Remember when I wrote about how we are doing our best to institute family dinners? I’ve made great strides in coming up with meals that can be ready quickly so we can eat by 5:30pm, and cooking dinner together (usually with me cooking as fast as possible, Owen climbing in and out of his learning tower and Benjamin making sure he can’t get his hands on a hot pot handle or sharp knife) has become one of my favorite parts of the day.
Owen hops up next to me and we talk about what we’re making. He usually samples whatever I’m chopping (Bonus! He chomps away at veggies and foods he wouldn’t even try if we were sitting at the table) and bangs his own spoon around a bowl and arranges ingredients on the counter. It’s usually a bit crazy, but I love a little crazy.
So the preparing dinner part is going great. It’s the eating dinner part that is going through a bit of a rough patch.
We wash hands, grab our drinks and sit at the table. Usually that involves Owen shouting “Noooooo!” while running away and crying “Nook! Nook!” (milk) while we wrangle him up to the sink to wash his hands. What is the big deal with washing hands? Why does he hate it so? The world may never know. The learning tower has helped with this recently, since he likes climbing up and doing it himself instead of having us
tie him down hold him and wash his hands. Anyway, once he washes hands, he gets milk. And we sit down.
He usually points at his plate happily for about 30 seconds and talks about all of the food. The second I dig into mine, however, he’s all, “All done! Done. All done, Mommy.”
Uh, what? Didn’t we just sit down?
“Doggie? Doggie?” He leans over the edge of his seat to peer under the table where the dog is laying silently. “Yes, buddy. The doggie is under the table.”
“All done!” He does sign language and moves his plate gently off of his tray and onto the dining room table, out of his own reach. “DOWN! PLAY. Toys. Doggie.”
“No, Owen, it’s not time to get down. It’s time to eat dinner! Mommy and Daddy are eating dinner. Yum, yum! Isn’t this chicken delicious? Did you try a piece? Oooooh, look how green that broccoli is! Can you find something orange on your plate?” Yes, I am crazy.
It’s not the food that’s the problem. I mean, he’s been going through a weird week or so of eating what with the ear infection and stomach bug (forgot to blog about that, but we got a minor version of the major stomach bug that’s been going around on Monday), but he’s generally a voracious eater. He’s especially good at just trying new things, even if he doesn’t like them or doesn’t eat more than one bite. That’s my goal at every meal — to get him to try one bite of everything on his plate. However much he eats is up to him.
No, the problem here is not food (as far as I can tell). It’s that he just simply doesn’t have the time to sit and eat. There is too! much! fun! to! be! had! Oh, to be a toddler.
I’m struggling with how to respond to his protests. Of course I want him to eat dinner so that he is nourished and not hungry at night. But honestly, he eats pretty well the rest of the day. It’s pretty much just dinner that seems to be the issue. He’s growing perfectly and beautifully, so I’m not worried about him not consuming enough calories. I also want him to grow to love family dinner time, and not think that he’s being held captive in a chair. I won’t be able to strap him down forever!
I know in theory I should be letting him make his own food decisions. If he says he’s done, he’s done. That’s generally how I’ve reacted for the last week. I encourage him to eat a few more bites, but then if he demands that he’s done, he’s done. But it’s after we let him be done that I don’t know what to do.
- Ideally I would like him to be able to sit in his chair and just be at the table, even if he’s not eating. Eventually I believe this will turn into eating, if he’s sitting in front of his plate long enough. But the talking and engaging around the table every night is important too, and I want him to be a part of it. But is that asking too much of him right now, especially after a long day at daycare when he just wants to play with me?
- I have considered letting him get down and play, but maintaining that Benjamin and I are still eating dinner, so we are going to sit at the table. (Subtext: Don’t you want to sit at the table too?) We tried this one night and he literally spent the next 3 minutes whining and climbing up my leg while I did my best to ignore him. I gave up and said we were done.
- The other night I asked him if he wanted to sit in my lap instead of the high chair. He did, and he ate a few bites off of my fork and then played pretty happily while I finished my dinner (eating over his head). Now, every night since then, as soon as he gets in his chair, he’s reaching for me, shouting, “Yap! Yap! Mommy! Yap!”. The lap idea backfired. That’s not the way I want to be eating dinner every night!
I’m going to chalk this up to this too shall pass. But in the meantime, I think how I react to this behavior is pretty important. I want to be calm and have a response prepared. I want to be consistent and set behaviors that will someday turn into happy family dinners.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Stories of similar woes? Other things that backfired on you that I shouldn’t try?