. For sure though we need to ask anyone to leave whose not being respectful and eating. They can come back and join the family when they calm down. This works okay, but then Dot spends her timeout kicking the door like a mad toddler and we still have to spend dinner pretending we don’t hear the screaming down the hall.
5. The more you try to fight it, the worst they get. Sometimes when I find myself getting upset about them not eating, and I just stop and try to remind myself that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t eat dinner. They’ll survive (but will I?). Henry went through a period of refusing to eat dinner (also due to pickiness), and just started eating big breakfasts instead. Now, he’s a pretty adventurous eater!
6. Which leads me to the last bit of the advice: they grow out of it. Henry’s proof of this! I had lots of women who responded with laughter and I could tell they were years beyond this phase of parenting. It gave me hope!
To sum up, here is our new strategy for dinner time:
1. Feeding Dot beforehand so she isn’t influenced by Edie’s overly dramatic response to every meal (I keep on forgetting to do this but need to try and remember!).
2. Giving them one, even if it’s boring, thing they like to eat on the table. Usually I cut up carrots, apples, or make microwaved brown rice. This has been working GREAT.
3. If they ask how much they have to eat, I tell them “I’d love it if you tried a bite, but you can choose what you eat”. Done.
Our screaming dinner times have already drastically improved! Any tips to share?