What to do with the picky eater

September 27th, 2006

Dear Chris,

How do you deal with a picky eater? 9 years old? Are any of your kids picky eaters?

It’s a constant battle in our house.

Weary Mom in the Food War

Step out of the battle.

I am a picky eater. There I admit it.

I have always been a picky eater. When I was a kid my mother would frequently make meals that I wouldn’t finish. She would make me sit there from dinner time until bedtime staring at the plate before she would wrap it up and put it into the refrigerator. Then it would come out for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, and breakfast the food cold, congealed, and still unappetizing. Imagine that. It would go on for a couple of days sometimes. It was a test of wills, a stand off in which neither of us ever won anything.

There was not a single time that I ate the food. And certain foods still make me gag involuntarily in a way I am willing to bet would not have happened had I been allowed to have my own say in what went into my body.

I wrote this blog post two years ago about being a picky eater.

Then this past weekend I was at a party. My friend was raving about this pork stuff she had cooking in her crockpot that you make sandwiches with. She wanted me to have one. She lifted the lid of her crockpot and I have never in my life seen something that looked more revolting to me. I could not believe she was going to put that stuff that looked and smelled like vomit on a roll and want me to eat it.

I am 35 years old and I could not control myself. As she scooped it out, I gagged.

Really, I don’t know where my son gets it from

In my defense I was pregnant. I could probably control the gagging a little more nowadays. Maybe.

And so when I hear people talking about their picky kids and employing similar techniques I can’t help but cringe, and wonder what exactly the message is that you want to be sending your children.

I have one child who will eat everything, a couple who eat most things, a couple who are on the pickier side, and one who must photosynthesize, so great is his pickiness.

I hear people also say that they want their children to be polite when they are at other people’s houses and not shun the food. That they are raising them to have a broader appetite. To me all those things are seperate.

To me the bigger issue isn’t whether or not my children eat a particular food, it is their manners, being kind, and being respectful. Likewise I treat them with respect and do not try and force them to eat things they don’t like by threatening them or manipulating them. I

I do not cook alternate meals. What I make for dinner is what is for dinner. Usually there is something that everyone likes in a given meal. If I know that someone, I am thinking of one child in particular, won’t be happy, I make sure there is an abundance of bread and butter on the table.

Desserts are not rewards. No food is better than any other food. If there is a dessert planned for a given night, everyone has it no matter if they ate or didn’t eat. We don’t often have dessert as I think the kids snack enough on junk food during the day.

What do you do when you spend so much time preparing a meal and your child(ren) refuse to eat it?

I get annoyed. Of course I do I am human. But I try to address with them the reason that I am angry, which has nothing to do with them actually eating the food. The reason I get mad is that I have spent my time preparing a delicious and nutrious meal and they are being rude and unappreciative of my hard work. That is the crux of the issue. At least take a small taste. At the very least don’t make gagging noises. At least be respectful enough of my feelings to make an effort at being nice.

What if they go to someone elses home and don’t like the food that is served?

When you are a guest somewhere you are expected to be polite. You never ever complain that you don’t like what your host is serving. If the food is served to you on the plate, you are expected to eat what you like, not make a big deal about not eating the rest, and if you are asked say, “Everything was delicious. I am just not very hungry tonight.” I like to role play with my children and give them appropriate answers so that they aren’t caught off guard and end up blurting out, “It was all gross and disgusting!”

Likewise I hate it when people come to my house and their child refuses to eat anything that there is and it turns into this whole power struggle between the child and parents. With the child refusing to eat the food that is out, the parents threatening that they will not get desserts, the parents finally bargaining if they just eat x number of bites they can have a dessert.

Don’t ask the hostess to prepare a special meal for your child (barring of course any allergies which is not what I am talking about, but thought I would throw it in there before someone else brings it up). Letting your child fill up on bread and desserts one night isn’t going to kill them. Really, it isn’t. And all of you will probably have a lot more fun. And isn’t that what is important in the larger picture?

Wow, glad I got that off my chest. Can you tell it is a pet peeve of mine. One of the many unfortunately.

You can not force your children to do anything. The sooner in your parenting journey you realize it, the better.

Tips for making meal time more enjoyable:

1)Let the children help in chosing the meals. If they can read, let them look through a cookbook to pick something out. They are much more likely to be excited about something new if they chose it and helped prepare it themself. And they may just surprise you with their choices.

2) Think outside the box. Serve things your children like as a side dish while you introduce a new food. Fruit salad, bread with butter, penne with grated parmesean cheese are all side diushes my children will gladly eat.

3) Remember that kid friendly food does not have to be prepackaged garbage. Whoever invented Lunchables, pizza pockets, and the like as the standard for kid friendly food should be shot. (Okay not really shot, maybe slapped a few times?)

