first grade food issues

I may have mentioned this before, but my two kids are proof that a child’s eating habits have nothing whatsoever to do with parenting skills. Because I did everything the same with both of my kids, but where Lucy will eat pretty much everything I put in front of her, Catie barely eats anything at all.

She’s always been a picky eater. I remember taking pictures to document the moment, the first time she not only touched, but also fed herself, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She was two & a half at the time.

Catie loves her PB&J sandwiches
Let’s call this Exhibit A. Also note: the last time she ate at PB&J was well over two years ago. She insists they make her sick now. I don’t know why.

Another example: at 6 1/2 years old, Catie has never in her life tried a milkshake. Ever. Refuses to even try a sip. She says it “sounds gross.” And it’s not like I want her to drink milkshakes all day, but COME ON! Who doesn’t like milkshakes?? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, CHILD?!

So, you kind of get what I’m up against here, right?

I bought her a brownie even though I can't eat chocolate, sugar, or carbs. I want a prize for not going feral & shoving half of that thing in my face right now.
I like brownies too, but seriously, kid. Throw your mama a bone here.

I shrug off a lot of her food issues. There are so many other parenting battles — and maybe part of it is because I know so many other parents who wring their hands and freak out over every bite their child does/doesn’t consume — I figured that it’s best to try to leave it alone for the most part. My rule has been that as long as Catie continues to grow and thrive, she’s fine.

I mean, sure, I do the “you have to eat two bites of your vegetables” thing at dinner, but I generally try to make sure it isn’t a vegetable she hates, and it isn’t too big a problem. She doesn’t want to eat whatever entree I made for dinner, she wants chicken soup instead? Fine, whatever. Path of least resistance.

The main source of frustration with this has been trying to figure out Catie’s school lunches. She won’t eat the cafeteria lunch (and really, I’ve seen the food they serve there, and I honestly can’t blame her because that stuff looks nasty). And even though she wants me to pack her lunch, she has very specific rules about things she will and won’t eat.

For example, she won’t eat sandwiches. (Side note: she ate a ham sandwich a few weeks ago when my sister & her fiance were here, and even though she really liked it, she still says, “That was just once, I don’t want that in my lunch.”)

And she won’t eat anything that should be served warm, because it will be cold by the time lunch happens and there’s no way for her to warm it up. (So, no hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc.)

And she won’t eat anything that she deems “messy.”

The list goes on and on.

Before she started first grade, we talked about the types of things I could put in her lunch box. There was a lot of back-and-forth haggling. Here’s what we came up with:

* At least 2 types of fruit (normally a tupperware of blueberries and a bag of pre-sliced apples).
* That applesauce in a pouch that you can squeeze to eat. (I think it’s kind of gross, but she loves it and it’s reasonably healthy, so whatever.)
* At least two different types of crackers. (Yesterday’s lunch was Cheez-Its – “only the white kind, Mom, not the orange ones” – and a ziploc of some Green Giant veggie chips. Oh, and some graham crackers too.)
* A fruit snack – I know, they’re garbage, but I also figured that if it put a few extra calories in her stomach, that couldn’t be too bad.
* A pouch of Keebler mini fudge stripe cookies (that’s supposed to be her dessert/treat).

So, it’s not the healthiest food in the world, but I figured that as long as she was eating breakfast and then eating vegetables and protein at dinner, it was good enough to get her through the day.

Yesterday, when I picked the girls up at daycare, Catie told me that she had been “on yellow” that day. For those of you not familiar with this system — if a child behaves well all day, they’re on green; if they get in trouble a little bit, they’re on yellow; and if they’re just all-out monstrous all day, they’re on red. Sort of a color/behavior chart.

I asked her why she was on yellow, and she said it was for “not listening.” This is the third time this has happened since she started first grade three weeks ago. (She was only on yellow twice during her entire kindergarten year, so clearly first grade is not off to a bang-up start.) The first two times, it was right after Dave went back to Seattle, and I figured that maybe she was acting out or reacting to her dad being gone, so I didn’t push the issue too much. I emailed her teacher to check in and let her know what’s up, but it seemed like sort of a non-issue.

