Saturday, May 8, 2010

Who is in control? Guest Post

On the occassion of Mother's Day I have a very special guest -MaryAnn Dames. MaryAnn is a Registered Dietitian and children's author. Her blog includes both kid-friendly recipes as well as reading, writing and fun activities for kids. Her writing style is a reflection of her genuine love for children and creativity. I enjoy reading her posts and am sure my kids would love them when they are able to read.
I met MaryAnn through blogging and regularly consult her for her expertise and experience. Being a mom of 2 grown up children she is a well-practised and wise friend that I rely on.
MaryAnn gives us this precious post on how to deal with "picky eaters"- an issue many moms face. Principles of psychology that I have learnt and MaryAnn has so well expressed through her experience.

Don't forget to visit her blog for recipes that you can include your kids and fun reading and writing activities. I know many of my readers are young moms and would benefit from her blog as I have. 

I wish MaryAnn all the best for her impending publication. Its an honour to have you here and thank you for this priceless post!
Who Is in Control?

I am honored to be a guest blogger on Enriching Your Kid! Shirley, thank you for inviting me to share my passion about children, nutrition, and cooking. 

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I am a children’s author and registered dietitian as well as a mother of two grown children. When my kids were younger, I volunteered in their first and second grade classrooms, teaching foods and nutrition. I went once a week for four years. I learned as much from being in the classroom as I hope the students learned from me. I loved every minute of it. I also taught cooking classes at summer camps as well as an afterschool gifted children’s program. I have a husband, one cat, a weedy garden, and Leo, a lion statue which I decorate for holidays. 

If you visit my Reading,Writing, and Recipe blog, you will realize my passion is truly kid-friendly reading, writing, and recipes for adults to share with children ages 4 to 8. I also believe learning to think outside the recipe helps one learn to look at information presented in many forms as well as to question wisely.  

Shirley suggested I write about child nutrition rather than focusing on cooking. It took me a while to decide on a specific topic. The answer came to me last weekend. I was in line at a seminar. Don’t ask me how this subject came up, but as I waited a woman mentioned to me her grandson just won’t eat. As she continued, I learned that he does eat but only eats hot dogs or macaroni and cheese. I was able to give a few quick words of encouragement and suggestions before the line moved on. The conversation triggered a memory of an incident that happened several years before I had my first child. The same concerns were voiced by a friend for her son was only eating peanut butter sandwiches. On closer questioning of the friend, I learned the son was drinking milk and eating bananas. 

I now had a topic, an age old one at that for I can just imagine the cave-child telling cave-mommy that he’ll just eat mammoth. 

What to do when your child will only eat limited foods? 

Since you are a reader of Enriching Your Kid!, I imagine you are already offering your child a variety of foods. You are probably already involving your child in food choices and maybe even cooking. You have some tools under your belt. But let’s jump into the topic of the picky eater who will only eat the mac and cheese or hot dogs or whatever he or she has fixated on. From my experience, when a parent tells me a child only eats one food, on questioning I find there are other foods being eaten but the child has chosen one as his main food of choice. I also find that the focus on one food usually passes in a few weeks, often replaced by another food jag. But what if it is more than a food jag or you simply can’t tolerate it?

First, determine there isn’t any physical reason the child can’t or won’t eat. My daughter would only eat soft meats such as hamburger or fish. No chicken unless it was moist and finely cut up. I could live with that but it limited my cooking options. I learned from her dentist that my daughter’s two front teeth didn’t meet to rip-and-tear into foods. No wonder she wouldn’t eat chicken or other hard food. Once her dental problem was solved, she ate almost everything until she decided to become ovo-lacto vegetarian. But that is a different story.

Pushing "mommy"button
So let’s get into the heart of the matter. I’m not going to be looking at the food but rather the interaction between mother and child. In my experience, a child refusing to expand his food choices is pushing some hidden “mommy” button. Suddenly, we are guilt ridden that our child is only eating hot dogs or mac and cheese. We must be doing something wrong as a mommy. We are afraid our child will waste away in front of us or be stunted for life. For the child, seeing mommy jumping through hoops to get him to eat is powerful and controlling. So first of all, let’s look at the way we react. Are we giving the child attention over the food? If so, look for different ways to give positive attention and ways to spend quality time with the child. I leave that up to you. But remember five minutes of undivided attention each day is better than an hour of frazzled time, divided between homework, TV, and reading the mail.

Connected to this picky eater issue is something important I find most people forget. Who is providing the food! I assume that the children I’m talking about can’t run down to the corner store or fast food restaurant or vending machine to buy their own food. So it is we, the mommies and daddies and grannies, who are bringing the food into the house. Consider not having the focus food in the house for one day. Be prepared for tears, yelling, and overall “mommy button” pushing. Plan ahead. Don’t plan to go outside the house or apartment that day. Make sure everyone in the house is on board with what you’re doing. Having a spouse or relative give the child what he wants will negate what you’re trying to accomplish.

I’m going to offer the following script: “Oh, I can’t get to the store today and we’re all out of hot dogs. I’ll get some tomorrow. So would you like chicken taco or cheese sandwich for lunch?” 

Did you see what I am doing with the conversation?
  • I am telling the child that the food is not in the house. I’d help him look for it so he believes you. (Some of us may have told little white lies about the food. That means our child is not ready or willing to believe our most recent statement without seeing for himself.)
  • I didn’t say I would never get the food again. I simply said I’d get it tomorrow. I said it calmly. Not in frustration. Not in anger. Most of all, I will keep the promise.
  • I’ve given the child a choice of other healthier and kid friendly options.  
    Don’t be surprised if the child decides not to eat. Don’t panic. I can almost hear the child whining, “I’ll starve to death” and “You don’t love me” or “I don’t love you.” For the first one, assure the child he won’t starve and, if you are so inclined, you can offer him that chicken taco or cheese sandwich again. If you do decide to offer something, make it simple on yourself. Be matter of fact. Put it on the table and walk away. Be unemotional about it. Yes, this may be a bit wearing on you but you need to stay strong. You are the adult. Keep your cool. Keep your patience. Keep your promise.