4) Instead of offering junk food snacking in the afternoon before dinner, limit it to healthy things, cheese squares, fruit, dried fruit, peanut butter on crackers. At least you know then if they don’t eat their dinner they have filled up on thinsg that are good for them.

5) If you have sons, realize that there will come an age when they are growing so fast they will eat anything. My oldest son is approaching this stage now and while on one hand I am so happy to see him eat everything that isn’t nailed down, on the other hand I am horrified at the thought of five more boys eating everything that isn’t nailed down. I may take up permanent residence in Stop & Shop.

6) Keep the big picture in mind. Mealtimes are as much about fueling your soul as it is about fueling your bodies.

to nap, or not to nap that is the question

September 25th, 2006

Johanna asked a question in the comment section of my last post which I felt was worthy of a post all it’s own. Nap time.

My children all stopped napping by the time they were two and a half. Not by my doing. I wish that they would still nap. Two naps a day would be nice! So perhaps I am not the best person to give advice on how to make your older children nap. Though really, I don’t think you can make your children do anything.

For me, however, the daily struggle became too much work for not that great of a pay off, especially when there was a younger child who was sleeping and would be constantly woken up by the older child. That alone would drive me to the brink of insanity.

I have tried allowing the child to look quietly at books or listen to a CD of stories in bed. This worked really well with some of my children. Others wanted nothing to do with it. It definitely had to do with their personality types.

And now that I have older children who are involved in activities, we are frequently not even home when it would be naptime.

When I was a child my mother made me nap until I was in first grade, even though I didn’t need to nap. Though she will insist to this day that I did. I also had to go to bed every night at 7:00 when I could look out my window and see all the other children still playing outside for hours. But that is another issue I suppose. I would lay there at naptime for two hours, wide awake, bored out of my skull. Does anyone else besides me remember how slowly time passed when you were a child? I swore that I would never do that to my kids.

My daughter, who is 3.5 years old now, frequently has “couch time” in the afternoon. I tuck her in on the couch with her special blanket and turn on a movie or show that will hold her interest. If she is tired enough she will fall asleep.

In the afternoon when my youngest son takes his nap, and my daughter has “couch time” I am off-duty for an hour. I tell the children that it is my time. I am not playing games, mediating fights, fixing snacks, etc etc. Usually I sit and check email, compose posts like this one, read other blogs. They get it. They understand that I need to have time to do something I want to do, just like they have that time during the day.

The upside I have found is that bedtime is usally earlier and smoother if there isn’t napping happening during the day.

Do you have a schedule?

September 20th, 2006

Dear Chris,

I feel like every day in my house is Complete Chaos Day. There’s not a
time for meals, heck, sometimes we’ve been known just to snack all day
not eat a set meal. Laundry? It piles up. Cleaning? Man, I need a maid.

So my question is this: Do you have a set schedule? Is it better to
that laundry day is Monday and Clean the Toilet Day is Wednesday?

In need of a really good maid and the money to pay her

I think the way to start getting a hold on things is to develop a routine, a sort of lose schedule that isn’t neccessarily based on the time of day, but rather event based.

Certain things always happen in the same order, and while I find this predictable and boring, my younger children especially like it. I suppose that so much is unclear to them in their lives that they like knowing what is going to happen and when. Think of it as expanding the brush your teeth, read a story, and then go to sleep routine.

If you are working from home be honest with how much time you need to accomplish your work. trying to squeeze it in around other things means that you never feel “off” work is always in the back of your mind and you are mentally ruishing through things so that you can finish up. Much better to have a set time and then walk away. Kids can tell when they are being brushed off, and much the same way as adults, they don’t like it.

I have written about children and charging up their neediness batteries before:

Yes, I write down spending time with my children on a list like it is a chore to be accomplished. because, c’mon let’s be honest how many of us really want to play another game of Candy Land in our lives? Yeah, I thought so.

I have found that if I spend some time upfront with my children they are more accepting of giving me some space so I can do work later on uninterrupted. It’s like charging up their neediness batteries. After spending some quality time with me they are charged up and ready to play independently for a while. If they know that they will have their fun time with me at some point they are also willing to be somewhat accomodating if I have to say not now.

Mealtimes are pretty set in my house, and might be a good place to start developing your own routine. It doesn’t have to be something intense that you write in half hour increments and you are a slave to it. A routine is guide to get you through the day.

Here breakfast is at 8:30am, lunch at 1:15, snack at 3:30, and dinner at 6:00. Everything else works around this. These times are somewhat flexible, but they happen within 15 minutes on either side. The other marker here is naptime for my youngest which is from 2:00-4:00. During 2:00-4:00 is when anything that is messy or not for a one year old is done. Things like painting, playdoh playing, or knife juggling.

