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When to start being really firm with meal time rules.

(20 Posts)
NoToastWithoutKnickers Wed 26-Sep-12 09:34:34

DD is 2.5. She has never been a great eater, but we've always had a limited selection of choices that I can guarantee she'll eat.

I try to introduce new things to her wherever possible, but also try to avoid cooking a whole 'new' meal because I risk massive waste.

I've always planned to have the 'try a small bit of everything on the plate before completely rejecting it' rule but I'm really not sure when I should start enforcing it. Last night she liked everything on her plate (or at least used to) but she absolutely refused to eat most of it, just picking at about 4 mouthfuls of fish. Because she was throwing such a huge tantrum it seemed totally pointless to try to enforce this rule and I gave up pretty quickly because I risked the neighbours wondering what the hell I was doing to her

So, do I wait until she's a bit older or take a deep breath and go for it now?

Alternative suggestions would be most welcome.

TIA smile

Hotpotpie Wed 26-Sep-12 10:53:06

we had the same problem with my now 5 year old, for a long time we let her choose what she wanted, that left us with a child that would eat chips, noodles chicken nuggets and pizza, in the end we just clamped down, she has to try a new food about once a week or so, only a spoonful - she always says she doesnt like it but I can ususally tell whether she really does or doesnt by how long it takes her to swallow it smile if shes liked it really she gets it again, second time I never get a fuss and she usually admits shes enjoyed the food - things she hasnt liked like peas and tomatoes ive just shelved for now im happy that so long as she is getting some fruit and veg she doesnt have to like it all

If she doesnt eat something we have well established that she likes then she has to go and sit and play in her room, none of the usual treats like pudding and a family dvd, we go up to her and just get on with the hum drum routine - homework bath etc we dont continue to tell her though off once its done its done but she doesnt get anything else

We have been doing this since she was about three and a half and we had a reward chart to start with - ten new foods got her a trip to the zoo then we went from there

Personally id probably stand firm on her at least trying stuff shes always liked but maybe put off trying new foods for a little while? but then im sure a lot of people wouldnt have acted as we did it really is down to what you feel confortable with

Just as an after thought, our LO had a lot of big changes in her life around the time she stopped eating stuff, and even now she uses food as a way of control when shes feeling uncertain - we try and look at whats going on and other ways to support her when shes feeling unsure

NoToastWithoutKnickers Wed 26-Sep-12 14:38:08

Thank you for replying!
I like the idea of a new thing once a week and I think I'll leave it until she's 3+ to start that approach. There are just too many tantrums to be had at the moment!

steppemum Wed 26-Sep-12 15:00:13

I can see both sides. On the one hand, forcing anything to do with food is going to end up causing more problems, on the other you don't want her to be ruling the roost over food and not trying anything new.

I think new foods take quite a few tastes to become 'ok' so I think what I would do is
1. sit at table together
2. plate of food, some familiar some new, encourage her to try new, don't force it.
3. once you have eaten, ask her if she is finished, once she gets down that is it, no more food (til snack time or whatever)
4. keep offering the new foods on her plate, even if it gets rejected 10 times, be low key, but offer it. Make a fuss when she tries something - wow look at that isn't it fun to try something new. But don't comment on if she likes it/is going to eat it.

Very early we had a rule that if you haven't had a good meal, you don't get pudding, again very low key, and never involved finishing their plate (I think it is important for them to learn to listen to their body and it is ok to stop eating if you are full, but you don't then get pudding if you have only had 2 mouthfuls!)

The best way to get them to eat is to pretend it isn't important to you! Also, none of the above apply if she is underweight, then you have different issues

HollyMadison Wed 26-Sep-12 15:52:12

I'm in the same boat as my DS is a fussy eater and his behavior at some meals is challenging (eg shouting No and throwing the offending food at me!). Although he's younger (19 months) so I haven't forced anything and have not yet implemented any rewards. I'm also not sure how to play it when he does eat (ie act nonchalant or give loads of praise?).

I have found that there are times of the day that he eats better so I will give the food I really want him to eat then so I don't feel so stressed if he doesn't eat at other times. If you want her to eat veges maybe give some vege sticks whilst in the car then you don't have to worry about it at dinner. Even strips of cooked steak while watching tv or something?

