Why I Gave Up Mealtime Battles

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See that boy? The boy with the empty plate (save for some peas) and the brand new car napkin? He and his sister were driving me absolutely mad at mealtimes, and in fact, most of their meltdowns were occurring right at the table. I’ve had an epiphany this weekend, and it’s like I’ve got brand new kids.

I don’t think I’m the first parent to have mealtime battles with my kids, but I’m not sure how frequently other parents go through the same thing.

B battles me for:

-His bib (can only be the brown one)

-His napkin (can only be the car napkin)

-His plate color (the one above, purple – otherwise orange)

-His spoon (big spoon)

-Who put him in his chair (me) and WHEN I can do it (after he gets his straps set up)

-Washing his hands in the sink

And of course, this doesn’t factor in his food desires!

B currently doesn’t like:

-Meat of any sort

-Milk

-Basic fruits and vegetables he’s liked all his life until like, yesterday.

-Sweet things

-Pizza

C battles me for:

-Her spoon (little)

-Who puts her in her chair (Daddy)

-Who gets her food (she scoops her own cereal out on the weekends from the box)

-Her hair going in a ponytail so it’s not in her food

For her, the issues are more food related than anything else. She doesn’t like:

-Meat of any sort

-Cheese and peanut butter, except when she absolutely loves cheese and peanut butter

-Rice/Quinoa

-Tomato sauce (except on pizza)

She would eat everything unhealthy in the world, plus every vegetable and fruit that exists. But rice? NO.

So each and every night (and lunch on the weekends), I was battling. Again and again. Screaming from C with big crocodile tears while her brother laughed (“B, crying is NOT. FUNNY!!!!”), chair rocking, head rolling from B with occasional hitting. It’s been a disaster.

Most meals went in this fashion: I’d give them something they like, but then when they were finished, they’d meltdown because the only options left were things they didn’t like. OR, I’d make them something new thinking they would love it, but they won’t even taste it, won’t even try it, and then I’d have nothing for them for dinner but some veggies (and only their current favorites, of course). I found myself growing angry when I put C in her chair and she screamed because she wanted Daddy. When I’d give B his choices and he’d scream, “No, those are NOT the options!!!” My husband and I were stressed and frustrated every night.

Except this weekend.

This weekend, I tried something new. If I already knew what they like and prefer – that’s what I gave them.

B only likes the car napkin. Out of all those nice ones I made, he’ll only use that one. If it’s dirty, I was previously making him choose from the rest of the pile. He refused to do it.

But this weekend, I said, “Your car napkin is dirty. You can either have one I made you or a white paper napkin.” He chose white.

He didn’t want to wash his hands in the sink. He got the choice of the sink or a hand wipe. He chose wipe.

I WAITED for him to fix his straps the way he wanted – not hurrying him along or attempting to do it myself.

If he didn’t want milk, he didn’t have milk.

C likes the little spoon – and I knew that already. Why was I asking her what she wanted if I already knew? Little spoon is on the table at the start, and that issue is solved.

As for food? My kids have eaten GREAT this whole weekend. WHY?

Before, I would give them one thing they liked, and a few they might not have. B has stopped liking peppers and green beans (though they are two of his favorites – I think it’s a temporary boycott). Why was I continuing to put them on his plate?

Now, I’m giving them 95% of what I know they like. B likes salad, C doesn’t. C gets cucumber when B gets salad. B likes pasta with sauce or cheese, C likes it plain. So that’s what C gets.

Do I think some of their food choices are gross and weird? Yes. I can’t get them to try ketchup to save their life, so dipping meat is just out of the question. Why am I still trying??

I’ve given up.

I know what they like, and most of what I’m giving them is just that. No more hoping they’ll suddenly take a liking to meatloaf – it’s not happening. They still eat veggies, they still eat bread and pasta, they still eat cheese.

It feels spectacular. My stress level at lunch and dinner is just about gone. We’ve started enjoying each other’s company at the table, laughing and talking. I know what they like, and I’m done fighting it. They’re getting what they like (within reason), and a little tiny bit on their plates that they don’t like. If they try it, great. If they don’t – next time.

This is all temporary, right? So they say. I’m willing to wave the white flag and let them eat what they’ll eat. Happy twins = happy parents.

 

 

Dear Picky Eaters,

Dear Picky Eaters,

You suck at eating. It’s really quite annoying.  I suck at planning foods you’ll scarf down with ease and happiness (do any toddlers eat with ease and happiness?). Daddy sucks at knowing what to do when you don’t want to eat what is on your plate. We all suck at mealtime.

