4 yo saying "I'm Hungry" at bedtime after refusing dinner. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 03:20 AM - Thread Starter
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Very frustrated about my four year old. He refuses to eat at meal times and then wants to be fed at other times. Specifically at bedtime. Or, at times when it is inconvenient -- right after I've cleaned up and put everything away.

This makes me bananas. And I'm not talking about this happy banana either.

Of course, we don't want him to be hungry. He's skinny! His eating habits stink right now. Bread and butter for most meals when he doesn't like the offerings. But at bedtime, when he comes down to eat an apple or whatever, he generally just takes a couple of bites. Clearly a procrastination thing at bedtime.

We're giving him lots of attention at bedtime. Stories, etc. Also, now, he's got a bed set up in our room so he's not sleeping away from Mama, Daddy and Baby Eli. (He used to sleep in his own room.) He just wants wants MORE time from us. I think he's gotten his fair share. There's dinner to pick up and things like that.

So, help me get some perspective on this, please?

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#2 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 03:27 AM
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ok sorry, I missed the point about him procrastinating at bedtime......

I need to go on a posting sabbatical...
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#3 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 03:30 AM
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this has happened plenty in our house too - skinny kid who declines dinner then wants something at bedtime

we have a rule - if you don't eat dinner then you can have fruit to eat or water to drink, nothing else, this is true at any time of day actually

also - bed next to mum and baby doesn't do it for ds2, IN the bed is the only thing that helps him keep his equilibrium ( he also used to sleep in a room with daddy but - back to the womb is clearly the message!)
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#4 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 04:10 AM
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I know a lot of people believe in the 'eat dinner or you can only have x/y/z' rules, and that there are certain times when children should have meals and snacks. However, I believe that by being more flexible about food, you can avoid a lot of battles in the future. And food is the one thing that children can battle you over and win - there is absolutely nothing you can do if a child refuses to eat something! I think that too many rules can set you up for eating issues and disorders later in life.

I therefore try to be extremely easygoing about when dds eat, and what. I know their favourites (right now, pasta and cheese, and apples) so I keep these foods available just about for any time. I always have a tub of pasta cooked in the fridge, and cheese handy to throw in and shove in the microwave. In fact, today, dd#2's first words (16months) when she woke up were "pasta-cheese!" Dd#1 agreed, so they had pasta and cheese for breakfast at 7am. With fresh coleslaw. :

At dinner time, sometimes they eat what we're having, but often they don't want it so ask for something else. (pasta and cheese, mostly!) Sometimes they ask at a totally different time, which is not always convenient. If I'm in the middle of something, they may have to wait a while, but although it can occasionally be tiresome, I go along with them, and over the course of a day or a few days, they eat a totally balanced diet. It may not be at times that I would eat, but they are not yet adult, so I don't expect them to eat like adults.

Dd#1 (just three) does a lot of asking for food at bedtime too. If she's already cleaned teeth, she has apple. She understands why. If she's not cleaned teeth, she can choose from the things that she's allowed. She knows where these are in the fridge. She can go and help herself, pour her yoghurt drink or get out some fruit or crackers. I think this encourages independence, and I"m happy to help her if she accidentally makes a mess. Sometimes it turns out that "I'm hungry" actually means "I'm lonely" or "I'm feeling jealous of my sister", but I dont think that she is capable of knowing the real reason, so I provide the snack, then the cuddles, and don't comment if she doesnt actually want the snack when it comes to it.

I have friends who have a rule of no snacking after dinner, especially if you didnt eat dinner, and it's interesting to me that they have power battles over dinner, and over dessert, when we have no such thing. In fact, we bemuse them because when we have dinner with them, dds don't battle us over what they eat or don't eat, and then usually say 'no thanks' to dessert Their kids definitely see dessert as desirable and vegetables as undesirable because it was always set up as being connected - you had to eat the yucky vegetables in order to get the yummy dessert. But that's a whole other post LOL.

We never react to what dds eat or don't eat. No praise for eating 'well' and no comment for not eating. Dd#1 loves having lots of little samples of different things at mealtimes. We try to accomodate this - if she says she wants corn, I'll defrost a little bowl etc. I really avoid making offerings of what we're eating or what I think they should have, and may make a couple of suggestions, but the children make the decisions. I figure that I'd hate it if someone else told me what I was to eat and when, so children must feel the same.

The result (so far) is that both dds eat an amazing amount of healthy foods. They don't touch desserts or sweets, out of choice, and will independently choose balanced, healthy meals. This approach is the polar opposite of what I grew up with, and I took it because I wanted to avoid all the food issues and power struggles of my childhood. I wanted dds to really enjoy mealtimes and snacks, and to have some autonomy over what they ate and when. However, it took a big shift for me to let go of the thought that family meals were the only 'right' thing and that parents should be in charge of food consumption.

