Am I a dinner time meanie? - Mothering Forums

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Old 03-05-2008, 05:09 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My dh and I have always had a policy that we will not make separate meals for the kids. We prepare our family's meals using fresh, wholesome foods and produce and very little processed foods. We put a lot of effort into the meals, each one is thoughtfully and lovingly prepared (if sometimes hurriedly )

I noticed that we have started sliding in terms of giving them one or two of 'their own' menu items at each meal. Without realizing it, we have fallen into the habit of going out of our way to provide 2-3 items that we know they will eat (boiled eggs, tofu, rice, pasta, fruit, carrots, peas). In doing so, we have effectively shielded them from having to try new foods, which is something we value and want to encourage.

So recently, I have taken a hard line and for every meal I am preparing a teeny, tiny plate for each girl (ages 3 and 5) of the main meal. If they eat that teeny tiny bit (about the size of one of their fists), they may request an alternative item if they don't like it after they try it. So far, my 5 yo will try it, but before even taking a bite she states that she doesn't like it; and of course it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. My 2 yo so far has refused to try it at all. She sits at the table happily and eats nothing at dinner (she eats a good amount during the rest of the day).

Am I a huge meanie? Will this be effective in the long run in getting them to be open to trying new foods? Is there a better way?
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Old 03-05-2008, 05:33 PM
 
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Personally I have a problem with forcing children to eat something they don't want or making them go hungry. I would not be comfortable with your rules.

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Old 03-05-2008, 05:41 PM
 
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The stance that I usually take is that no one has to try anything that they don't want to although everyone gets a small portion of everything on their plate. I usually make sure that part of each meal includes at least one thing that I know they will eat but they are not allowed to fill up on that one thing. So for instance DSS 7 doesn't want anything to do with potatoes. A typical meal for dinner would be oven-baked chicken breasts, homemade mashed pototoes, lima beans and one 5 oz glass of skim milk per kid. He would happily eat only chicken but we do cut him off after a reasonable amount. If he complains that he is still hungry, we usually reply with "you have other things on your plate that you may eat if you are still hungry." At that point, he is allowed to make the decision to eat those other things or wait until the next meal. Sometimes he will eat them and sometimes he won't but we don't fight about it. The other thing that helps is they are only allowed 1 cup of milk per meal. If they are still thirsty, they may get water. This keeps them from filling up on milk and not food.

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Old 03-05-2008, 05:48 PM
 
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I'm in a similar boat. I take no issue with the idea that I prepare healthy foods and my kids can choose to eat it or not. I think that's a very normal and healthy attitude to have. But I have now come to the point where we have a limited range of dinners because I hate serving food that nobody but my partner and I will eat. And so we now have about 5 or 10 meals that we all like and I just rotate those and everyone is happy. My kids like every dinner, I only cook one healthy meal. But... the cost is a loss of variety.

As for whether your kids will try new foods or not: my experience is that one of my kids has always loved trying new foods and one only eats foods she knows. They've been like that from birth. I offer new foods, but don't expect her to eat them.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:11 PM
 
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I feel that we need to provide our kids something that they will eat when they are hungry, until they're old enough to fix themself something else. It doesn't have to be as elaborate as fixing them a whole separate meal. Just be sure to put out something they like. We usually have cheese, pickles or olives, bread or biscuits or crackers, on the table with every dinner. As long as I've made a simple veggie she'll always eat that. She may or may not be interested in the entree.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:14 PM
 
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I don't believe in forcing children to eat either. However, we went through many dinner time battles in our home and it was making everyone really unhappy. My daughter is very picky about foods. At any given time she will have one or two entrees that she likes and would prefer to have them every single day. The kicker is that those two items change ever week or two (one week she would want penne pasta for every dinner; the next week we'd cook up a big batch of penne, put it on the table and she's say, "Oh. I don't like that kind of pasta anymore."). And she refused to try something new. We drove ourselves crazy trying to keep up and accommodate her specifically because I didn't feel right about dictating what she ate by not providing an acceptable alternative. This resulted in her being very demanding and rude (sulking, pushing her plate away, arguing, etc) at dinner time (and, at times, as a guest in other people homes) and in DP and me feeling very resentful and frustrated. We also wound up wasting a lot of food, which I think upset me more than anything.