Honestly, the one aspect of parenting I could completely do without and would happily hire someone to sit in my place, is feeding you. I mean, it’s not all bad, all the time. Sometimes it starts out innocently enough. B, all 31 pounds of you, you get hungry when you see us in the kitchen cooking throwing food together to feed you both your dinner. You sweetly come into the kitchen and say, “Eat?” And I say, “Yes, B, it’s time to eat! Go to your chair!” And you sit there, puppy dog eyes on full display as you salivate, wondering what Martha Stewart-type concoction will be served to you.

Dear Picky Eaters,

For breakfasts, you get stuck in a pattern. For a long, long time, you both ate baby oatmeal mixed with pear puree. Then you ate Daddy’s crock pot oatmeal with steel cut oats and apples and cinnamon. Then, in the past month, you both got sick of eating breakfast with a spoon. So we went out on a limb and tried something completely new – muffins!

Dear Picky Eaters,

It was a success. You both love these muffins, which are made with whole wheat flour, unsweetened applesauce, bananas and a few more things. I freeze them and they last me about a week. But it’s time to introduce some other flavors of muffins, because I don’t want you getting too sick of these quickly. Breakfast isn’t really a problem right now.

And see, babies, it should be noted that I do plan your lunches. Granted, it’s the same five things every week – pasta with minestrone sauce, whole wheat couscous “sticks” (which we’ve slipped chicken into), a quesadilla with finely-chopped chicken, sour cream, salsa, and the magic ingredient (corn), chicken-“fried” rice quinoa, and either a repeat or something I’m praying you’ll eat (like our new rice and chicken “muffins” – which you ate the first time, not the second.). And it’s also true that these five meals have been on repeat for oh, 6 months. I’m not a chef. I plan the meals, Daddy cooks them. And he doesn’t do this every night. When we have minestrone, I have enough for you guys to eat it like 7 more times. I freeze it in bags. The same goes for the quinoa and the couscous sticks. It’s all previously frozen in individual bags. I don’t want your nanny to have to go through what we go through at dinner. I want lunch to be a breeze. So in addition to any of those meals at lunch, you get two side veggies – typically either peas and carrots or green beans and squash. You also LOVE broccoli, brussel sprouts, cucumbers and asparagus, which you eat at lunch as well. No, veggies aren’t the issue here.

You still drink your afternoon smoothie, with plain yogurt, frozen fruit, a banana and spinach. That’s going fine too. For drinks – you both drink milk with your meals and water throughout the day. You love your water cups. You get a kick out of drinking from your own and then switching cups, spreading all the germs, I’m sure. But it’s okay. Drinking isn’t the issue.

Dear Picky Eaters,

The issue, twins, is dinner. Your lunches look all yummy and good and whatnot, and so you may be thinking, what’s wrong here? Well see, those lunches are the ONLY things you will eat. There are variations, of course. You both love pasta. And rice. And dairy, veggies and fruits. You like a cheese sandwich, which I can slip a piece of chicken into and you don’t notice. But that is IT!

I don’t want to give you the lunch foods for dinner, because if you have the same things multiple times a week, I’m afraid you’ll stop liking them. No, I need more recipes of things you’ll eat, that I can have on hand for dinner.

Daddy isn’t a fan of giving you two dinners. Neither am I – and I agree with him that you can’t just not even try something new and then be rewarded with something you love. Which happened tonight. Without the reward. But you won’t even TOUCH foods that we think you’ll like, that we think will help our problem with your desire to be stuck in your eating ways. It’s not that you don’t like flavors, it’s that we can’t get you to even put these foods to your lips. Ketchup/BBQ/any salad dressing – you won’t touch it. Peanut butter, won’t touch it. We tried to get you to eat pizza a few weeks ago – you looked at us like we had three heads. Beans – absolutely not. MEAT??? It’s like we’re trying to poison you. You wouldn’t touch the broccoli and cheese quiche tonight, because you don’t like eggs (texture is the issue here I believe). And I didn’t have a Plan B, even though I knew you probably wouldn’t touch it. So I’m having a bit of Mommy guilt.