I've also found DS will be more likely to try something if there is something interesting about the experience. Eg he recently ate banana because we made a big thing about the experience of peeling it and biting it, rather than just cutting some for him and putting it in front of him which is what we'd been doing for the past year. He's also started eating bread because I found some rolls in the shape of a panda face. Maybe you could try things where there's a bit of experience involved eg tacos, wraps. You've probably done that already!

I do actually serve dessert whether he eats his first course or not but I make sure it's something I don't mind him eating. His favourite food is cold tofu so sometimes that is dessert!!

Good luck and I will watch this thread with interest.

girlgonemild Wed 26-Sep-12 16:02:15

My DS is also 2.5 and has limited his food down to around 10-15 things over the past 4/5months which I hate and now realise how good he was previously!
I think your probably right to wait until 3 to do the star chart thing. Also I gather 2-3 is the classic age for this and they may start to get better of their own accord if you keep offering other foods.
I have got a bit bad at offering him the things I know he will eat but he does at least eat something from each food group (eggs, beans, veg. soup, wholegrain breads, potatoes, cheese, yoghurt and of course cake chips biscuits etc. when he can!) If you make your own list you might realise the same...it's definitely helped me calm down about the whole thing which can only help!
I know the books say not to make it a big issue around food and meal times. I think at this age it is particularly hard as they can't fully understand rules you might try and lay down and will be more prone to tantrum where as a 3 yr old will get simple rules and the reward thing more easily.

Mollydoggerson Wed 26-Sep-12 16:10:19

My ds2 (3 1/3 yrs) gagged and nearly vomited his lunch today when I persuaded him to try a pea. He also spat out his carrot.

He ate spagetti and chicken dippers. Great!

Today's experience really reminded me just how hard it is for them to try new foods, what's bland to us involves so much texture and taste to them.

I think the approach of keep putting it in front of them and they will eventually eat is best.

No forcing until 4 at the earliest.

Goldenjubilee10 Wed 26-Sep-12 16:18:58

When ds's 1&2 were little I faffed about with who liked what and tried to cook to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one. Now I put the meal on the table and we all sit down to eat. I don't give them anything on their plates that I know they really don't like but serve the same meal to everyone. I don't comment much on what they are eating but occasionally will say "are you going to finish your beans?" or "you've eaten all your turnip, did you like that?" We talk about school or whatever we have done that day.

When they have had enough I clear the plates. I always give desert but it is usually fruit or yogurt and not huge portions. I don't comment on what has been eaten or left. I don't reward for eating or use food as a reward and all eating is done sitting at the table.

None of them have starved yet!

dotty2 Wed 26-Sep-12 16:19:53

You can't ever really 'force' though - can you? DD2(now 5) is a bit limited in her range and literally will not put a drop of soup in her mouth. This is a right pain as DD1 and the rest of us like it and it's a good way of turning odds and ends into a light meal. One day when she was about 2.5 I decided I was going to make her try some soup. I put some in her bowl, put the nice rolls, ham, cheese - all stuff she loves - on the table and told her she couldn't have any of that until she tried some soup first. Cue 15 minutes of unbelievable stress, wailing, shouting all round. Eventually DD1 who was then 4 said to me, very quietly, 'Mummy, you're going to have to let her have something else to eat'. I knew she was right, was very ashamed and took the soup away. She still won't eat it. I have never tried to force her to eat anything again. I don't want to sound holier than thou - but there is nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by making meals a battle. When we have soup, DD2 now has some cucumber sticks.

notcitrus Wed 26-Sep-12 16:34:52

Ds has just turned 4 and is starting to sometimes try new foods as long as they aren't slimy. Before that we enforced behaviour at the table, ie no throwing food or shouting 'yuck', but only offered other food. A few months ago I started being strict over the foods he usually likes - no changes of dinner and no treat with bedtime milk if he hasn't eaten the parts of dinner I know he likes. The best tantrums was 3.5 hours but after a week he was much better.
I figure at least I can take him to any restaurant and he will behave and eat any sort of bread! He'll probably get more adventurous in a couple years like I did.