We realized this: For breakfast and lunch, her meals are made essentially to her exact specification. Breakfast because regardless of what we're having she prefers whole grain raisin bread, fruit and cheese. It takes two minutes to put that together. Lunch because she takes a packed lunch to school and it makes sense to make her lunch to her preferences. However, at dinner there are two other people, who work full time, to consider. We do not have the time or the inclination to create two separate meals, especially since we cook healthy, natural meals. So, we told her essentially what I just wrote and that going forward we were cooking one meal and that sometimes it would be a meal of things she liked and sometimes it would be something she's never tried or plain doesn't like, but that we could no longer waste food at the level we were by trying to accommodate her and that we were no longer tolerating sulking, whining and arguing at dinner time. We have fresh fruit and veggies (which she loves) at every meal, so if she doesn't like the entree, she's welcome to fruit and veggies. She's not going to starve; she eats three meals and two snacks everyday. She was not at all happy at first and made big shows of not eating anything and carrying on about being hungry, but after a few meals, she actually started trying some of the stuff she previously refused. Sometimes she likes it, sometimes she doesn't. Sometimes she eats it even if she's not a fan; sometimes she eats some fruit and veggies. And dinner time has become a much more relaxed and enjoyable meal and dd has discovered that she likes cashew chicken.

I believe in respecting and honoring everyone's preferences, but not to a point where it's causing major disharmony for the household and not when it's accompanied by rudeness and a sense of thoughtless entitlement. We knew we had to make a change when, after one night of dd requesting something or another and then rudely refusing to eat it because she didn't like how I cooked it I wound up shouting, "This is NOT a restaurant and I am NOT your servant!!!" I am not a yeller, but I just reached my end with this issue.

Things are much better now.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:17 PM
 
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I don't have much of a parenting perspective, since my 1 year old only eats small amounts of "table food", but I frequently (like, almost every day) have neices or nephews over for lunch and dinner. My policy is you eat what I fix, or you can have a sandwich (turky, pb&j, or whatever). One neice and her brother will try anything new, one nephew eats what I cook about 1/2 the time and the other half opts for the sandwich, and one neice refuses to try anything and eats sandwiches every time.

A sandwich takes me almost no extra time to fix, and it avoids arguments. Obviously it might get old trying it every night with my own kid, but I figure he would eventually get tired of turkey sandwiches and try something new. Or not...whatever. He eats well the rest of the day, so I don't think it's worth the fight.

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Old 03-05-2008, 06:23 PM
 
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We use the "you have to try it." rule. But it's nothing like the size of his fist. It's just one bite. If he doesn't like it he doesn't have to eat more. DP and I stick to our word on that too. I think that because we have never pushed him to take a second bite of anything he did not like he is a little more open to trying. I'd say at least 75% of the time he tries something he claims he won't like he will turn around and say, "oh never mind I like that." I think if we pushed it the other 25% of the time it would be more like with your dd, a self fulfilling prophecy.

I also don't jump up to make a whole new meal for DS. if he won't eat anything, which is rare. I usually make at least one thing he likes for sure, as he is involved with making choices about what to have for dinner. But if for some reason he doesn't eat what we are having or not eating much of what he does like I will leave his plate for him to nibble on later. About an hour after dinner I offer him an apple or banana or something so I know he isn't going to go to bed hungry.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:26 PM
 
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A meanie? I don't know, but I would say that you are probably setting up a huge power struggle at some point and I wonder if its really worth it? And also whether your "hard line" approach will really actually achieve your goals. And if it will, will the cost be acceptable to you? I do think there are easier ways to get what you want. I'll share my approach because I think we've come to a fair good set of mealtime routines and maybe it will inspire some new possibilities for you.

I know that I dislike food based on lots of reasons -- taste sure, but also sometimes I don't like the smell, or the visual texture. Sometimes I'm not that hungry for that type of item. Sometimes I'm plain not hungry at mealtime (well, OK, not me so much, but I understand that sometimes people aren't hungry...) I assume my kids have the same types of "I don't like it" or "I WON'T like it" triggers and I want to respect that. And I want them to learn to listen to and trust what their bodies, and minds for that matter, are saying. If I want them to trust their bodies, then I have to do the same. So I promised myself that I would never, ever force a child to eat, even to try, something. I will ASK them to try something, but I won't force it. And really, saying "this or nothing" to a hungry growing child is a way of forcing it. Surpsingly enough, they are more likely to try new things precisely because they know I won't force them. When the level of "encouragement" escalates a bit, the cooperation goes down markedly.