This time, though, something about it worried me. It wasn’t until later, when I went to clean out her lunchbox and pack the next day’s food, that I figured out the problem.

Almost her entire lunch was untouched. She had eaten two things all day: the tupperware of blueberries, and the bag of mini fudge stripe cookies.

Well damn, NO WONDER she got in trouble for not listening, she was running on nothing but sugar and fumes.

I asked her why she didn’t eat the rest of her lunch, and she just said that she “didn’t want it.”

We talked about other foods I could put in there, but the only things she suggested were things like “donuts?” or “different cookies?” Ok, no, I think you’re missing the point here.

I tried to explain to her how our bodies need things to help them work, and that if she doesn’t eat some healthier foods, she won’t be able to grow strong muscles or run fast or do any of the stuff that she loves to do, because the junk food will make her feel too bad. She’s learned about this in both pre-K and kindergarten, so the concept isn’t unfamiliar to her, it’s just trying to make her understand how she has to change her behavior that’s difficult. She was like, “But the blueberries are healthy!” And, well, yes, they are, but you need more than just blueberries alone.

There was a lot of back and forth — and I admit, way more than my share of yelling, which I’m not proud of myself for doing. And finally I snapped.

I said, “Ok, that’s it. Tomorrow? I am putting 1/2 of a sandwich in your lunchbox. Only 1/2. And you have to eat at least 3 bites of it. And when you get home, the first thing I’m doing is checking your lunchbox. If you haven’t eaten at least 3 bites, you don’t get either the iPad or the DS all night.”

Threatening her screen time = hitting her where she lives.

Also, new rule: no more cookies in her lunchbox until she can earn them back with some other, healthier food choices.

She had cried when I was yelling at her about this, and I felt bad about it, so when I went to check on the girls after they were in bed, I kissed her on the forehead and said, “I love you, Catie-bug.”

She rolled onto her side, waved her arm to shoo me away, and said, “Ok.”

Honestly? I have no idea if this will work or not. But I don’t know what else to do.

10 thoughts on “first grade food issues

  1. BTDT. Mine is picky enough to go hungry if she hates the choices.

    Things that worked for us: pretzels, string cheese, salami slices, crackers, mandarin oranges or applesauce in a cup. For first grade, that was really what she could manage every day. I would rather die than be so limited.

    Will she eat a sandwich that is on a bun? I had some luck making her a salami or ham sandwich on a hamburger bun.

    If she will eat chicken nuggets, Lunchables sells just their nuggets chilled and ready to eat in their own bag. I think they call them Chicken Dunks. Would she eat them cool? Or does she like other cold chicken yet?

    Finally, what about a short soup thermos? You could microwave something she does like and put it in there.

    Will she eat cold pizza? Mine thought that was just so neat to have for lunch.

    I really do sympathize with you. It’s hard. Mine would fill up on any cookies or chips I put in there so those had to be earned if she ate the rest. The good thing about first grade is they won’t think to throw food away so you will see what is left in there.

    • Haven’t tried the bun approach, may give that a shot. She won’t eat cheese of any kind (no string cheese, no cream cheese, no plain ol’ cheddar, nothing). Actually, I think milk is pretty much the only dairy she’ll consume at all. And no cold meats/pizza. (Tried it.)

      Ugh. Kids, man.

  2. Ugh. I have 1 very picky eater, 1 not as picky eater and 2 great eaters. I get it.
    For my picky eater (also a 1st grader), we make rollups (sometimes in a taco-size wrap, but usually just meat and cheese)-she likes bologna and turkey ham. She’s not a fan of sandwiches except for PB&J but our elementary school is peanut free so we save those for weekends. She will sometimes eat a sandwich on a thin instead of bread. She’ll also eat yogurt (preferably vanilla, but also likes other fruity kinds with no fruit it in-no blueberry, etc.). We do cheese sticks and crackers (she likes all kinds of crackers), fruit and veggies. We do veggie sticks/chips, goldfish crackers, even saltines. I rarely give treats in the lunch-hard lesson learned when the treat was gone and everything else came home.
    My kids’ lunches are generally limited to 3 things, because otherwise most of it comes home uneaten. I try to make sure there is a protein of some variety every day as well as a fruit. I have kids who LOVE carbs and I have to put my foot down and encourage more protein to get them through the day.
    Do you have to provide her a snack each day? Once kids get to 1st the parents provide the snack so I’m going to have to be creative with my twins and make sure that the snack is a fruit or small carb so they’ll be hungry for lunch.
    I hope you find something that works!
    Kristin´s last blog post ..Boston in my HeartMy Profile