I’m not sure what the right move is at the dinner table – put out food you may or may not like first, in hopes that you’ll try it? If we put out something you DO like with it – well, I”m afraid you’ll only eat whatever you love and not touch the rest. But if we only give you the questionable food up front – and you DON’T like it, well now you’re hungry. And defiant. And “giving in” would mean giving you something else. Which I will do. But then you learn that if you cry about something yucky, you get something yummy.

Dear Picky Eaters,

(Mealtimes are such an ordeal that I had to dig back to Christmas, when you weren’t using utensils yet and still used high chairs, to find another picture of you eating!)

As we know you both do enjoy many flavors – we think it’s that you both get into a pattern and don’t like to break it. You just hate trying new things – simple as that. And Daddy and I are always so tired. We don’t want to spend every night after you go to bed in the kitchen. We just want you to eat more than the same five meals on repeat. So, picky eating toddlers, I’ll try to be better about planning. About having something you do like with each meal I think you’ll hate, because I’m not about to let these dinners just fail and you go to bed hungry. That’s not how I roll. I’ll start planning more on the weekends and preparing more dinners at night before I go to bed so we aren’t scrambling the next day at 6:00.

But you guys, you have to do your part too. Just pick up the food, open your mouth, and TASTE it. I promise it won’t be so bad.

Love,

Your Exhausted, Drained Parents

As a side, I’ve linked the recipes we do find success with here, just in case you’re in a similar boat as I am. And if not?  What are your secret recipes? They just might be a winner in this house!

What DO toddlers eat?

Okay, so this may be my last post for a while, though I hope not. I’m officially, really back to work on Tuesday, as it’s the first day of school. My nanny, J, is AMAZING and the transition has been perfect over the last two weeks. I miss the babies, but I feel like I’m leaving the twins in good hands. My biggest brag about her is that the kids do a different activity every day, and she has yet to repeat herself (though I told her she shouldn’t feel like she needs to come up with something different daily!) Two days ago it was birthday cards with baby fingerprints, and on other days she’s created sticky balls out of tape, used a muffin tin to play and sort plastic balls, cut paper into strips to play with, had a dance party, stuffed an empty wipes container with scarves to practice pulling them out – etc. She rocks. And she takes pictures and videos and checks in constantly. So I’m very lucky to have her and be out the door on time in the morning. In fact, when she arrives in the morning a chorus of cheers erupts from the high chairs. When I get home in the afternoon……meh? That would be the babies reaction. Meh. But it’s all good. 

So food. As soon as we switched from purees to finger foods, and from finger foods to table foods, it’s all been a mystery to me. I have to admit I miss the puree days when I’d just throw a few cubes of this or that in a cup and mix them all up. There’s been many a pinterest and google search on what to feed these babies. I still feel strongly about the things I want them to eat and the things I don’t want them eating at this age, but yet, sometimes my plans don’t go like I thought they would. And by sometimes, I mean 90% of the time. I just wish that I could say, “Feed the twins ______ with guaranteed success”. I can say that, if I want them to exist on a diet of melon, banana, and peas. But otherwise – what they like to eat changes day to day. I hate the lack of consistency!

Breakfast – thankfully, I’ve got this meal down for the most part. They have their milk, then baby oatmeal mixed with leftover milk from their sippies or just water, and I usually add a cube of pureed apple or pear for flavor, though they will also eat it plain. They each eat about 3.5 tablespoons of oatmeal. Then they split half a banana. For the most part, it’s an easy, predictable meal – as long as I don’t show them the banana until it’s time – otherwise all bets are off. 

Snack – their 3:30 pm snack WAS consistent, until today. I always gave them a cheese stick, either to share or they each ate one, followed by whatever veggies I had cooked and chopped. Every night I prepare two veggies for the next day to cover two meals and a snack. They’re some combo of peas, carrots, butternut squash and green beans. These are veggies they will always eat plain. I try to mix spinach, broccoli, and zucchini in with other foods, but I’d like them to eat these veggies plain as well. But then today, C flat out refused her cheese. She LOVES cheese. Today, she aggressively signed “all done” while saying one of her newer words, “no” over and over again (she’s also started saying “please”, so that helps make up for it!). And when she has made up her mind, there’s no tricking her. After veggies have been consumed, I sometimes give the babies fruit – whatever I have on hand that both babies like. B currently is into cantaloupe, bananas, and watermelon …so any other fruit like blueberries and grapes C gets in addition to whatever she’s eating. So C’s snack today was peas and watermelon. 