Because DH and I love to cook, meals are frequently new recipes and tastes for all of us. We do chose things we think might be acceptable and we do take requests when we plan the weeks' meals. But I don't go out of my way to accomodate everyone. About the only modifications I make to recipes "for the kids" is to sometimes reduce the amount of hot spices and sometimes I'll serve a sauce on the side (the kids like to dip things, so they still eat it, they just like the interactivity). I will generally put a small serving on everyone's plate. The rule is that you have to come to the table and participate in grace. After that, we eat. If a child (or adult, for that matter) doesn't like dinner, he or she is free to decline it and either leave the table if they aren't hungry (or when they've eaten their fill) or prepare something else for themselves. I however, will enjoy my dinner while it is hot and I will not interupt dinner to prepare something else. Nor will I try to juggle a "main" dinner and alternative while I am cooking -- I don't want to work that hard! Since my kids could eat regular table food they have been able to get their own snacks from the fridge or the pantry. By the time they were three they could spread PB&J on bread. So if they don't like dinner they are capable of getting their own alternative. They are required to bring it to the table and participate in table conversation until they are done though, and I generally request that they sub "like for like", so if they don't like the new spinach recipe they eat carrots or fruit, not bread for example.

I have healthy kids who generally try new things willingly, who are slender where I am obese, eat reasonable dinners, and can politely say "no thank you" when they are guests in other's homes or, if I explain beforehand that its really important that they try things, they will when we are out. That's about perfect, I think.

I admit I am a fanatic about this one area of family life because my parent's take on this was abusive and has left permanent trauma marks on me. They took "force" to a whole new, quite literal, level. I think they slipped from "The kids SHOULD do this" to "The kids WILL do this" to "I will MAKE the kids do this", which is an easy slope to slide down in the middle of a power struggle. I have sworn to myself that it is a slope I will not even take the first step onto.

Just some thoughts for you the react to.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:33 PM
 
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I usually insist that DS take at least one bite of a new food, not a whole serving of it. And if he doens't like a new food, he doens't have to eat more than that one bite.

I won't cook 2 separate meals at dinnertime, but I have no problem if a child wants to fill up on just one dish of several I've prepared, or chooses not to eat at that meal at all. Nor do I have a problem with big kids heating up leftovers or preparing a simple meal for themselves- but I draw the line at DC cooking up a whole separate meal if it will interfere with serving or cleaning up from the one I've prepared (ie, no cooking fresh pasta when I have something else on the stove staying warm).

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Old 03-05-2008, 06:38 PM
 
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When I was a kid, my mother had a "two bites" rule. We had to try at least two bites of a new food, and if he didn't like it, we didn't have to eat it again. None of us are traumatized, and we all have pretty broad palates.

So, no, I don't think you're a meanie. :
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:49 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Evan&Anna's_Mom View Post
I would say that you are probably setting up a huge power struggle at some point and I wonder if its really worth it?

and

I however, will enjoy my dinner while it is hot and I will not interupt dinner to prepare something else. Nor will I try to juggle a "main" dinner and alternative while I am cooking -- I don't want to work that hard! Since my kids could eat regular table food they have been able to get their own snacks from the fridge or the pantry. By the time they were three they could spread PB&J on bread. So if they don't like dinner they are capable of getting their own alternative.
:
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:51 PM
 
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When cooking dinner for my boyfriend, I always make sure to make things he likes so that we both enjoy the meal, same as when he's cooking for me. I can't imagine forcing him to eat what I thought he should eat before I'd give him something he likes.

I don't know why it would be ok to do the same thing to a child.
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Old 03-05-2008, 06:55 PM
 
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I think you are fine. You can get yourself run ragged trying to provide multiple different meals. There is nothing wrong with a boudary on your time and effort when you've already put in a ton of effort.

