Mealtime Zen: The How of Offering

Offer the food.  That’s what the experts tell parents to do.  Just offer the food and the kids will eat it.  Well, not exactly.  And what exactly does this “offer the food” business mean?

“Hey, T, do want some macaroni and cheese?”

“No.”

That’s how it works here.  I offer and TJ declines.  Again and again and again.  And again.  The offering of food in this house looks more like this.

“Mom, can I try some of that?”

“Yes.”

TJ won’t try anything new until he’s ready to eat it.  There is no suggesting or discussion. Trying new food happens on his terms.

Some of my daycare kids are showing me what offering food means.

  • I put the food on the toddlers’ feeding trays.
  • The toddlers look at it. (Then they look at me, then at the food, then back at me again.  Translated from pre-verbal communication means “what in good grief is this?”)
  • I go about my business, supervising from a distance, without comment.
  • The toddlers look at the food.
  • I put the same food on plates and serve the preschoolers.
  • One of preschoolers pushes the plate away. “I don’t like this. I want a peanut butter sandwich.” The other preschooler looks at the food, then at me. Then at the food.
  • The toddlers look at me.
  • I serve everybody a drink.
  • The toddlers poke the food.
  • The protesting preschooler buries his head in his arms, sobbing about the missing peanut butter sandwich. The quiet one pokes the food.
  • The toddlers pick up the food.
  • The preschoolers pick up their utensils.
  • All of them start eating.

OK, not all at the same time, but eventually they all start eating. If it’s not peanut butter, the protesting preschooler will reject pretty much everything at first sight.  The toddlers always looks at me like I’ve just served a dying squirrel.  It’s rare that none of them eat what I’ve served, but the key is waiting out the initial rejection and letting them dive into their food when they’re ready.

With TJ, however, the waiting is long and the diving into unfamiliar food is as rare as accurate weather predictions.  That’s okay, though, some days are better than others.  I’d be lying if I said there are never times that his constant food refusal doesn’t wear me down.  Then there are days when he does surprise me, like yesterday, when he decided to try the green ice cream and discovered he loves mint chocolate chip.

The Feeding Doctor posted this little snippet on YouTube, on how to offer food and serve younger children.

So when dinner rolled around, I thought I’d give this a try with the tuna casserole.

“Do you want this much?”

“No.”

I took some off the spoon. “This much?”

“No!”

I removed all but one noodle. “This much?”

“I SAID NO!!!!”

There was garlic toast and chocolate milk for T and his sister, while Hostage Dad and I helped ourselves to the casserole.

I admit, I felt quite defeated.  Granted, noodles are a huge stretch to ask TJ to accept.  He’s never really taken to pasta.  His sister loves noodles and we have a pasta dish often enough that at this point, I think it could be safe to say he probably just doesn’t like them. Noodles are our family’s Bermuda Triangle, a mystery for which we may never find answers.

This afternoon, the kids were playing and I was distracted giving the house a much overdue cleaning when I realized lunch time had come and gone.  I could hear the bickering beginning and after toasting some English muffins, I called everyone together to eat.

TJ arrives first, sees the English muffins and stomps angrily away.  After some careful investigating, I learn that he was expecting his to already have been topped with a layer of cinnamon spread.

“Usually, you like to add your own topping.  Do you want me to help you?”

Sullen nod.

I pick up some cinnamon spread on the butter knife. “This much?”

Sad nod.

I finish spreading the topping. “Where on your plate would you like me to put it?”

He points to a spot on his plate.

“Do you want cinnamon on both or just one?”

Holds up two fingers.

I show him a knife full of cinnamon spread. “This much?”

Quiet nod.

“Where would you like me to put this one?”

A smile emerges as he points to another spot on his plate.

Considering the mood he was in when he arrived at the table, he would not have eaten had I offered his lunch the way I first presented it.  It was only because I gave him the option to prepare the food I offered his way with my help that diffused his mood, which made the meal enjoyable for everyone.

Offering food is more that just making it available. How the food is offered can be the difference between letting our monster win or getting my butt kicked in LEGO Star Wars by a pleasantly full and happy child.

Have you tried offering food this way? What was your experience?

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8 responses to “Mealtime Zen: The How of Offering

  1. Pingback: Toddler mealtimes turn me into an Angry Bird | Mum-Mum's the Word·

  2. Thanks again for sharing! I’m so glad it helped, even if not every time 🙂 I should have clarified on the clip that the child has to agree before offering. If the child says ‘no’ first thing, and then you try it, they might get more annoyed 🙂 I have to remind myself too! Today at lunch, M didn’t serve herself any tuna, and I tried a few times to offer it to her, she just said no. She’s a pretty adventurous eater, but took about 6 years before she liked tuna salad (many no-pressure exposures) and I admit I was a little bummed when she didn’t want it today! Sigh. I really love Marsha Dunn-Klein’s work. She has amazing tube feeding resources, and Ellyn’s work of course!!! Your other commenters are in my thoughts. I hope they find the right help for their little ones. There are some great comments from parents on the Huffington Post article from this week. I am thrilled you are on the web supporting one another! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katja-rowell-md/when-feeding-therapy-becomes-aversion-therapy_b_2951294.html

  3. So nice to know I’m not alone! My son and I are on our 3rd week of inpatient treatment at a feeding clinic since he refuses to take fluids and has to be on an ng tube.

    • My thoughts are with you while your son progresses through therapy. Had we not found the support of Dr. Katja Rowell (www.thefeedingdoctor.com) I am certain we would have eventually been in a similar situation.
      You are not alone, not at all. I hope feeding therapy is a positive experience for you both.

    • Oh the irony. We worked so hard to get the ng out only to get the norovirus at the feeding clinic and due to dehydration, ng is back in. Who is the Dr. you referred to? Will take as much help as we can get!

    • Dr. Katja Rowell:
      http://thefeedingdoctor.com/consults/
      She also has a book called “Love Me, Feed Me”. Her no pressure approach to feeding has saved this family and been incredibly helpful for my son.

      Another great resource:
      Marsha Dunn Klein
      mealtimenotions.com/about/
      An OT and feeding specialist who has worked with many families whose children are fed by supplemental tube feeding.

      At the very core of both of these is:
      Ellyn Satter:
      http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/fmf/familymealsfocus.php

  4. This made me smile. Just knowing I am not alone somehow makes it a tiny bit more bearable. Thanks for posting.

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