It took a lot for me to accept mess, especially after I'd started to clear up in the evening. But now, we have systems that work for us, and no issues over what our children eat or when. The foods that dd#1 likes and can get out independently are on one shelf of the fridge. If she wants sliced apple or other fruit, I will do it and leave it on the side for her to come and help herself. She can even pull up a chair and get to the freezer to take out her frozen fruits. Dd#2 is getting the idea, and is now asking for specific snacks and meals, which I think is really cool. I love hearing a 16 month old who can make decisions for herself - especially when she is tantruming by the fridge because she wants a bowl of broccoli!

Hmm, maybe a lot of this is off topic, but it's hard to describe our approach wihtout the whole picture. I know that maybe this level of unpredictability wouldn't suit some families, but it works well for us.
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#5 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 09:59 AM
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)My dd was doing the "I'm hungry" thing after the lights were out....procrastination thing (even though bedtime is generally pleasant for us). After about 2-3 nights, we started offering her a bedtime snack just before brushing teeth. We took the responsibility to offer--not wait for her to ask. Since she is not yet 3, we explained each time that she should eat all she wants because there will be no more food offered after teeth are brushed (and I offer her left-overs from dinner or fruit or cheese usually). When she said she'd had enough, we brushed teeth and moved on. Predictably, she STILL claimed to be hungry once the lights were turned off, but I repeated the rule "no food after teeth are brushed" (confident that she was well fed ) and stuck to my guns (despite the tantrum : ). We go thru this lots of nights, but no more tantrums--she just wants to ask and for me to refuse (strange kid--takes after me )
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#6 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 11:38 AM
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We instituted a regular bedtime snack for this very reason. We offer it before bathtime, and we make it clear that this is the time for food, if anyone wants any. We try to provide high protein bedtime snacks to compensate for anyone who didn't really eat their dinner. Yogurt or soft pretzles are popular.

Once in a great while, our younger one will be unable to fall asleep at night, and sometimes we bring him down and try to feed him a little more. Often, it really helps him to rest.
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#7 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 12:49 PM
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I'm with Britishmum on this one. We don't make rules about food, as long as ds isn't eating total crap(which isn't in the house anyway). I think the point about not telling kids what and when they can eat is important. If I'm not hungry at dinnertime, or anytime, I don't eat, and then maybe I'll be hungry later and I'll eat then. I think it's important for kids to follow their hunger cues and not the clock. DH and I decided that starting when ds is 4 (in about 5 months), he will have to at least sit with us at the table at dinnertime, even if he doesn't eat. He does that now, for the most part, but if he's really into playing we don't insist.
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#8 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 01:34 PM
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I feel this is a tough situation.

We try not to have too many rules about food. We adhere to the "if you ask for it you have to take at least one bite" rule.

We also try to encourage all food to be eaten before he brushes his teeth. After that, no more snacks. I think that his requesting food at bedtime is definitely a procrastination move.

We let him pick what he eats and always have his favorites on hand. We have taught him that when he is hungry he should eat something. We don't make him clean his plate, though if he hasn't eaten much at that sitting we might request that he take one bite before getting up. If he says he is not hungry enough to take a bite, we tell him it's okay, he can go.

He eats so few things, that I don't want to jinx any of the things he really likes. He doesn't react well to being pressured. So the more you talk about it and enourage, the less likely he is to actually eat it.
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#9 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 03:03 PM
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I have found that my DD just doesn't like to eat when everyone is all sitting down and the table is bustling and noisy. She likes to eat when it is quiet - after dinner. At home we are fine, but about 2-3 nights a week we eat at my parents house, with about 6 other people, and the table is loud and busy. So when we eat there we just don't make a big deal of it - if she doesn't want to come to the table, we make her a plate, and then she can play in the corner or sit with her Papa or whatever and eat later. She always eats later, after everyone has cleared out.

What we do not do is get her different food to entice her to eat. My aunt did this for my cousing and WHOA BOY what battles they had. My DD eats what we eat, we just don't make her eat it when we do. We're actually pretty 'loose' about this. The way I figure it, as long as you make sure you offer appropriate foods, who cares when they eat? I'm an adult and I snack plenty - I sure would hate it if someone told ME when I could eat (nope, you can't finish your essay first, eat now or nothing at all tonight!) It would be a different issue if she didn't eat such balanced meals - she likes most kinds of foods so that isn't an issue. As long as it is the timing and not the content, then sure, whatever she likes. And really, even if it is at bedtime, it is what - 15 extra minutes, max? Of course, we don't have a solid bedtime, either, so stretching it a few minutes here and there is the norm for us.

