This is another issue I've been thinking about since the presentation from the dietician at Y Neighbours the other morning...
Supper time can be a challenge around our house (and I'm assuming at most houses that eat with a toddler). Annika can be a great eater one day, and then super picky the next. Usually breakfast and lunch aren't too difficult, because most of the time I serve her foods that I know she will like (and she seems to be more consistent with those foods, as opposed to supper foods which can suddenly switch from the "favorite" category to the "yuck" category without warning). So she eats a lot of the same things for those meals. Breakfast is usually milk, bananas with peanut butter and cereal or toast. If we don't have bananas, she'll have applesauce or canned peaches. There's a little more variety at lunch time (especially if we're eating at my parents' place or my in-laws' place), but it's usually pb&j sandwiches, grilled cheese, or Annika's favorite - cheese, crackers, ham and pickles (we call it a "snack-y" lunch). Sometimes I'll eat leftovers for lunch, if I can't stand another day of pb&j. However, when it comes to supper, I like to make a wider variety of meals, as Carey and I would go crazy if we only ate the foods we knew for sure that Annika would eat (we would probably have to rotate between mac n' cheese and perogies). So that can lead to some conflict at the dinner table.
We have never been the "you must clean your plate" type of parents, but we do want Annika to try some of each thing on the table (even if it's not a favorite - the only exception I'll make is if I know she's tried something several times and really doesn't like it, then she doesn't have to eat it), and to make a decent effort at eating most of her food. Oh, and what's on the table is what's for supper - I will not make a separate supper for her. The exception is if I know something is really not going to go down well, I will occasionally put buns on the table, so she can have those as well. Like I said before, some days she eats really well, and some days - not so much. On the "not so much" days, Carey and I do what we can to get her to eat more - we threaten to take away toys (and do it, if needed), we set a limit for how much time she has until her plate is taken away (which can sometimes be strangely motivating - she doesn't want to eat the food, but she doesn't want it taken away!), we bribe her with a small treat or juice, we tell her "3 more bites" - we have a bunch of different tactics we pull out when needed. However, I'm wondering if we're doing the right thing.
One of the things the dietician told us (and I've heard it before) is that parents are resposible for...
choosing the food
making the meals
deciding when to serve snacks/meals
presenting the meals
making meal times pleasant
helping the child to participate in family meals
teaching the child how to behave at the table
...but ultimately it is the child who is responsible for how much is eaten.
(Seems like a bit of an obvious statement, but I think it's something we often forget).
Here's a few other quotes from the pamphlets we were given that have also made me think:
"Never force a child to eat or punish a child for not eating."
"Do not use dessert as a bribe to get your child to eat the rest of the meal."
"Do not react to how much or how little your child eats."
I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It seems very different from the general attitude I think most parents take towards food - clean your plate, don't waste food. While I agree that we shouldn't encourage letting food go to waste, are we perhaps doing our children a disservice by "strongly encouraging" (I won't say "forcing") them to eat? Is the reason that obesity is so prominent in North America due in part to the fact that generations of children have been taught to clean their plate? Are we teaching our children to overeat and setting them up for health issues later in life?
In reading the pamphlets we were given, I also learned how many servings a 3 year old child should be getting each day - 4 servings of fruits & veggies, 3 servings of grains, 2 servings of milk products and 1 serving of meat & alternatives. That's really not that much, and when I think of what Annika eats in an average day, I think she pretty much gets it covered. Perhaps part of our problem is that we're expecting her to eat more than what she actually needs.
So we're going to try to make a few changes to our supper time routine. I'm going to start giving Annika smaller portions, so not as much food goes to waste if she doesn't finish. If she does finish what she's given, then she can always have seconds. With some foods (like raw veggies which she loves), I'll also let her serve herself. We're going to try to be more positive during supper times, and encourage her to eat without threatening punishment. We'll also try to set a good example for her to follow.
I'd like to hear from you, though. If you have kids, what's supper time like at your place? Or what was it like for you when you were growing up?