avoiding conflict over food

This has been sitting in the "edit me" bin for awhile - I've lost some of the original context, but it's a good summary of some of the typical food-conflict questions:

A parent  wrote:
I don't eat many sugary (refined) foods at all. I mainly snack on fruit and yogurts, eat fairly healthy dinners with meat and vegetables.

It can be really frustrating and confusing to have a child with different dietary needs than yours. Its pretty amazing how different those needs can be – and how much they change over time. If its clear that your child’s nutritional needs aren't similar to yours, look for better ways to meet his. In your other post you mentioned needing to make three different “meals” or words to that effect. There’s nothing Inherently wrong with that, its more that we've been raised with a social expectation that the cook chooses the food. It will help to step away from that idea and look to support the people in your family. Once you've stepped away from the expectation of “A Meal” its easier to plan how you’re going to budget your time so that you’re not spending more than you’d like in the kitchen. Combine meal prep with making snacks for the next day, for instance.

I was beginning to get really pissed off that just before my son and I were about to sit down to a dinner I'd spent ages cooking that my husband would pop open a bag of Monster munch

It can help to get away from making big meals and do something more mixed – do you know what a “monkey platter” is? Kind of like eating buffet-style, you provide a bunch of options and people pick and choose. It also helps to set out food before people are ravenous!Nothing sets people up to chow down on cheap snacks like having to wait while someone cooks! So get ahead of that game. If its taking you longer to cook than people want to wait, set out some snacks – crisps and veggies and biscuits and nuts right away. If no-one is hungry for the “meal” then you have food for tomorrow – hooray! You’re another step ahead! With practice, you won’t set yourself up for the big emotional drama of “they won’t eat my cooking” – bleh, who needs that never-ending baggage? It takes time to shift to another way of preparing food so its convenient for you And for your family, but when you can do that you’ll find people are more likely to eat foods that are more nutritionally dense. Here’s a link to a page on monkey platters to give you ideas:


I frequently offer to make him more filling foods but he often turns it down. He basically seems to have a fear of new foods and has issues about eating in front of people.

Offer variations on a theme rather than new things. Don't ask "should I make?" just add new things to the buffet - slowly so that he has a chance to get comfortable. Don’t say anything, don’t call any special attention, and don’t fuss if you end up throwing away a lot of trial foods for awhile. If he likes crisps see if he’s interested in dips by having some on hand – maybe get one of those serving plates that’s divided into little sections and put out a few different dips to try. Mixed platters make a good way to offer food to more than one person at a time, too – you can put out foods everyone likes, plus new things. Introduce new foods slowly and don’t push (and experiment with making your own! yes, even crisps!).

We managed like that for 2.5 yrs no problem.

Ah, yes... you've hit a developmental shift that often throws parents for a loop in big ways.
Younger toddlers are really very accommodating where food is concerned. But some time around 3 or 4 kids often enter a very very conservative stage in terms of what they eat. They gravitate toward foods that are sweet-starchy-fat for the most part. It's so very common and it's when a lot of parents move from being sanguine about food to flipping out and becoming exactly the parents they swore not to be. But you don't have to get caught in the same old parenting trap, you can choose to see the time as developmentally normal and natural. It does pass if you don't get bogged down in panic (perfectly understandable panic! but not helpful).

With younger kids, the strategy of “only good food in the house” works well up to a point. Kids are wired to have a narrow focus during the early toddler years, and have relatively adventurous palates, besides. But at 3ish their palates narrow down  - sometimes to only white or brightly colored foods - and by 4 they often have Definite Opinions about what they want you to buy. It can really push your buttons if You have very definite opinions of what children “should” eat to be healthy. Its reassuring to know that kids given a lot of freedom to say no and yes during this time are still healthy. It can help to keep your focus on health itself – look at your child, is he sparkly and energetic? Lots of curiosity? Skin and hair look good? Focus on your healthy child and rejoice. He won’t stay little forever.

Mo spent one summer living on milk, crackers and cookies – Period! It was shocking. I took lots of deep breaths, bought chewable vitamins so I wouldn't freak out, and made lots of cookies. She was robustly healthy the whole time, and continues to be healthy. Although she moved out of that stage after only a few months, she's still a very conservative eater, so much so that periodically we've had lists on the fridge of all the things she's known to eat so that George and I don't start to panic. We can look and say "oh, she eats eight different things, plus milk and juice... not so bad." Sometimes it helps to have a strategy for "talking yourself down" like that.

I totally agree it shouldn't be OK for my husband to eat them and not my son. I think they quite simply shouldn't be there so often for him to have the option all day every day.

How big of a bitch do you want to be? That sounds harsh, but it may help to clarify. Are you willing to make big divots in your relationship with your husband? To essentially turn into his parents, controlling what he eats? That won’t help your relationship, or your husband, or even your son. A home in which people are controlling and resentful about food doesn't encourage good anything, it’s no better than your own childhood experience, I promise you.

How miserably unhealthy is your husband and his family? Are they bloated with malnutrition? Lackluster, dull people with no sparkle whatsoever? If so, its well worth asking why you want to stay in those relationships. But if not, if they’re reasonably healthy by normal standards, then step back from your ideas about what people should and should not eat. Have more healthy options in the house, make nutritionally dense foods as attractive and convenient as processed foods, provide more options regularly, and get out of the way.

No comments:

Post a Comment