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#10 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 03:53 PM
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My daughter, 4, has developed this same tendency to skip dinner and want late snacks. Also, she has become far 'pickier' then she was not too long ago. I don't think it is as simple as 'don't have a power struggle and they will do what's best'.
It is not neccessarily a power struggle to encourage eating at dinner time. She used to be an excellent eater, now she refuses to eat so many things it is frustrating to cook for her. Plus she has allergies, limiting her food choices further.
Although I never would have believed in this approach before, I have tried the whole 'finish your supper and you can have dessert' thing, sort of as a last resort.
I don't think it would be effective to use that all the time, but it works sometimes.
It's not that eating at a specific time is important, it's eating such a limited range of foods that is frustrating. Sometimes I go out of my way to make something she liked last week and she won't touch it. The evening snack she likes most is popcorn with Braggs, nutritional yeast, (good) oil, which is delicious and convenient. So if she has that instead of dinner for the next five years, maybe it's not so bad. Anyway the main point is a picky kid who won't eat is not always because mom did something wrong or turned eating into a power struggle, although parents can be very controlling about what goes in and what comes out. If you are relaxed about it and provide good food, I don't think there is anything wrong with setting some limits while giving them room to follow their inclinations. It just feels wrong to give dessert (an occasional thing) to a kid who hasn't touched dinner.
Sorry, babe, you eat the Beet, you get the Sweet.
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#11 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 04:17 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the food for thought Mamas.. har de harr harr.

We pretty much keep only healthy food in our house. 90%?? Yeah there are m and ms hidden in the closet and some home-baked treats, but we generally make fruits and veggies, crackers and cheese, drinks, etc. available all the time for grazing. We have plenty of snacks all day long.

Sam used to be a wonderful eater. IT would crack me up to see my little guy asking friends' parents for "nutritious snacks". He knows that some foods are nutritious and some are tasty, but the best foods are both. We talk about the fact that food gives our bodies energy to function. We avoid power struggles over food, just stating the different attributes of the food. "Well, Sam, sure you can have another chocolate soy milk, but if you don't eat any food with that, your body won't have energy to function."

He drinks to the exclusion of eating, then we make him shakes and yogurt drinks.

So, my point is, I am more annoyed that he is using food to manipulate me, as in, how can I turn down my poor child's request for food even if I know darn well it's just a ploy!

I know, this too shall pass.
oxox pam
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#12 of 14 Old 11-24-2003, 08:06 PM
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Well I'm going to go against the grain here and suggest that this is not a food issue, it's a sleep issue. My DD does this and believe me, I am extremely relaxed about food issues but I don't cave into this one. She is offered a snack about 45 minutes before bed (high protein/high calcium) and then she knows that there is no more food until breakfast. She complained loudly once but I stood my ground and it has not been an issue since.

I am really not a hard ass especially with food but this I definitely nipped this one in the bud because I don't think it has anything to do with food.
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#13 of 14 Old 11-25-2003, 12:07 AM
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I am with Love Beads offer a snack then no food 'til morning.

I am pretty liberal with food during the day. Well until 2:30. They know no snacks after 2:30. We eat diner about 5:00. If they do not eat dinner they have to wait until snack time at about 7:30-8. (They go to bed between 8:30 and 9)

I was being liberal even in the evening but I enjoy eating diner with the whole family. Actually dh and I wanted and need this family time.

I do respect my kids’ likes and dislikes but I also do not cook 5 meals. My biggest kids (dh) know either make a request in advance or eat what I cook. Mama is no short order cook.

My kids also help decide on what diner is.

Even though I have limited food in the evening and made a one-meal policy I am still flexible. My 5 year old has GER (still) and there are evenings that she cannot eat what I have cooked but we do not have complete "free" choices. She chooses between tummy friendly nitrous foods. The only food battles we have had were directly caused by misunderstood GER in my now 5 year old. She was being “difficult” because she was in pain. Now we all understand her problems and symptoms to be able work around the issue.
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#14 of 14 Old 11-25-2003, 01:50 AM
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We try to provide high protein bedtime snacks to compensate for anyone who didn't really eat their dinner.
I do the same with the girls. I often hear at bed time "I'm hungry", so I'll offer a slice or 2 of cheese and some water (they just like to drink water all day). It's something that can be eaten quickly in bed, little mess, and requires no prep time.
I don't know when they are really hungry or just stalling, so that covers both.
With my oldest, she's 9, the rule is that I serve dinner about 5 pm and she's welcome to what ever I'm making but if she doesn't like that, that's fine and she's welcome to make something else for herself, but the kitchen closes at 7, in other words, don't wait until bedtime and get upset that you forgot to make yourself something to eat. And I'll offer a reminder about 6:30 that she needs to find herself something for dinner, so she doesn't forget.
My 4 year old is extremely picky (she used to have a stomach disorder and didn't start solids until she was 2 1/2 so I think that might play a part in it), so I usually will make her a separate meal and try to incorporate that with our main dinner. She loves plain noodles, so tonight I made chicken with noodles for all of us and she just ate the noodles.

Stephanie, mom to 3 big girls ('94, '99 & '02) and to my little guy (12/30/09) intact & CD'ed!
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