Dinner is a Battlefield

Pat Benatar sings it best, “We are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong!” You know, unless you’re the parent of a toddler. Then you’re as weak as a day old kitten and always wrong. Wrong about what your child’s favourite toy is. Wrong about how sleepy they look. Wrong about what clothes they wish to wear today (yes, it’s very cold outside, no I don’t believe your long sleeve top is too tight, you’re just not used to the feeling of long sleeves yet, don’t worry you’ll get used to it, no I’m not taking it off, stop crying, please darling it’s fine, YOU’RE KEEPING THE DAMN SHIRT ON!). Wrong about what book they like best. And especially wrong about want they like to eat and when they want to eat it. Even if they specifically tell you exactly what it is they want to eat they will have changed their minds by the time it gets to them on a plate. Take Stormageddon for example. He might ask me all morning for ham, cheese and crackers. He’s very good at that. He will carefully sound out each word. It’s incredibly adorable. Ham. Cheese. Crackers. Thought imagine a year and a half year old trying to say cracker. It sounds more like “quraka” So cute! So I will lovingly make him a snack of ham, cheese and crackers, place it down on his favourite plate with a picture of an owl on it, and watch him take one look at them…and then hear him say “Nope” and wonder off. Now picture a dejected anime character with the little black squiggly steam thing above their head, and that’s my face right now.

Sigh, groan, annoyed grunt. It all started about a month ago. Up until that time, Stormy was a champion eater. Every since he started on solids he would always eat all and everything that was placed in front of him. It wasn’t lost on me how lucky I was to have a child who wasn’t a fussy eater. It was one of the few things that I didn’t encounter some type of defiance on. Then all of a sudden it ended. It began creeping in at dinner time. I couldn’t tell you why, there was no rhyme or reason to it. But suddenly he just didn’t want to sit and eat. I tried changing the time for dinner. Where he sat. What type of food he was eating. The utensils, the bowls, going from cloth nappies to disposables, and even the god damn clothes he was wearing. Nothing seemed to work.

Before all this started, I had vowed to never make a number of “mistakes” that other parents had fallen victim to. Here’s how that turned out:

– Never allowing my child to eat MY food or drink MY drinks. He has to understand this is Mummy’s food, and he can’t have it because I’m eating it. He has his own food and that should be good enough. That worked for about 2 seconds. It first started with my juice at breakfast in the morning. I don’t like the idea of giving him fruit drinks yet (too much sugar for my liking), but he would ask so nicely, and when your child’s first word combos was “juice, sip”, how could I say no to that. So I would allow him a tiny taste. Then he started noticing the food I was eating and it turned into “Bit?” or “Bit of food, please”. And oh God, that “please” was just so adorable. So I relented of course. Then the fussiness started, and I was afraid he wouldn’t eat anything at all. One way I could actually get him to eat my food was to pretend to eat the food myself. He would then automatically want it. Other times I would just let him pick off my plate, because at least he’s getting some food that way. Now that I’ve realised the manipulation, I’ve gone back to trying to distinguish between “Stormy’s Food” and “Mummy’s Food”. Funny how, even if we have the exact same meal and I point this out to him frequently, he’s still much happier and content to eat the food off my plate rather than his own. So in the end I just give up.

– Not allowing him to play with toys when it’s time to eat. The logic here is that he would then know the difference between play time and eating time, making the two activities separate and therefore easier to manage. Again another parenting technique thrown out the window. I have to admit, I wasn’t the one who broke this rule first. My mum (who looks after my son during the day when I’m at work, and to whom I’M ETERNALLY GRATEFUL!) found she was also having trouble feeding him, and discovered that distracting him at meal time with small toys like matchbox cars, or his plastic screwdriver was a great way to spoon the food into his mouth without fear of rejection. Although I still try to get him to drop the toys before meals, I’m not so strict on saying no to them when struggling to get him in his high chair.