Lunch and Dinner – these are the meals that drive me a little nuts. I’m trying to get them to eat table food – what we eat, they eat. They can’t just have peas and cheese forever. The problem is – it’s a total crapshoot on whether or not they will like it, so even though I have my backup veggies and fruit, I’m typically scrambling for more food. On the one hand, I DO agree with the idea that kids need to eat what the adults are eating – without Mom or Dad cooking 5 other meals to make all the kids happy. I agree. It’s just that..at this age, with my babies just starting to eat “real food”, they don’t know what they like. I don’t know what they like. We’re all learning. I know their tastes will change as they get older as well, so for now, I just feel like I need them to eat something, even if it’s not what I prepared. What they LIKE is pasta. Plain pasta, pasta with red sauce, pasta with white sauce…they like pasta. But I’m not giving that to them every night. They loved it in minestrone soup, they loved it with a white broccoli and chicken sauce. Up until TONIGHT, they also loved cheese quesadillas. I snuck some chicken into theirs tonight and B was hungry – he ate almost an entire quesadilla. Which was fine, because C was still on her “no cheese” kick and cried over the dinner I had figured she would eat. I had some backup sweet potato and a little leftover avocado..so she ate those instead, (and more watermelon) but I didn’t call that a MEAL exactly.

Sometimes we’ll make a dinner and just one baby will like it, or tolerate it even, and the other won’t touch it. Earlier this week we made black bean/sweet potato enchiladas (this website as a whole is totally amazing, I highly recommend it), but with a slightly spicy taco sauce on top – B wouldn’t touch it. C on the other hand ate pieces of sweet potato and black beans. Sometimes C will eat the food if it comes off of my plate, or if it comes off my fork, but she’ll refuse it as finger food. Sometimes B screams and points and I can’t for the life of me figure out what he wants, but he refuses to eat what’s on his tray. Maybe 3 out of 7 days a week, both babies will eat a meal and say together, “yum!”. And it usually involves pasta. It’s a daily struggle. I want them to eat well, get their nutrients, and I’m not ready to cave to foods that “all” toddlers will like – foods that I don’t consider the best for them. Once in a while is totally fine, but I feel like once I give it to them, it’s all they’ll want. I recently read a comment on someone’s blog from a registered dietician that children should order off of adult menus at restaurants – kids menus are usually just those typical “mac and cheese” “hot dog” type meals – when there’s no reason they can’t eat what the adults are eating. That made sense to me. I just wish it was a little easier getting my twins to like different sorts of meals with different textures and different spices. I know they’re still young – they’re only 13 months. But I’m not really digging this daily battle. At what age does picky eating become the toddler norm?

On top of all this, we are trying to prepare our dinners better ourselves. Going back to work means an even crazier day – so dinner needs to either be ready in the crock pot when we get home, or it’s very quick to cook. And that means we need to plan ahead. So I spend my late nights scrolling pinterest, looking for meals that are 1) easy, 2) healthy, and 3) tasty to children. And that’s a struggle. 

So far for this coming week I’ve found a good tomato soup recipe (that for the babies, will likely involve pasta…sigh), yummy chicken burgers and tacos. Yeah – only one of those the babies will eat. So it’s not like the twins can just “eat what we eat”. They might be able to eat some of the ingredients in what we eat, if I disguise it as something else. I mean, on taco night, does it count as “eating what we eat” if they eat only cheese and avocado? Or if on chicken burger night they eat the chicken….mashed up into sweet potato? As of this moment, I’m still at a loss as to what to feed these babies in the upcoming week. 

What I have found, however, are a few recipes for breakfasts/snacks/backup foods that would work for both myself and my husband rushing off to work and for the babies. Those include sweet potato banana bites, quinoa breakfast bars, and my biggest hope, the toddler smoothie. So in my spare time this weekend (HA!) I am going to make these things and hope for the best. Meanwhile, I’ll be up til midnight reading those food blogs that make it all seem so easy!

I can’t leave without a few pictures of course. Today, the babies went apple picking for the first time. I gave them each two apples to hold (after washing them of course), more as toys than anything. And sure enough, B treated them like balls and threw them around, playing fetch with himself. After a few minutes, I noticed that C dented her apple with her teeth and realized there was juice inside. So she started gnawing on it and by the time we left…she ate half an apple. By herself. One for the record books – today was the first day C (or B for that matter) ate something she held onto herself, that wasn’t off a spoon or cut into tiny pieces. I wondered when that day would come!

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