[Warning: another toddler food post follows. Read at your own peril.]
Like many parents, I find dinnertime with the twins a little stressful. You just never know what's coming. The kids may suddenly hate something they had always eaten willingly. They might decide to engage in the ever-entertaining "throw the food overboard" game. They might decided dinner is for the birds and scream upon seeing the high chair. Who knows what dinnertime will bring? I do know this: it's a time of day when I'm just not up for drama or surprises. My patience is thin and my parenting toolbox is usually pretty empty.
I deal with this in a variety of ways. Avoidance is one. I'll just keep letting them play for five more minutes, then five more minutes . . . until suddenly it's twenty minutes until bedtime and they haven't had dinner. This strategy often backfires in that once I finally start serving them their meal, I discover that they are really too tired to cope and they melt down and eat hardly anything. Even though I know that I'm usually better off feeding them at 5:30 instead of 6:45, I still often wait, fool that I am.
I also tend to just serve them the same thing over and over and over. Granted, it's healthy and they usually eat well when I serve it, but I do start to feel a little bad about how often my kids eat my special green* mac'n'cheese with a hearty serving of fruit on the side. I also worry about limiting what they eat and whether or not that will cause them to become picky, but I'm too much of a wimp to deal with the whining, throwing, and refusal that often come with new foods.
(I learned from Emmie that kids can require twenty or more exposures to a new food before deciding if they truly like it or not, but it can be so hard to muster up the energy to deal with the refusal!)
Here's what the real problem is. Time for a confession. I'm really just worried about myself. I have convinced myself that if the kids don't eat a good dinner, they are going to wake up hungry in the night and disturb me, god forbid. Not wanting to deal with that—because gosh darn it, I need my sleep!—I give them something I know they will eat and move on.
Two things have caused me to seriously question my stance in the past few weeks. First off, a couple of weeks ago, Maddie and Riley decided that dinner was for the birds. It didn't matter what I fed them, they didn't want it. They wouldn't even eat Pirates' Booty! For almost a week, the went to bed with basically no dinner because I could find nothing they would eat. And guess what? They slept fine.
Then, at their 15 month checkup, our pediatrician verified what I've known all along. It's my job to feed the twins a healthy meal. It's their choice to eat it or not. I'm not a short-order cook. I serve, they eat (or not). If they choose not, they will make up for it later. I was too embarrassed to confess my fear that they would wake up starving and disturb me, so I kept my trap shut and went home determined to serve dinner and not worry. It was not my problem, right? Right. Yeah.
So Monday I serve the kids the standard: green mac + sweet potato + fruit. They ate virtually nil. I didn't care (at least not on the outside). They slept great.
Tuesday, they ate great (the meal they refused Monday), and slept great.
So far, so good, right? Last night I got cocky. I served them a roasted corn and black bean quesadilla, sweet potato, peas, and fruit. To my shock, they ate really well. Really well. They were like bottomless pits.
Then they didn't sleep for crap. Correction: Riley didn't sleep for crap. Granted, he has a cold, and I think he just felt yucky and wanted a snuggle. But still.
My point after all of this blathering on: it doesn't matter. I am finally truly coming to believe that there is no relationship between what I serve them for dinner, how much they eat, and how well they sleep. I think this is better than my revelation about coffee. I feel so free now, to serve them whatever, not worry about it, and (barring illness or teething or some other unforeseen circumstance) sleep well at night.
* I make homemade mac'n'cheese with lots of pureed veggies in it since the twins generally won't eat chunks of plain green veggies.