Thanks to all of you for your responses. There is a lot here that I've been thinking over this past week.
luckiest, I appreciate your perspective as a nutritionist. All the women in my family have issues with low blood sugar (either after eating sugar, or if we skip meals)--this hasn't seemed to lead to any other health issues (no one in my family has diabetes, for example), so I've never worried about it other than making sure that I get enough of the right kind of meals and try to avoid any large amounts of sugar. I definitely need fat, protein, and carbs at every meal in order for my blood sugar to stay balanced, and so that is what I have tried to teach my daughter. Left to her own devices, she mostly wants to eat fat and protein (but then I worry that she is not really getting enough fruits and veggies). For example, her favorite foods are cheese, full-fat plain yogurt, almond (or any other nut) butter, nuts, and sausages. She also like whole grain bread. She eats fruits and vegetables, but they are not typically what she chooses if unprompted.
Asiago, you have a good point about feeding being cultural. I have been thinking about this. I have resisted this because I feel like it turns her eating into something that we have to "make" her do if we put the food into her mouth instead of her doing it herself. She doesn't resist when we do this, she just resists doing it herself. I'm just not sure how I would feel about this dynamic yet. I think I am not comfortable with this approach right now because we precisely want to make eating her responsibility instead of our responsibility, because making it our responsibility was part of the problem in the first place. I don't know. I will need to keep thinking about whether I feel that this is the right approach for her or not--I have been mulling this over and I just don't have a definitive instinct about this yet.
SparklePony, you are right, we eat right before bed, so there isn't time for a snack after dinner (she often goes to bed late precisely because she takes too long at dinner). I like your suggestion about the video/story, and we have tried this, but the problem is that the exact opposite happens--she gets caught up in the video/story and stops eating entirely. Even just talking with us at the table can distract her too much to eat.
newmamalizzy, thanks for letting me know that you are going through something similar. She will almost always eat milk products (yogurt, full-fat yogurt, milk) and nuts/nut butters, so I do sometimes just give her one of these with some fruit for dinner, and that works well. But I'm just not ok with her doing that every night, since it isn't a balanced diet. Her blood sugar issues during other times of day are better than when she was younger (part of the reason she got spoon fed for so long was because we were all paranoid about her sudden crashes during the day if she hadn't eaten enough). Now though she does seem to be ok most of the time during the day, although if she goes too long without eating she does start to get resistant and unpleasant (but that is better than the huge tantrums she threw when she was younger). Because I have taught her about her blood sugar issues, she is also much better at saying to me that she needs to eat something when she is getting cranky, which I am very impressed by. If only she could better understand that eating dinner is directly connected to her waking very unhappy at night!
EnviroBecca, she does seem to have this general resistance to eating at all times of day, especially for any "sit down" food. But it only tends to be an issue at dinner because she then has to go to bed (which she also of course wants to resist), and then at that point, she won't have other chances to eat anything. During the day, she does graze somewhat, but it isn't enough to make up for skipping dinner if she doesn't eat. We also usually stop the grazing in the last hour or so before dinner, so that she will be hungry for dinner. If we let her eat up until dinner then she isn't hungry (and the foods that she grazes on, while healthy enough on their own, tend not to include fruits or veggies, so they aren't very balanced on their own). I laughed at your descriptions of dressing your son--we have a bit of this, too, especially when it comes to picking out the clothes. Leaving the house has always seemed to be a bit of a pain, although it has gotten significantly better with time (unlike eating).
Here is what we have tried this week, and I'm not sure if it has helped or not: It occurred to me that she might respond better if I let her serve the food onto her plate herself, so I let her do that this week. I think she likes this, but whether it makes her eat more on her own volition, I don't know. It does still seem necessary to remind her to take another bite about every 3 minutes. This is what I can't figure out--she isn't resistant to eating (if you tell her to take a bite of something, or if you put it into her mouth). She just won't eat unless we tell her to, or do it for her. I really don't understand why.
DD born at 40w2d on 1/19/2011
DD born at 40w1d on 3/1/2014