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.