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.
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 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.