We have snacks available. If they are hungry before bed, they can get a snack for themselves.
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Old 03-05-2008, 07:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Just to clarify, we do not "force" our kids to eat anything. We prepare a family meal, set a tiny amount in front of them, along with fresh fruit and vegetables and bread, which they will always eat. They are invited to eat whatever is in front of them. They are expected to try the main entree, one or two bites, or ideally the small amount we put in front of them (barely 5 bites at most).

If they choose not to eat the meal, they are not forced to eat it, or even to try it. They know we expect them to, but they are not punished or shamed if they choose not to.

They have been sitting happily, participating in the family conversation if they choose not to eat. My 5 yo does try some of everything. My 3 yo chooses not to; it's not traumatic or shameful or anything; it goes unremarked. If she says she is hungry, she is invited to eat from the selection of wholesome food in front of her, or she can wait until the next meal or snack.

I agree with the philosophy that it's our job to supply good food, and our kids' job to eat it. So that's what I'm going with.

Evan&Anna's_Mom I appreciate your input; I think our approaches are actually very similar.
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Old 03-05-2008, 07:34 PM
 
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Originally Posted by nonconformnmom View Post
Is there a better way?
When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes make enough of something new or different for just her and my dad. There would be other, tried and true choices available, and she was perfectly happy to share bites if we asked.

My feeling is that when the sharing reached critical mass, she started preparing more.

I don't know if it was a deliberate strategy or a means of avoiding waste and/or arguments.

I'd ask her, but I doubt she'd remember. :

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We use the "you have to try it." rule. But it's nothing like the size of his fist. It's just one bite. If he doesn't like it he doesn't have to eat more.
Yeah, well, around here that rule applies equally to dh and dd. He has to set the example of trying new things for her, because he's the semi-recovered picky eater.

I make things I know we'll all like. If I want to do a complicated sauce for say, chicken, because I know dh or I will like it, then I keep some out plain, because I know that right now, dd prefers her flavors separate. I'm willing to honor that.

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Old 03-05-2008, 08:02 PM
 
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When cooking dinner for my boyfriend, I always make sure to make things he likes so that we both enjoy the meal, same as when he's cooking for me. I can't imagine forcing him to eat what I thought he should eat before I'd give him something he likes.

I don't know why it would be ok to do the same thing to a child.
I see what you're saying... but your boyfriend is an adult with a reasonable palate. What will happen when you find yourself with a child who turns her nose up at all foods except noodles-with-butter. How many days will you be willing to entertain this meal as a family before you decide it's time to expand your food options? Or will you continue to cook noodles-with-butter for her while cooking healthy food for the rest of the family?

And really... I don't think anyone really 'forces' their child to eat food. Short of a gastric tube, I don't think you can force a person to eat any more than you can force a person to sleep... As parents, we merely provide the opportunities for good eating (or good sleeping) to take place. The question is more... is it our idea of good eating or our child's idea of good eating that we follow...
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Old 03-05-2008, 08:22 PM
 
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I just wanted to add, our family eats one meal. This is not a resturant and I hope that I am never in a position to have to make different meals for each person.

How do you compare a grown person who has had the oppertunity to really explore what he likes to a child who only knows what their parents put infront of them?

I think you're doing fine. I wouldn't offer the alternate option if they don't like their small portion of what you have made. I'd just have enough fruit and vegtables and bread that they will eat prepared so they can have seconds to fill up on. That's what we do here. Last night J wasn't too thrilled with the zucchini cakes (he only ate 1/2 of one), but I had made enough pasta that his belly was plenty full when he left the table.

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Old 03-05-2008, 08:23 PM
 
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well, i don't have a child of that age, but i foresee myself doing something pretty similar once DD is older. or really, i plan on just preparing a family dinner, we all eat it together, and i won't offer alternatives unless she specifically brings it up. hopefully she won't

my theory/hope is if she doesn't know she has a choice about it, she'll just eat what we're all eating without issue.

but this is pretty much my approach right now and she is only 10 months old. she eats what we eat: stirfry, meatloaf, ribs, spinach, whatever. we just give her bits of it on her highchair tray, and she eats it.

if there's something she can't eat (which isn't much--nuts and shellfish and a couple other things we haven't introduced), i don't eat it, or at least not in front of her. i just don't buy shrimp anymore, for example.

this communicates the message that we all just eat the same thing. i'm hoping there's never an issue with this later, but i know there might be. she might become a picky eater, i guess. if there is a problem with the family meal, i would probably do something like offer PBJ. no preparing a special meal each time, and once she is the appropriate age, she will make it herself.

i don't remember my parents ever making me an alternative meal. i ate what they ate; if i didn't like something, i ate other things offered at that meal (so like i didn't like lamb chops, but i'd eat peas). it was never an issue for me, and i never expected a special meal.

i think sometimes just expecting your kids to eat what you eat and not making a big deal about what happens if they don't actually does work!

