It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Menu Monday

Monday: Swiss chard skillet

Tuesday: Mashed potato pie

Wednesday: Quinoa Casserole (I own the book which contains this recipe.)

Thursday: Dosas (I plan to make the filling and sauce the day ahead, and make the  pancakes with the kids.)

Friday: Grilled cheese sandwiches, cooked carrot sticks

A word on picky eaters. Right now, I have two, NBG (new baby girl) and Poppy. Well, not so much picky as unwilling. Neither of them wants to eat right now.

NBG found this place very stressful the first week. When she’s stressed, NBG doesn’t eat. In the second week, this place was merely exceedingly distracting. So many things to look at! And oh! I have dogs! Who EAT FOOD if you hurl it at them! Dogs who, if you do it right, CATCH THE FOOD IN MID-AIR!!!

Who needs to eat with all that wonderfulness going on?

And Poppy has taken to greeting mealtimes with “I don’t want snack/lunch. I go a nap,” because sitting at a table with NBG makes her anxious.

What to do?

Well, some people find the thought of a child not eating very stressful. It makes them anxious. “Come on, honey. You can’t go without eating all day! Here, have a bite. Just one. Take a bite for Mary, please?” And they turn mealtime into one almighty power struggle … which the child is pretty much bound to win. Why do they do this? Mostly because they worry.

They worry about the child’s nutrition. They worry about the tantrums thrown by a hungry toddler. They worry because they know how being hungry makes them feel, and they can’t stand it.

They worry because they think it’s their job to see that their child eats, and if the child doesn’t eat, they’re FAILING AS A PARENT!!!


So what do I do when a child won’t eat?

Not much, really. I have enough on my plate juggling a stressed, integrating baby (even though she’s doing spectacularly well) and a stressed, anxious toddler, without taking it upon myself to force food into unwilling mouths. Remember the rules? I provide nutritious food at reasonable intervals. They eat. Or don’t.

The adult decides what, when, where. The child decides how much, and yes, even whether.

So I pop both NBG and Poppy into high chairs. Yes, Poppy has told us she doesn’t want to eat. So I tell her what has always been the practice:

“You don’t have to eat. You just have to keep us company.”

We’ve been going through this so often the last two weeks that Grace and Jazz chime in. I say “It’s okay, Poppy. You don’t have to eat. You know that. You don’t have to eat, but you do have to …”

… and Grace and Jazz chime in …

“keep us company!”

So into their chairs they all go, and then, without fuss, without making eye contact with Poppy, and certainly without saying anything, I slide a bowl in front of every child seated around that table. La, la, la, if I don’t look at you, then I haven’t really put it there. I have no expectations, I’m not talking to you, I’m not even looking at you.  How did that food even get there, anyway?

I run the risk that she’d scream and swipe it off the table, though I was careful to place it just a little further from her than I normally would. Not out of reach, but not in the usual eating zone. Still, it was a risk.

But with my back to her, my attention carefully on the children who are eating — not that I’m saying anything to anyone about the food, because I am totally NOT (food? what food? aren’t we all sitting here just to enjoy one another’s company??) — with all that in place, Poppy just … starts eating.

Once she’s started, she’s her usual self. Poppy loves her grub. Nom, nom, nom. Two helpings at least, every day. Often three or four. (And then we run out of food. So sad.)

So that’s Poppy. She never wants to eat these days, but, given a very casual and non-confrontational opportunity to eat, she always does. You can be sure that if I were coaxing and pleading, she’d not have eaten a bite at my house in two weeks, and I’d be stressed and angry at my powerlessness and her intractability.

I like my way better. 🙂

NBG? I quickly discovered that, being 12 months old, NBG views bowls not as food containers, but as food projectiles. Put a bowl in front of her, and within seconds, the whole thing is hurtling somewhere. So now NBG gets buckled into a high chair with a few items from her bowl laid on the table in front of her. The bowl is carefully out of reach.

At first she ignored the food. After two or three days, she actually ingested her favourite things. (Fruit and carbs. SURprise!) A day or two after that, she discovered the dogs as food entertainment. Daisy is always crated during meals because she’s an aggressive mooch. Will steal things right out of their hands. Indie, a passive mooch, only lies under the table and quietly hopes for things to fall.

Indie is smart. Things always fall from my table. Only, with NBG, they’re not falling, they’re launched at force. “Whee! If I throw this, that doggie will leap to her feet and grab it right out of the air!!!” Fun, fun, fun.

Fun, certainly. Nutritious, not so much. So now Indie is shut in another room during meals. Poor, well-behaved Indie.

NBG is one of those teeny, lightweight, active children who is just not tremendously food-motivated. For her, food is fuel, and she eats what she needs. (And when you weigh as much as a pillowcase of feathers, that’s not a lot.) It also means that when she’s stressed, food is not on the radar at all. That’s okay. She was downing a couple of bottles in a day, so there were calories, and, more important, liquids, going in.

I had nothing to worry about. So long as I didn’t pressure her, so long as mealtimes remained happy, interactive, social occasions, she’d relax and come around. Which, by the end of the second week, she pretty much had. She may turn into an eating machine with her next growth spurt, who knows, but for now she’s a little thing with a little appetite. But she is eating, and eating healthfully.

As Poppy is a hearty thing with a hearty appetite, and she’s eating healthfully. All without any stress or pressure from (or on!) me.


September 17, 2012 - Posted by | food, power struggle | , ,


  1. Question – I’m still struggling a bit with the timing issue when it comes to snacks and lunch. Luna is the world’s slowest eater, ever; she’s also very picky, and many days will simply refuse to eat anything – but if she does start eating I’m loathe to stop her, even if all the other kids are finished eating and have returned to play.

    I don’t think it’s a power trip; she’s just honestly an incredible lazy chewer. However, if I allowed it, she’d spend most of the morning sitting in her booster seat slooooowly chewing.

    What do you do with the slow eaters?

    There are two competing issues here: One is that we know it’s not healthy to wolf your food, both for your digestion, and because fast eaters are more readily over-eaters, so on that basis, you let the child take the time they take. The other is logstical: you have a bunch of children who are ready to move on to the next thing, and Ms. Leisure-Eater is holding you all up. Hm.

    If the speed (lack of) is becoming a logistical problem, I do put a time limit on it, starting with double what the other children need. So if everyone else downs their snack in 5 minutes and their lunch in 15, she’d get 10 and 30, respectively. Then it’s “lunchtime is over! time to get down!”, cheerfully. Then I gradually reduce the time, until it’s the same as everyone else. Doesn’t matter why she’s doing it, this will help her learn to eat more efficiently.

    Having said all that, when it suits me to have a child happily and quietly occupied for a goodly stretch of time, I’ve been known to let a slooooow eater take exactly as long as they like. Because, really? Quiet and happy for 30 or more minutes? Some days, to fight it, that is to look a gift horse in the mouth!

    Comment by Hannah | September 17, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] What to do? I’ve already explained how I’ve dealt with the refusal to eat. […]

    Pingback by Poppy Gets Brave, part 2 « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | September 18, 2012 | Reply

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