Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 11: Food Alternatives?

N.B.: I had the new post window up to write yesterday, but life got in the way, so here I am posting it today. It's all good.

A wide continuum of options exists on how to react when a child decides she doesn't want to eat whatever food it is that you've prepared for a meal. On one side, there is "eating everything on your plate", whereas on the other side is "eating whatever you feel like (whether it's what's offered or not)". Somewhere towards the middle, but towards the side of "eat what you feel like", is what I feel I strive for, based on Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility.

The division of responsibility for a parent involves providing the what, when and where of food. To me, this means that my responsibility as a parent is to provide my child with a variety of foods, some that she's had before and some new. It is also my responsibility to decide when and where she will eat, so I have to provide this variety of food either at times when I know she is hungry or at a proper interval of times such that she has enough opportunities to eat if she chooses to.

The division of responsibility for the child involves choosing whether or not to eat and how much to eat. To me, this means that my child's responsibility is to decide if she is hungry when I am providing food. She also must decide for herself which foods she wants to eat and when she's had enough.

On an ideal day, I provide her with meals and snacks in such intervals and variety that she eats a good amount of the food that I've provided. On a less than ideal day, our timing is off and the food that I'm providing does not necessarily involve foods that she prefers. On these less than ideal days, I devolve into giving her alternatives or puffs or mum mums. Example: Lunchtime I make something for myself that I know she doesn't like and I make something for her that I think she might like. She likes neither food, so I'll give her some cheese and pepperoni or banana or something. Another example: Dinner is later than expected for whatever reason, so I give her some mum mums and puffs, and because of the timing that ends up being her dinner because at dinner time she's full from the snack. For the first example, I'm trying to make her meal options something I know she'll like and my meal options something she might like so she can try new things but also have something she'll like. For the second option, I'm trying to just give her a dinner food when it's around the time we would've been eating dinner so she's eating something a bit more healthful than puffs. At this point, I think her eating healthful food is more important than our eating dinner together, though I like it when we all eat dinner together.

One of the things I'm wondering is how this will play out later in her life. Am I turning into the kind of parent who will make separate foods specifically for my child because I "know" she won't eat what I'm offering? How can I make sure I'm offering a variety of foods that include things she'll like without becoming a short order cook? Also, how can I make sure that we can all have dinner together when our dinner time is variable from day to day? These are all things that I consider when shopping for food and planning and preparing meals. I know I don't have all of the answers, but I think that as long as I keep thinking about it and trying to do what works for us, I'm on the right track.


  1. When I nannied, I provided 2 healthy snacks, and two meals at set times, made sure water was always available and that was that. Somehow that always worked (although the kids didn't always eat well, but that was their choice). Somehow, though, parenting is totally different. 1- how well she eat (at least currently) has a big impact on how well she sleeps, and how much she wants to nurse (obviously). And 2- my child is just amazingly strong willed. I feel like parenting her has been an extended process of letting go of what I expect and embracing what it is she has in mind. And at least for now, I am ok with that. I'm not going to be a short order cook, but I will certainly make foods she likes available, and as she get older help her to become more self sufficient in preparing things for herself if she in not hungry at mealtimes/for what I have prepared. I really don't want to make food a thing, since she is someday going to be an adult and need to feed herself. I figure having a house full of food I am happy with her eating is a good start.

  2. Didn't see that you'd commented, sorry. I feel like if we had a more regular schedule, even a weekday schedule vs. weekend, we'd be able to have a more regular meal, snack, meal, snack, meal routine. Thing is, we don't get up at the same time every day and we don't eat dinner the same time every day. Her naps are regular only in that we have breakfast, we do some stuff, then she naps. It's the same for lunch. She gets up from her after-breakfast nap, we play, go for a walk maybe, make and eat lunch, then soon after lunch she naps again. It's really at dinner time that things get kind of wonky, because sometimes we'll be having dinner soon after her after-lunch nap, but sometimes it's hours later so she's getting hungry again.
    I think what I really just need to get in a good habit with is making foods for dinner that I know she'll like in addition to whatever foods we have so she has options. I've been getting in the bad habit of offering her one thing after another because she's not eating and I'm hoping to find something she'll eat. It's ok if she doesn't eat a ton of food every meal and I think I forget that when it's dinner time for some reason.
    As for when she gets older and can make stuff for herself, I'll definitely have a variety of things that I'm ok with her eating as an alternative to what I'm offering as long as she makes it herself and doesn't make food and then not eat it.