It’s Not All Mary Poppins

I think it’s called the ‘placebo effect’

“I no yike green apples.” Tyler is firm. Doesn’t matter that he’s been happily devouring green apples for months. Doesn’t matter that “Granny” apples were his favourite until… um… a second ago.

“I no yike green apples. I just yike red ones.”

My standard tactic in this sort of situation is a chipper, “Oh, I guess you’re not hungry, then. That’s okay. Away you go and play.”

Because, as we all know, this is nothing about food preference, and everything about power struggles. I’ve waged this battle a gazillion times. My strategy is tried and true and really, puts the control in the hands of the child… while, at the same time, holding firm in my right not to become a short-order cook to the shifting whims of a power-hungry toddler.

Usually, before I’ve even set their feet on the floor, they’ve decided that, “Wait! I really AM hungry!!” They curl their feet up, even, so determined are they NOT to go and play but to EAT, thanks! But if they don’t change their minds, if they are perfectly content to leave the table, well, I’m fine with that, too. That’s their decision. When it comes to food, I follow Ellyn Satter’s guidelines: The child gets to decide how much — and yes, even whether — to eat. The adult gets to decide what, when and where they eat. I provide nutritious food at regular intervals, but it is not my job to get it ingested. That’s the child’s responsibility… which means I accept it if they choose NOT to eat. Because really, this is one a parent will win in the end: the child’s hunger is a good motivator.

But some days, some days it’s just nice to play with their heads a wee bit. Some days it’s nice to be devious. Some days, it’s nice to WIN that power struggle. And some days, it’s a whole lot of fun to win the power struggle they don’t even know they’re having. Well, it is for me at any rate. It could be that you are a person of higher moral fibre than me. No doubt you are, and never even have these urges, much less succumb to them. If you are such a superior soul, avert your eyes now, lest you be horrified and offended by the gross manipulation I am about to indulge in.

“You don’t like green apples?” I display mild, but supportive, surprise.


“You want a red apple?” More with the kindly supportiveness.


“Okay. I’ll be back in a minute.” I take the chopping board and bowl of apples to the kitchen. And there I peel the apples (not something I generally do for almost-three-year-olds, who get their apple cut into smallish slices, seeds and core removed). I peel the apples, the GREEN apples, and return them to the cutting board, and thence to the dining room table.

“Here you go! No more green apples!” (Note how, though I am perfectly willing to deceive and manipulate, I do try to stop short of a direct lie. These are not green. Any more. They are white. I do have my scruples. Shallow though they may be.)

“I yike dese RED apples.” He chomps them down with gusto.

My smile, as I pat his wee blond head, is not tooooo smug.

May 12, 2010 - Posted by | food, power struggle, Tyler | , , ,


  1. Great trick with the apples!

    I hesitate to ask an advice question since I don’t think that’s really the point of this blog. But. I think you give great advice and it’s eating that is on my mind so maybe this post is fate?

    We definitely offer healthy food and let our daughter decide what and whether to eat. But, she is often refusing to even come to the table. This problem started a few months after her second birthday, surprise, surprise. My husband initially offered her the chance to sit in a grown-up chair instead of her booster seat and her behavior did improve for a little while. But now she’s back to screaming and arching her back as soon as we tell her it’s time for a meal. She does somewhat better at dinner if we limit snacks so we have started doing that. But she’s often worst at breakfast when she hasn’t eaten since dinner the night before.

    We have tried ignoring this behavior. We have also tried putting her in time out as soon she started acting badly. We have done some switching between these two strategies, which I realize isn’t the best.

    I do not care if she eats, but I would like her to sit nicely at the table (not on our laps) and not scream. I would be thrilled with even 5 minutes of nice sitting. It’s not every single meal where she goes crazy, but when she does, yikes!

    I know she would never get away with this if she were at Mary’s house, but I don’t know how to stop the behavior. Help?

    I will send you an email over the weekend.

    Comment by Sarah | May 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. Gotta love toddlers–and big kids, too! Two of my three kids DO NOT like the skin on apples. Any color. Can’t eat it. Gets stuck in their teeth. Will.Not.Eat.Skin.
    Unless I forgo cutting the thing at all, and hand them a whole apple. When the only way in is through the skin, they eat almost the whole thing!
    (I only wish I had caught on a few years ago!)

    That’s funny. It’s all in the presentation??

    Comment by LoryKC | May 13, 2010 | Reply

  3. hehehehehehehe. Evil laughter ensues. I recently did this myself with a recalcitrant 3 year old who refuses to eat anything, and so his family give him a meal supplement shake, believing that to be better than nothing at all. (Note: ingredients on said label – Water, Sugar….., gee who wouldn’t rather have a vanilla flavored water/milk drink instead of chicken and green beans?) So I pulled out Sneaky Chef books, and made Chocolate cupcakes. Which are made with a puree of spinach and blueberries. “Yum! I like these chocolate muffins! (I refuse to call them the cupcakes they really are, and I added way less sugar than called for too. He never noticed!)

    Next on the sneaky list: corn muffins, and I’m working on how to “sneak” some finely ground chicken into them, and they are already sneaky with sweet potatoes and carrots! Deviousness has a place when working with children, and I, for one, am in total agreement.

    I have two posts on encouraging balanced eating. One on doing it the direct way, and one on the indirect way. You might enjoy them.

    Comment by Liz | May 13, 2010 | Reply

  4. So: you’re willing to undermine your own lesson, to have the pleasure of tricking a three-year-old

    If we were still learning this lesson, no. With Tyler, for whom the lesson has been learned long since? Yes. I’m perfectly willing to have a private joke at adorable little expense, once in a while.

    Comment by Dee | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  5. Don’t kid yourself, MP – that’s lying. 🙂

    Pfft. You didn’t read the post carefully. I said direct lie.

    Comment by Mwa | May 14, 2010 | Reply

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