    As for the “You don’t love me,” reassure the child you do love him. Give him a hug, if he will accept it. Remember, food is not love. 

    The “I don’t love you,” statement is a lot harder for a mommy to deal with. Believe me, I’ve been there. I learned from the best – my son. When he was four, I sent him to his room. He yelled, “I hate you. I don’t love you.” I burst into tears. If I had been more astute, I would have seen a smug look on his face. He had gotten back at Mommy. Well, a few months later, the same scenario. Except this time, my response was to assure him I understood that he really didn’t feel like he loved me at the moment. It was okay for him to feel that way. And I was okay with that. My son got very frustrated. I remember his words so well. “No! No! You don’t understand! You cried last time.” He was annoyed that what had worked before no longer pushed my mommy button.  

    I suggest that when a child says those horrid phrases of “I don’t love you” or “I hate you,” That you keep your cool. The response to that is simple. Calmly say, “I understand you feel that way right now. That’s okay. I love you.” You are acknowledging the child’s feelings, which is important. Don’t say “You don’t mean it” because in the heat of the moment, the child does mean it. By saying “I love you,” you’re also reassuring the child that your love is unconditional The child needs to hear it.

    If the child refuses your alternate meal suggestion, that is okay. He won’t starve to death overnight. Stick by your guns. Don’t run to the store. Wait until the next day and then get the food, as you promised. I’m not saying this will be easy. 

    Now that we and our child survived one day without the focus food, “run” out of it again next week. This is the time get your child involved in choosing the menu. You can say you would like to plan ahead in case you ever run out of mac and cheese again. Let the child offer suggestions what he might like. You might find the child is ready to try a new food if he is involved in the planning and preparation. I know. I know. We are all busy mothers and fathers so may not have as much time as we would like to let the child be the messy cook as they learn. This is where a blog like Reading, Writing, and Recipes  can come in handy. The focus isn’t all food. That is a good thing for a child with food issues. My blog involves books, crafts, thinking, and writing/oral exercise. By seeing kid-friendly recipes photos the child may be excited about trying something that is geared to him. 

    I thought I could leave off here, but one last thought. As your child goes through the stage of focusing on one food, don’t make a big deal about it. Say the food is chicken. Good choice but still not complete nutrition. Go ahead and give it to him along with a spoonful of carrots and rice. Don’t make comments. Let him at or not eat the offering. However, as you eat the same meal, tell someone else at the table how much you’re enjoying the crunchiness/sweetness/ color of the carrots. Now drop the subject. 

    Remember, these are only suggestions. What works in one culture may not work in another. What works for one person may not work for another. 

    Shirley, thank you again for inviting me.
    Happy and healthy eating to all.
    Mary Ann Dames, M.S., R.D.


  1. wonderful post,thanks mary ann and shirley!i learned a lot of things ,i have a little boy and we have some problems with food...i hope to correct these with your helpful post!

  2. What a gorgeous baby!~ very informative post and well written thanks for sharing

  3. Hey Shirley, J baby looks cute. Such precise details on how to help a picky eater is a must for all.
    Fantastic and I am sure the details are going to benefit everybody who reads this post.

  4. Alison: I'm glad my post was useful. A great technique even if the child is young is to give him choices. I remember when my son was in a high chair I asked him if he'd prefer peas or corn with dinner! This gave him some control even at that young age. Some people might have wondered at my asking him when he was basically pre-verbal but I believe in respecting the person. By respecting that my son might already have food preferences, I was setting the foundation for mutual respect in other areas. So respect and love go a long way.

  5. Pegasuslegend, Shirley's son is a cutie, for sure. If you wander over to my blog, you'll see my young chef helping in the kitchen. I'm glad you found this post informative.

  6. Great post and lots of good advice for sure!

  7. This is a great post! I don't have children but one of my biggest fears is that when I do, they will be picky eaters. I am bookmarking this so that I can hopefully avoid that in the future!

  8. wonderful post,thanks mary and shirley! looking forward to more such educative posts..

  9. 5 Star Foodie: I'm glad you like the post. Another trick to remember, especially if you have very young ones, start out like you mean to continue. In other words, once I started giving my son choices over the food as I mentioned in my response to Alison, I had to continue. It was usually something easy like a vegetable or fruit. Rarely was it the main dish. It avoided a lot of the typical food problems I hear about.

  10. Sybil: I do hope my experiences help others. However, what works for one doesn't always work for others. But at least it is a beginning, right!

    Joanne: You're ahead of the game since you're already thinking about when you have a child. Look at my responses to other comments for more tips, especially the one about starting out like you mean to continue. But be flexible, too. Your child and you will have a special relationship which will develop as you both grow.

    Abraham: Another bit of wisdom (at least I hope it sounds wise): one should love the child unconditionally as well as respect him. You don't have to like the behavior but you still can love the child.

  11. Shirley ,
    A very very happy mother's day. And thanks for inviting such a insightful guest for this day.

    Marry Ann,
    A happy mother's day . Thank you very much for the post for it tells about most of the tricky situations I face now a days. And I am so happy to know from your post that I am going in the right track. Thanks a lot :-)

  12. Happy Mother's Day to all (except Abraham to whom I'll wish an early Father's Day.) Krishnnaleela: I'm glad my post was able to assure you that your are on the right track. We all need that.

  13. Very nice post...and hope all the mother's had a great Mother's Day!



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