27 September 2007

You Just Never Know

[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.


Amy said...

Hi. Where do you get your ideas for what to make the kids? Where does the inspiration come from? Your meals sound wonderful for my little one, but I have a hard time coming up with the ideas--I feel like I am in a rut.

Thanks for any advice you have.

Lucky said...

I am so HAPPY to hear that I am not the only one with this fear. My daughter had a horrible night recently, and I no longer dress her in the PJs that she wore that night. When I pick over them in her drawer, I shudder. Motherhood has made me wacko.

Snickollet said...

Hey, Amy,

I get my food ideas for the kids from the same places that I get food ideas for myself. We don't eat meat at home, and I love the Moosewood cookbooks for simple casseroles and such that appeal to all of us and are easy places to hide veggies. I also like Cooking Light and Cook's Illustrated magazines. If a find something that appeals to all of us, I make big batches and freeze them (last time I made quesadillas, for example, I made 12 or so). I freeze mac'n'cheese in muffin tins for the twins; one "muffin" is about one serving on a good eating day. Once the "muffins" are frozen, I pop them out and put them in zip-top baggies in the freezer. A serving can be thawed in about 1 min. in the microwave. Add some fruit and veg and you have a meal!

Another easy meal idea is to cook up a bunch of pasta (I like Barilla's Pasta Plus), then mix with a jar of sauce, a bunch of frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed of water), and a bunch of parmesan cheese. You can make "muffins" of this, too, and store in the same way.

Maybe I should do a food ideas post, although right here I've already given most of my mainstays away :).

Hope that helps,

mar said...

I'm a few steps behind you with my 14 month old and would LOVE to read more of your recipe ideas. I loved making purees for an adventurous 6-12 month old but now that he's gone and gotten "opinions", I've kind of given up and my standbys of toast, peas, blueberries, and non-blueberry fruits is a pretty appalling diet. Could you at least post your mac & cheese recipe?

Snickollet said...


Yes, I'll gladly post the mac'n'cheese recipe, although I warn you now that measuring is not my strong suit . . .


becky said...

Delurking to mention what a nightmare feeding toddlers is. My first son literally only would eat oatmeal and saltines for a long time because I eventually gave up fighting with him all of the time. A shamefully long time. So long that I won't mention it here ;)

You're doing a great job with them. Toddlers eat a suprisingly little amount and somehow manage to grow.

Eventually, they will eat more variety, so until then, I wish you the best of luck.

Julia S. said...

Realizing how little control you actually have over your children is the most liberating feeling, isn't it? It took me a looong time to realize that Patrick was not going to starve to death in one night, never sleep again if I pushed back bedtime, turn into a vegetable if he ever saw a television turned on - the list is endless.

I think it sounds like your kids are eating extremely well and I really would not worry about repetition. It works itself out. Oh and I have offered Patrick both eggs and bananas at least 2000 a piece and he has never once said yes. So that 20 offers thing only works so far, I think. Keep up the good work. Always reading and cheering for you as you go.

Geohde said...

I was taught in my pediatrics term that toddlers who have food put in front of them periodically will not starve. They'll eat, just never everything presented.

I was also taught that every parent thinks that they WILL starve.



Anonymous said...

I think I went through the same stages of thinking as you. Isn't it nice to know we can make ourselves feel guilty over absolutely anything and everything? Hope dinner goes well tonight and for the rest of the week, and Riley feels better soon!

Daddy Dan said...

I've noticed the same thing. There is no relationship between eating and sleeping, other than not eating and sleeping because of teething or illness. We've been told the same thing by our doctor about making up for it later.

Heather said...

The other interesting thing about dinner is that as babies become toddlers, they generally consume over 2/3 of their calories before noon. Their metabolisms actually slow down as night approaches and they truly do not need to eat that much. That was like a breath of fresh air for me when I discovered that.

Jolene said...

My nephew is a very picky eater too...he'll eat parmesan cheese (on its own!) and Wendy's chicken nuggets. And thankfully, he's healthy and as far as I know, sleeps well. :) You're doing a terrific job. Glad for your realization.

Kelly said...

Hi Snickollet! I was just reading your blog about toddlers and getting them to eat! I actually work for a company and our goal is to help solve this problem! The company is Peas of Mind and we have little mini-casseroles that we call "Puffets," (b/c the word casserole is gross and no kid wants to hear it!) There are 4 flavors, all flavors contain organic ingredients, and we try to incorproate all the major 4 food groups, so VEGGIES ARE INCLUDED :) Check out the website, www.peasofmind.com. I hope this helps out; I'm not sure where you are located, so I don't know if the product is in a grocery store near you, the website will tell you the store locations. If we aren't at a store near you let me know and we'll work on it! Hope you are well! kelly@peasofmind.com -Kelly

Pookiemama said...

Snick I go through the same thing all the time! However I am more than willing to admit that I try to fatten my 9 month old up in an attempt to make sure I get my sleep! But like you I have come to realize (at least in my mind, if not yet in my heart) that I don't necessarily have control over what she will and won't eat--nor over whether she will or won't sleep. That's motherhood for you.

Mimi said...

Hi Snick! I think your post described a universal "scarring," the beautiful privelege of motherhood aside, that all mothers acquire as a result of the first weeks (and months) of motherhood! Think about it for a second: What is probably the single most difficult part of adjusting to a new baby (or two!)? Lack of sleep! And, once we reclaim our God-given right to a happy, healthy, uninterrupted evening slumber (finally!), since we have been "scarred" by the first difficult weeks, we naturally live in fear of regression! (I must sound like a weirdo, but, really, this is my theory!) I mean, motherhood is infinately beautiful in lots of ways, and there are often times when we don't mind being awoken to cuddle, feed, etc., but our minds just can't forget the sleep. What do you think?

(Love your blog, by the way! You crack me up! I live in western Mass., a little more than an hour from Boston.)

Anonymous said...

I love the pureed green vegetables in the mac 'n cheese. Genius.

Kathy said...

Wow I love the idea of green mac and cheese. when i am a mom i plan to puree all kinds of veggies and sneak them in foods that make no sense. mac and cheese that is green it is!!

Sara said...

I've decided, with this second baby (18 mos, older daughter is 10) that it is absolutely, insanely random-both the food and the sleep. Both my girls are tiny-my 18 mo old weighs 20 lbs-but they both are super active, and I just don't worry about it. My eldest once ate 6 scrambled eggs in one meal at 16 mos, and a whole can of green beans (makes me gag to think of it). My youngest is a complete carnivore-today at daycare discovered she loves tuna fish, and actually licked her plate clean. Tonight at an event she learned about hot dogs, got impatient with our tiresome cutting of the dog into small chokeproof pieces, and grabbed the whole thing and ate it (big polish dog, too).

I think the other thing to remember about kids is that there is no reason they need to have their food in cooked meal format. If all my daughter eats for a week is cubes of cheese, crusts of whole grain bread, milk, and grapes, well, that's a pretty balanced meal actually, and I don't worry about.

Remember, children sense our anxieties like dogs sense fear, and will leap upon them and do the thing that makes us crazy. They learn this at a very early age. Never let 'em see you sweat :)

Jana said...

My fifteen-month-old daughter is the exact same way. I learned to stop stressing out about it around her birthday, when she wanted to eat exactly NOTHING but breast milk and cheese.

I make my mac and cheese with pureed carrots and tofu added. She's none the wiser. I'll have to try the green stuff, too.