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Old 03-05-2008, 08:58 PM
 
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My children have to eat their vegetables. That isn't negotiable for health reasons. I always make veggies that I know everyone likes, so that avoids any issues.

If my kids are not hungry at meal times, I am happy to heat their plate up later. But what I make it what there is to eat. I try to make several dishes so that if someone hates something, they can eat the other items. Generally I find that, if they are hungry enough, they will take a taste of something that they claim to hate...and then they eat it all. Again, I try to make things that everyone likes. Often times this means that I make the same 14 or so meals, over and over. I don't mind. If I want something that the kids don't like, like chili, then I make it and eat it for lunch for several days.

I remember being forced to eat a few things that I absolutely hated as a child, and it was really unpleasant. I try to avoid that issue by just making what everyone likes. I used to let my oldest make a PBJ if she didn't like the meal, but then she wanted to eat PBJ every night. It wasn't a good solution. Now if I try a new recipe, we all discuss whether or not we like it and want to have it again. If not, I don't make it again. I figure when my kids are grown, I can make whatever I like, but for now, my job is to provide healthy meals that everyone enjoys.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:03 PM
 
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oops, double post!
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:15 PM
 
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I forgot to add that, from a financial standpoint, we simply can't afford to provide separate meals or dishes for everyone. And we're upfront about that with the kids. Food is a limited resource. And while I make tasty meals, the food is more about taking good care of our bodies, and spending family time together, than it is about indulging personal preferences. I want my kids to enjoy eating, but not to hyperfocus on food. The food should nourish our bodies and the time spent together should nourish us emotionally. We have the rule that no one can leave the table til everyone's done eating. So we end up having good conversations and often times lingering around the table, just having a good time.

I've thought about how many people in the world eat the same things over and over and over again because that is what is available and what they can afford. They don't get to choose. My kids are much more fortunate compared to many people in the world, so I don't feel like I need to constantly make food ultra exciting or exactly what they want at any given moment. I also don't want to encourage habits that lead to pleasure eating all the time, and obesity.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:27 PM
 
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This is the part that is sticky for me:
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My 3 yo chooses not to; it's not traumatic or shameful or anything; it goes unremarked. If she says she is hungry, she is invited to eat from the selection of wholesome food in front of her, or she can wait until the next meal or snack.
What if that isn't enough and she doesn't like the other things available? She indeed has to go hungry for some period of time. I don't think you need to go through the effort to make something special, but I think you should try to keep some things on hand that you *know* she likes and will eat and that she can get together herself if she's still hungry and doesn't like the other things available. That's just IMO.

Also, in your first post, you talk a lot about the effort you put into meal preparation and food selection. It might help if you kind of remove your own feelings from their food likes and dislikes - it isn't personal. It's just a food preference. Kids have stronger taste buds and they'll usually start eating more things eventually, so long as they're available.

So IMO I'd back off a bit. But I do recognize that I'm very easygoing about meal times. Much more easygoing than most people. So I understand that not everyone will agree with me about this stuff. And that's OK.
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Old 03-05-2008, 09:53 PM
 
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I also like that part.

In our house, I make one meal for dinner. The kids can choose to eat it or not. I have absolutely no problem with them picking things out that they don't like and not eating them. If I make stir fry that has peppers, they usually pick them out - no biggie. I won't make separate meals. If I try some new, unusual dish and after they taste it, don't like it, then they can have something else, but it is something very simple. However, when I try something unusual - I try to make something familiar with it.