Think of the time around these events as blocks of time in which you have things to accomplish. You have needs, your children have needs, and all of you have, sometimes conflicting, wants.

What do you need to do in the period of the morning before breakfast? Write them down. Are there things that you wish you could accomplish during this time period but never seem to get around to it? Write it down also with a little star next to it. Do the same for the period after breakfast and before lunch. And so on. Are there things that are time dependent that you need to accomodate? Such as a nap, or bon-bon eating while watching Oprah, or for my 1 and 3 yr olds watching that insipid Caillou. write those times down where they go on the list where they would go.

Since, I assume, you do not have seven children like I do and therefore need to do laundry round the clock, make it part of your routine. Have two laundry baskets for your entire family to share. One will have clean clothes and spend it’s day in the laundry room. The other will be wherever you keep dirty clothes. And then the next day they switch. Right after breakfast pop a load into the washing machine. Right after lunch switch it to the dryer. Right after the kids go to bed fold the clothes and stick the stinky cloth diapers into the washing machine. Bring the basket of clean clothes to your room. In the morning put it away when you get everyone dressed. As a bonus you can just bypass the drawers and have everyone wear the same outfit again. AT the end of the day you should have a basket filled with your dirty clothes and dishtowels for the day, and one filled entirely with clean stuff. And then you begin again.

Obviously this is only an example. Change it around to fit your own needs. Can’t leave the kids unsupervised to toss the laundry in at breakfast time? How about before they get up.

Take two minutes when the children are in the bathtub to wash the toilet and sink.

Doing little bits at a time means that the job never gets so big and so out of hand that it is overwhelming.

So to recap, you do not need to schedule out every moment of your day into five minute intervals. Having a routine allows you and your children to know what is comoing next, plan for it, and hopefully get everything done that you need and want to get done on any given day.

Winter Outwear

September 19th, 2006

Isn’t it tomorrow? Uh, yeah.

I live in a cold climate. Seriously I marvel that people lived in this area of New England before the advent of central heat.

Therefore we need lots of warm clothing.

My children also engage in outdoor sports and need to be dressed appropriately for it. Being dressed improperly can not only be dangerous, but ruins what night ordinarily have been a fun experience.

Cheap outwear =poorly made outerwear = not warm outerwear. Cheaper winter coats and snowpants also seem to rely on bulk for their warmth instead of the quality of material. Bulky clothing isn’t good for skiing or snowboarding. Sled riding in your neighbors backyard? Sure, those cheap snowpants will do the job. Because when you child gets cold they aren’t likely to get hypothermia, they can just head on home. When you are out on the ski slopes, you really don’t want that to happen.

I have also found that investing the money upfront in these good quality items means that they will last and be able to be passed down to subsequent children or even resold at consignment shops. Now I am not talking about extravagant name brand clothing. Most of our items come from Land’s End or LL Bean. There definitely seems to be a point past which you are paying for a name, not for any increase of quality. Both of these companies have great customer service as well as quality products. No, I don’t get a kickback from them for writing this, though I should.

Way way back, what feels like a lifetime ago, I had only three kids. My oldest son had a red winter coat. My second son had a periwinkle blue coat. The next winter came along and I went to pass down the coats and buy a new one for my oldest when I was hit with, “Why does he get a new coat? I don’t want his red coat. I want my own coat!”

I don’t think so. On the one hand I felt like saying too bad you will wear what I tell you to wear and be happy with it! On the other hand I didn’t want him, or any subsequent children, to feel like they were always being slighted.

And so the navy blue squall parka for Land’s End became the coat of choice. No one can tell if they are wearing the same coat they wore last year or if it is from their older sibling or if it is brand new. They are all pretty much the same. I still have those same original coats and they have been passed down through five boys and look almost as good as they did back then. More importantly it has become a non issue.

And while $70 a coat might seem like a lot of money, the quality can not be surpassed.

To keep the coats straight I put tick marks on the label where it says name. When the coat gets passed down to the next child I add a tick mark. As an added bonus, I can look at the coat and say LASTNAME IIII (four) your coat is on the floor. Put it away.

answering the comments

September 13th, 2006

The trouble with writing a post like this, I think, is that I run the risk of offending people without meaning to. I realize I am lucky to be able to buy new things if I need them and as such have no desire to hang on to every last thing.

When I have had friends who needed things and I have the things, I see no reason not to just give it to them, no strings attached. Yes, this means I have bought 4 brand new exersaucers over the past 11 years. two went to a women’s shelter and 2 went to friends who could use them.

