Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Battlefield: Dinner

I am a firm believer in family dinner times. And experts seem to agree that family dinner time, where the ENTIRE family sits around a table for dinner and communicates and enjoys themselves is essential for a happy, functioning family.

This is how I imagine dinner time should be.

But what do you do when no one enjoys it?  My kid has turned dinner time into this drama-filled temper tantrum and by the end of it, her dinner is not eaten and Ben and I are the ones flailing on the floor kicking and screaming.

Lila does not like to eat.  At least not actual food.  I refuse to call her a picky eater because it doesn't really matter if we serve her the one food she is willing to eat this week (which is usually either mac and cheese or chicken nuggets) she still refuses it.  She's more like a non-eater.  Not that she isn't hungry.  As soon as dinner is cleared from the table she asks for ice cream or cake or cookies and cries because she's "starving".  We offer to heat up her chicken nuggets or mac and cheese and she cries and goes to bed hungry.  We don't give in.  But for some reason she STILL doesn't get that eating crap like ice cream and gummy fruit snacks are not acceptable dinner time foods. 

This is what I actually see at dinner time.

And this is almost entirely a dinner time problem, when we are all sitting down at the table.  At lunch time, when it's just her and I, she usually eats with no problem (although she isn't a big eater and has never finished an entire meal) and at breakfast, when she is usually eating alone, it is no problem at all.   It's as if she is completely against it, which I don't understand because this is what we have always done, and it's always been a problem for her.

In addition to refusing to eat and generally being totally bitchy about it, she also has to go to the bathroom as soon as the food is set on the table and has hundreds of excuses to get up every 45 seconds.  Even when we order pizza and eat in front of the TV, something about sitting together with us at dinner time causes her to not be able to sit still or concentrate on the task at hand, even though when there's no food in front of her she can sit catatonic for an hour and a half watching Alvin and the Chipmunks.

For me, not having dinner together isn't an option.  This is important to me.  My parents made every effort to have dinner at the table whenever they could and as an adult I really appreciate those times where no one was too busy or preoccupied with work and we got to just sit and focus on chatting. 

There is one train of thought that says that you should never force your kid to eat and should just let them do what they want and eat when and what they want and they will come around.  But honestly, I don't believe that we should work around her and her whims.  She's FOUR.  If it were up to her she'd want nothing but Lucky Charms and Popsicles and would eat dinner just after brushing her teeth, hearing a story and turning out the light at bedtime.  She refuses to "snack" when I just leave decent foods like carrot sticks out for her to nibble on and seems to only want to eat something when I am in the middle of a task that I cannot drop to prepare something for her. 

There is the other faction that says that the eating habits they learn early such as eating a variety of foods (my kid doesn't) and viewing eating in a healthy way (she obviously finds it stressful) will be carried on for life.  If this is the case, my kid is going to be either a "food is comfort" over eater or processed food junky.  Perhaps she will develop an eating disorder since her entire goal in life seems to be to use what little control she has to refuse to put healthy food into her mouth.

What do you guys think.  Should I just stop with the family dinner times? 

I aim for some kind of middle ground and it just isn't working.  I fear that my kid is going to have some serious food issues if I don't get this under control.


  1. I can count on one hand the number of "family dinners" we've had since my son left the high-chair. You'd think with only three people we could manage to coordinate.

    But I also have this same issue with The Boy which is in a post I've got schedule to publish this afternoon. I can completely understand where you're coming from.

  2. I totally support the family dinner idea. We did that when I was growing up, and we've continued it with my family. I'd suggest being persistant and consistent with meals, like it sounds like you are trying to do. I have a picky day care kid, and from the very beginning I told her that she could eat what I served, or not at all. There were days she sat at the lunch table for an hour and a half, crying crocodile tears because I was making her eat 2 slices of apple. But a year later, she cleans her plate for me almost every time. Stick to your guns; eventually Lila will get hungry enough to eat what was put in front of her. She seems to be very strong-willed, but I'll bet you could get through to her.

  3. I agree with Kim, stick to your guns, she *will* eat what you put in front of her when she is hungry enough. I wouldn't say make her eat all of it, but make her try. Last night I made spegetti, and mixed it with sasuage and the sasuage was HOT, my 3 year old son ate some of it, but I didn't make him eat it all, but he did have 2 pieces of bread and a fairly good helping of salad.

    We too have dinner every night as a family, it is something that dosen't happen enough in the US and I always had dinner with mine, I applaud you for doing the right thing and not giving up.

  4. I say stick with the family dinners. I grew up having family dinners, whether at my house or at my best friend's house (who was like my other family). Dinner time meant at the table with everybody, and you eat and talk.

    As for your daughter's issues with dinenrtime, you pretty much summed up the problem with your own statement:

    She's FOUR.

  5. We also have family dinners. My three year old does the same thing. I leave his dinner on the table all night and he is free to eat it any time before bed. He also understands that he will not get a night time snack unless the meal is eaten. Nine nights out of ten the meal is still on the table at bedtime. His older brother used to do the same thing, and like your daughter, also get up numerous times throughout the meal. It was a phase for him, so I'm sure it is also for my youngest. I'm pretty sure it's all about control with them. But, stick to your guns because if she's really hungry, she'll eat it. :)

  6. I was stuck in this rut for a while, but u have to just put your foot down and stay firm. After a couple of weeks of torture it will get better, and if she doesn't eat dinner she can go to bed hungry. She will survive this ....and soon you will be like your first illustration!!!!


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