They only time I get on to them to EAT is when they are goofing around, and we need to get done with dinner and go somewhere!
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Old 03-05-2008, 11:44 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This is the part that is sticky for me:


What if that isn't enough and she doesn't like the other things available?
She likes fruits and vegetables, which are offered at every meal. To be honest, if after all that and she still doesn't find anything acceptable to her at the time, she can't really be "hungry". She's at no risk of starving or becoming malnourished in any case.
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Old 03-06-2008, 12:42 AM
 
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I don't make an entire separate meal for my ds. But I do make accomodations for him, he has mild sensory issues and hates sauces and cooked vegetables.

Tonight I made chicken marsala, with cooked carrots and mashed potatoes.
I cooked the chicken, and before I added the sauce, I saved him out a plain piece. He got bread and butter (he hates potatoes of any kind) and raw carrots instead of plain. So, basically the same meal, he got what he liked with only a little extra effort on my part.
I do this with curry dishes and casseroles too.
If I make spaghetti and meat sauce he gets his spaghetti plain, with some of the plain ground turkey from the meat sauce.

Sometimes it bugs me but I only have one child, I'm sure if I had several I'd be less willing to do this at every meal. Plus, I'd rather have him eat than gag and push his plate away.
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Old 03-06-2008, 03:54 AM
 
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As far as the offering of a sandwich...even if they choose that option, they won't forever. My younger brother had a PB&J sandwich for over a year for dinner, because all he liked was that (he has some MR/DD issues, FWIW). We had healthful meals and were encouraged to try one bite.

Now my DD who is almost 5 has issues with casseroles and sauces. I can safely modify what we are already having and accomodate her desires and needs. As stated by other posters, I keep are protein plain, and sauces or sides uncombined. Same meal, just presented differently. She does have a diverse palate, but knows what she is willing to eat. And I always offer new foods with a side of dipping sauce....not the best nutrition per se, but she is more willing to try new foods if there is catsup or ranch available. And she gets exposed to the new texture and flavor. Small concession on my part, and expands what she likes.

Good luck to you!
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Old 03-06-2008, 03:56 AM
 
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Until a few weeks ago, this was never an issue. DD1 who is 5, always ate almost everything, the only exceptions being when I made a spicy meal, then I would make sure she had stuff she could eat. Now she "doesn't like that" at almost every single meal. It is getting old very quickly, she is thumbing her nose up at things she has loved for years. I am doing a one bite rule, if she doesn't like it then fine, but I won't cook anything special for her. She however is more then welcome to make her own dinner/lunch, she has many times. Sometimes, it's just yogurt or a salad, I will help her reheat leftovers, and I'll cook an egg, but that is the extent of it. I don't want to create a food struggle, but I'm also not going to be a slave in the kitchen either. She has been being more responsible, and planning ahead, thinking about things she can cook, she has asked me to teach her how to peel things, work the microwave, etc... so it has been a good teaching/learning experience.

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
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Old 03-06-2008, 01:38 PM
 
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Originally Posted by fek&fuzz View Post
When cooking dinner for my boyfriend, I always make sure to make things he likes so that we both enjoy the meal, same as when he's cooking for me. I can't imagine forcing him to eat what I thought he should eat before I'd give him something he likes.

I don't know why it would be ok to do the same thing to a child.
I agree with this to a point. DD and I both fiercely hate onions. DP loves them, but he modifies recipes that call for onions out of consideration.

However, what if your boyfriend changed his mind anywhere from every three days to every couple of weeks about what he likes? That's seriously what my dd does. Trying to keep up with and accommodating preferences that change so regularly is totally unreasonable. We've had dd help prepare our grocery list or pick out what she wants at the grocery store and then had her state literally two days later that she no longer likes half of the stuff she chose. If my partner was doing that, I'd have to, at some point say, "Tough cookies love. I can't keep up and I'm not going to keep making myself crazy trying." Which is what we had to say to dd. She does, however consistently like a wide variety of fruits and a narrow variety of veggies and we always have those in the house. I'd like to say we always have other items and snacks she likes, but those change all of the time too.
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Old 03-06-2008, 02:32 PM
 
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That's awesome. Can you imagine if your partner decided that they changed up what they would and would not eat every couple of days, and never informed you until AFTER you'd made the meal everytime.

Oh man. Imagine how well THAT would go over after a week.
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