T in HD,

It sounds like you have a great circle of friends who all have the same idea. Unfortunately, I have never had that. The people who have done this didn’t want the stuff back for themself, but to pass them to other people they knew. Which to me seems like being an indian-giver.


you are right about the GAP clothing. It lasts and lasts, like the energizer bunny or clothing I would rather spend $25 on a pair of jeans there than spend $12 at walmart and have them ruined before the season is out. The same however can not be said of their inferior Old Navy company.

merry mama,

I know some people have a lot of luck with consignment shopping, but I find it too hit or miss to depend on. They are also too far away from me for me to just drop in frequently. As a result I shop at retail stores and try and wait for sales, but not always. When Old Navy clearances out the seasonal clothing I’ll buy some things ahead for the next season and stick it in the child’s bin who the clothing would be intended for.

What to save… what to toss (updated)

September 13th, 2006

Hi Chris!

I’m getting such great ideas from reading your blog. Thanks for putting them out there for the rest of us!

I am the mother of three daughters, ages six, three and a half, and two months old. When I was pregnant with my first, someone told me to save everything. Every article of clothing, every shoe, every toy, every piece of baby equipment, EVERYTHING, because it can all be used again with the next child. So I have been.

The problem I’m having is that as my children get older, and as we have more kids, we keep saving more and more. Even with hand-me-downs, we still buy all our children new clothes and sometimes new toys. Saving everything might be saving us money in the long run, but it’s causing problems in other areas, mostly in the clutter area. What is your policy on saving and passing down clothing and toys? Is it even worth it to save things?

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Kindness: Day One

September 8th, 2006

alternate title: It’s a good thing I like candy

Scene One:

Eldest son brings down some kind of lego bionicle that he has just built, which looks exactly like every other lego bionicle he has ever made, you know, according to my untrained eyes.

Younger brother comes running in from another room, “Oh let me see. Let me see!!!”

Eldest son holds Lego Bionicle up over his head, “Get away from me, little freakazoid.”

Me, “Wow that was rude! I’m going to have take a candy for that one.”

Eldest son, shocked, “What? What am I supposed to say? Oh yes here have a look? Sheesh”

Me, “Uh, yes. That would be the KIND thing to say.”

Scene Two:

Husband asks how the candy as incentive is going.

“Pretty well, I’d say they have only lost half of it which isn’t bad for the first day, I think.”

“What are you doing with the candy that they lose?”

“Eating it myself. Because I deserve candy after having to put up with their bad attitudes.”

“I really don’t think you need it.”

And stealing this from grace…. NO VEGAS FOR YOU!!!

jar of kindness

September 6th, 2006

My post a few days ago about speaking kindly to each other got me noticing how rude my children have become with each other lately. Little things like saying, “duh” after someone speaks, telling someone to shut-up, the rolling of the eyes, or generally just not being kind to each other.

And as much I have tried screaming at that them to “BE NICE ALREADY!” It just doesn’t seem to have the desired efect.

And so I have invented the kindness jar.

Jar of Kindness

It is filled with candy. Everytime someone is rude or nasty to someone else, I take a candy out of the jar. If I catch them being spontaneously nice to each other with no thought of their own gain, I’ll put a candy back in the jar.

At the end of the day I divide whatever candy is remaining up among the children.

The back of the jar has a little tag that says: Because you can never be TOO NICE.

A few years ago I did something similar for behavior modification, but all the children had their own little jar. It worked okay for awhile but was one of those things that fall by the wayside once the good behavior has become a habit. And really that is the long term goal, making the positive behavior a habit that doesn’t need any external reward or motivator.

This time I decided that we needed a collective jar because I want them to be kind to each other as a team. I don’t want one person provoking another person when I am not around to hear. I don’t want to hear tattling about so and so being mean. I want them to both be kind and inspire kindness in each other. I want them to be nice in words and deeds.

If one person is having a bad day I want them to begin thinking about how they can help that person have a better day. I want them to think about what kindness can they show that person that will inspire kindness in return. Kindness begets kindness, afterall.

Will it work? I have faith in my children. I believe they want to be nice. Sometimes I think they forget this and get wrapped up in their own selfishness. Isn’t that why the Random Acts of Kindness movement worked so well? Putting a little kindness out into the world inspires others to do the same. And so we are starting small, in our own house, and hopefully it will radiate our from here.

If not, I’ll be hiding in the pantry, eating my way through a 5 pound bag of Skittles.

answering the mailbag: keeping the van clean and organized

September 5th, 2006

Hi Chris,

I am a mother of four with a mini-van. Affectionately called the junk pit in our household. I can’t seem to control all the junk in our van! Papers, toys, you name it, it’s been in there. How do you take care of all of the stuff your kids bring into your vehicle?

Take care,

The deputy’s wife

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