    • Haven’t tried roll-ups, but she won’t eat cheese at all, and God help me if I tried to put any sort of condiment on it, so it would basically just be meat & tortilla. Which could work, I guess. Oh, and she won’t do yogurt. Tried that one too. Oy.

  3. Totally sympathize. Henry’s lunch is generally: cream cheese sandwich (that’s bread and cream cheese), Pirate Booty, “smoothie” (those Plum fruit/veggie pouches), and milk. Are yogurt tubes too messy for her? Chobani makes some now (you can get them at Target) and they have 8 grams of protein per tube, which is pretty good. Will she eat cheese? Little cubes would work in a lunch box, or string cheese.

    • The only dairy she’ll consume is plain white milk – no cheese in any form, no yogurt, she won’t even eat eggs (unless my mom cooks them, and even then, it’s hit-or-miss). This kid is so full of WTF, I cannot even tell you.

      We were doing the Pirate’s Booty for a while, but she says it makes a mess of her fingers (that cheesy dust residue), and since there isn’t a sink in the cafeteria where she can wash her hands afterward, that’s now no bueno too. (I offered to put a pouch of baby wipes in her lunchbox. Request denied by the Short Dictator.)

  4. Will she eat Tuna? I have a picky eater also, but for some reason, tuna is a huge hit! I get the tuna pouches that don’t need to be drained and little mayo packets that don’t need refrigeration — L gets to make her own tuna at the lunch table, she controls how much mayo (I think this is one of the reasons it’s successful, girl is a CONTROL FREAK), as well as salt and pepper (she has little bitty shakers in her lunch bag). Sometimes she eats just with a fork, other times she takes a those pita thingies or a tortilla wrap.

    L also like those little single serve peanut butter containers, with celery and raisins (ants on a log anyone?) and sometimes carrots. We’ve also done peanut butter on Ritz crackers. Both of these are also “build at the lunch table”, which again, gives her the control. Cereal has also been a hit — I pack a tupperware of dry cereal and spoon, she buys a little container of milk and presto!

    Good Luck!

  5. Alex is like this also. He was that toddler that chucked his first birthday cake and cried because it was new. He had to see something on his plate 15 times before he would try it.

    For Alex, this and other behaviors fall under the bigger umbrella of anxiety. We’re also talking to his therapist about sensory issues – his complaints are often about textures, temperature, how it looks, etc.

    ANYWAY, we use the PBK bento system for two reasons: 5 compartments where none of the food touches, and one thing to wash. We do one fruit, one veggie, one protein (generally meat rollups, literally lunch meat rolled with nothing else), one carb (crackers or mini bagels), then something like a cereal bar.

    (It is super duper frustrating too because everyone has advice for you on the topic!)
    Laura Case´s last blog post ..I take back all the nice, feminist things I said about Melissa MayerMy Profile

  6. Packing lunches is my least favorite part of school. Thomas ONLY eats PB&J sandwiches and peanut products are generally restricted here. We’ve found that a little thermos will keep things warm enough for it to be eaten at lunch time. Dino chicken nuggets heated in the morning are still warm, as is Mac and cheese, or noodles with whatever. Also sometime a peeled hardboiled egg will be eaten…. He won’t do lunch meat of any kind. He will sometimes do tuna, but only if I put it in a container and send a spoon–no sandwiches.

    Anyway, I feel your pain. 🙁 Good luck!

  7. Please, please disregard any of these suggestions if you want but you mentioned she likes a soup. A good thermos will keep soup warm (many have a lid that you can use as a bowl) as well as cooked raviolis/pasta with a little sauce (or just butter!) on them. I really loved pita bread as a kid, so maybe that would be enticing to her? Does she like peanut butter at all? Maybe a little thing of peanut butter and some crackers or something to dip in the PB would be appealing.

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