– Preparing another meal if the one currently prepared is rejected. Ok, so I’m still a huge believer in not bowing down to the will of a child, and I really hate the idea of going out of your way to make an entirely different meal for them if they refuse the first one. But there is a HUGE difference between a toddler who doesn’t understand the importance of eating, and therefore giving them whatever they want in order to actually get sustenance into their bodies, and caving into the tantrums of a 7 year old who should by now understand “You’ll eat what you’re given”. And that’s also not to say that making a new meal for you older child is the wrong thing to do. If it works for you,and it stops a tantrum from occurring, then do what you got to do. I completely understand about picking battles. I just don’t particularly support the idea, but then again I came from a time and family where, “eat what’s on your plate or you get nothing else” was practically a sacred vow. In any case, we’ll just have to wait and see how my opinions change in the next 7 years. But for now, If Stormy doesn’t want to eat his dinner, and I mean REALLY doesn’t want to eat it (usually involves extreme crying, screaming and carrying on), then I will make something different. And this is mainly because I don’t buy into the idea that a child “will eat when they are hungry”. Children yes, toddlers no. And I swear to God the next time someone says giving into their demands makes me a permissive parent, I will CUT THEM. 

The only thing that I can think of that started this all was teaching Stormy to feed himself. He was getting really good at it too. He would feed himself an entire bowl of food. Now I’m lucky if he’s even interested in holding a spoon. Breakfast and lunch are not so bad, for some strange reason. It’s dinner that’s still constantly a problem. Perhaps all this new found independence has made him realise that he’s really not a baby anymore. That perhaps he thinks that I think he won’t need me anymore. Perhaps it’s fear of being abandoned. That I’ll move onto something new. Maybe it’s some last ditch attempt at holding onto his old baby life before being forced into the world of childhood….or maybe I’m overthinking and he’s just being a regular annoying toddler who does things for no reason, other than to be annoying. 

If anyone else is suffering the same as me for the moment, here are some other things that I’ve resorted to, to get him to eat so you know you’re not alone in your struggles.

– buying him his own table and chair set so he could be like Mummy and Daddy. He basically just likes moving the chairs from one end of the room to the other.

– sitting next to him at said table and feeding him there. 

– letting him sit on my lap on the floor next to said table.

– sitting at the “big table” at a “big chair”.

– sitting on my lap at the big table. I tell you what, trying to spoon food into his mouth from that angle is a lesson in balance, gymnastics, weightlifting and acrobatics all in one. If it weren’t so annoying it’d be a great workout. 

– having a picnic in his play tent

– sitting on the couch with the TV going (I’ve only done that once so far, I really don’t want to resort to that again for as long as possible)

– distracted him by singing ridiculous songs, either that I make up on the spot, or know by heart. Dare To Be Stupid by Weird Al Yankovic is a favourite.

– distracted him by just talking about everything and anything. This technique has come courtesy of my mother who was the one to discover it.

– mushed up all the food in the food processor to make “Soup”. He’s sometimes crazy about soup. Other times not so much. It’s really something that only works a few times. 

– taken food from his plate, and pretended I’ve dipped the spoon on my plate, so he thinks he’s getting my food. That literally only worked once. He’s really smart and worked out immediately what I was doing. Damn his superior intellect.

 – taken stuffed toys and sat them on the table next to him, and fed them first. I’ve even fed Stormy’s imaginary friend “Man”. (Yes, my son has an imaginary friend called Man. He likes to talk to him when he’s in bed. In pitch blackness. At 2 o’clock in the morning. When my husband is out of town. I’m sure you can all imagine the face I’m making.)

So this is usually the part where I give some helpful tips or handy advice. But apart from all the ridiculous things I’ve done above, there’s nothing really I can say more than I’ve already said, except just try to be patient and don’t lose your cool (and don’t worry if you do, because I’ve already done it numerous times). I’m hoping it’s just a phase that will pass. But knowing what everyone else is always saying about kids, I’m not very hopeful. What are your thoughts? What have you done to get your kids to eat? Drop us a line in the comments below. Otherwise good luck, and happy eating.


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