Friday, November 15, 2013

Feeding a Four-Year-Old: the Most Impossible of Tasks

At Atticus's parent/teacher conference last week, his teachers showed concern over the fact that Atticus has not once been willing to eat the snack that is offered at school.  When they asked him what kind of snacks he eats at home, he answered, "Chinese broccoli."  (Last year when his teacher ran into the same issue and asked the same question, he answered, "Paneer.")

We do not eat Chinese broccoli and paneer as snacks in our house.  I promise.  And I know both of those foods are nutritious and a sign of good food management on our part.

But here's my problem.  The kid won't eat but a small handful of foods and it is driving me insane.  I have tried everything to introduce (a nice word for literally trying to force down his throat) diversity into his diet, but it's not happening.  And surely, yes, we could argue that Chinese broccoli and paneer are diverse and they are, but I mean diverse variety.

I have tried everything.  I am at my wit's end.  Here is the list of what I have to work with:


String Cheese
Flat Cheese (Colby Slices)
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Plain Spaghetti Noodles
Turkey Bacon
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Tenders
French Fries
Graham Crackers
Chinese Broccoli
Indian Potatoes
Garlic Naan
Sticky Chips (Chips and Cheese)
Celery and Carrots with Dip
Peanut Butter
Soft Pretzels
Pretzels and Chips
Carrot Fruit Smoothie

What I have listed here is the entire list of food my four-year-old son is willing to eat.  Okay, not entire. I did not include the myriad of sweets he is willing to eat as those are many and not the point.  This list is literally every food I have to choose from when making his three meals a day.  Notice, while peanut butter and cheese are on this list, bread is not.

And maybe this list looks long to you, but please consider that three times a day, seven days a week equals 21 meals a week, not including snacks.  Also, please note what is not on this list:  pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, lunch meat, bread, spaghettios, meatballs, bologna, pretty much any other food a kid will normally eat …

Please.  I beg you.  Any suggestions?  I have tried the following:

1.  Only served the food that the adults in the house are eating and waited for hunger to do its job.  (NOTE: It is a lie when they say children will not let themselves starve.)

2.  Hidden new foods in foods he approves.  (NOTE: My son is very smart and very particular and head-bangingly stubborn.)

3.  Bribed him with treats or iPod time or toys.  (NOTE: Somewhat limited and positive results.)

4.  Screamed at him.  (NOTE: This never feels good or right, but in the moment …)

5.  Sent him to his room.  (NOTE: Our current strategy, and by strategy I mean what I'm doing to avoid a real come-to-Jesus moment with him).

Suggestions?  Advice?  Offers to reprogram him?  Is every kid like this?


Nik said...

Yes. Max does this. He eats more than that but not much more. I read once that food is the only control kids have over their lives so they hold onto it hard. My thinking with Max is that he probably won't die. He had a bite of enchilada the other day. I fell out of my chair, making such a big deal that I'm sure he'll never do THAT again.

Molly said...

Nicole, the idea of control is really helpful, actually. I hoped that given Atticus options was enough to give him control, but he clearly needs more. When Atticus was Max's age, he ate way more than he does now. My sister-in-law says it goes back to caveman times when a child would only eat what was familiar so they wouldn't accidentally poison themselves. Interesting idea anyway. On the rare occasion that Atticus has taken a bite of something new, I have to fight the whole falling-out-of-chair thing, too. People who have kids with great eaters are so lucky.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Honestly, I'd just let him eat like that for a year or two. Mine (4 and 6) have long stretches like that these days (have in fact restricted from eating more diversely when they were younger), and it hasn't killed them; I gather it's developmentally normal. It's boring for me preparing the food, and we do fairly often cook a different grown-up and kid meal, which is a bit of a pain, but if they don't mind the repetition and they're getting nutrition, so be it.

I think this is a pick your battles moment, and what is really at stake here? If it's not the child's health, then is it just your boredom? Your sense of what he *should* be eating?

Kavya, left to herself, will eat mac-and-cheese + frozen peas for every single dinner without complaint -- with real pleasure, in fact. I vary it up a little because I get bored making it. She likes slices of red bell pepper, slices of cucumber, and al dente steamed broccoli as vegetable options. That's it.

Her list is actually very similar to Atticus's (although she does eat bread), so if I can suggest, you might try quesadillas. She also loves those, and they are easy to make in the toaster oven and are a total staple in this house.

Yes, children, dad and I will throw some cheese and tortillas in the toaster oven for you for three minutes, and then we will enjoy our lovely grown-up dinner alongside your melted cheese thing. With some random fruits and vegetables (out of the limited set you allow us).

Oh, and if he eats pancakes, maybe you could try those pre-made pancakes that you heat up in the toaster oven too? Slap some peanut butter on there, and you have yourself a sandwich. Or serve it in a spoon alongside. Mine have spoon of peanut butter + banana OFTEN when they are demanding food and I can't think of anything else.

Kavi will actually cry and/or spit out the food (at age 6) if I *make* her try something. I've given up, and our lives are much easier now.