Goldmandra Wed 26-Sep-12 16:56:43

Dinner table rules should be about behaving politely and sociably, not about what you eat. Sitting at the dinner table should be a privilege you earn by behaving appropriately. Both of my children and my godson have found this out by behaving rudely and being sent away from the table on two occasions each. Nobody is ever under any pressure to eat anything but there is always an appreciative smile for anyone who tries a new taste.

What will you do if you make a rule that your DD has to try certain foods at certain times and she point blank refuses? What if you insist she tries something and she vomits the whole meal? Do you let her have a whole new meal that she likes or do you leave her hungry? What happens to the rule then? Do you make her try something at the next mealtime?

Trying to insist that children eat particular foods is a very stressful battle that you will never win. The child holds the trump card every single time.

You would be much better sitting down together at mealtimes with the food in the middle of the table and allowing everybody to serve themselves. Feeling in control of what they eat helps children to feel safe to try new things. If someone is constantly trying to make them put things in their mouth which they don't like they will just become anxious and end up with an even more restricted diet.

Make dessert a healthy option which can satisfactorily supplement the main meal like fruit with natural yoghurt or oatcakes and cheese. Then you can allow her to fill up on dessert if the main course wasn't to her liking.

Don't start a battle you can't win. It isn't your job to force her to have a wide and varied diet. She'll do that for herself when she's ready, probably when she's a teenager. It's far more important that you make mealtimes relaxed sociable occasions and help her feel positive about the experience of eating.

Bumpstart Wed 26-Sep-12 19:27:21

At this stage I would make sure that your child is not filling up on unnecessary snacks.

loveonashoestring Wed 26-Sep-12 20:04:53

Can completely sympathise as have just had a delightful mealtime of mash and pie being hurled at me by 2 year old DS3 in protest! But unlike with DS1 and DD2 I am trying not to get too stressed about it as now have the benefit of hindsight that these things do generally improve over time. What I discovered with DD2 was that she was refusing the types of meals that I was making for DS1 as she had a completely different palate, liking clean, fresh, crunchy things like salad and peppers, olives etc whereas my DS1 is a stodge fan, loving comforting carb based meals. So am trying to experiment with DS3 to see where his preference lies. He seems happier to graze at the moment and actually eats quite a healthy selection over the course of the day but seems to view meal times as an opportunity to wind me up and entertain his brother and sister with his food hurling antics. It is an age where getting a reaction is far more interesting than focusing on a plate of food! I just get him down and send him off to amuse himself somewhere else so the other two don't have to eat whilst ducking rogue items off his plate!

Flisspaps Wed 26-Sep-12 20:12:52

DD is 2.5, and we've just started requesting that she tries everything on the plate. If she doesn't like it, then that's fine, but at the moment she's being incredibly fussy and it's limiting what we eat as I refuse to cook separate meals for everyone.

We sit at the table, she faffs and fartarses about and refuses to try whole chunks of her meal. This has gone on for a while, and I am fed up of it.

Last night she told me tea was yucky (it was something she'd eaten before and enjoyed, and she said this before she'd touched it last night). I ignored her messing about, and every couple of minutes quietly asked her to try something on her plate.

Eventually she stopped wriggling about on her chair, and started to eat. I praised her for trying and said that she didn't have to eat any more if she didn't like it. She cleared the plate. I asked her if it was nice, and she said yes.

I don't mind if she doesn't like something, we all have foods we can't stand - but refusing to attempt something without even trying. If she doesn't try everything then there's no treat (if there is one) and no alternative, but she can still have fruit and yoghurt as I won't send her to bed hungry.

NoToastWithoutKnickers Wed 26-Sep-12 20:17:49

Thank you everyone for some really good advice.

I was a terrible eater as a child (as my father now takes great pleasure in reminding me!) and I promised myself that I wouldn't be hung up about DD's eating habits as I now have a healthy, balanced diet and like most things. I think my biggest concern has been the sudden backtracking with what she likes.

I confess that I'm really bad about preparing meals that we will eat together. It's just the two of us and I really don't like eating as early as she needs to. Maybe that should be my starting point.

Thanks again smile

steppemum Wed 26-Sep-12 20:31:30

I do think that eating is a social activity. If you sit together, so meal time is an activity with a beginning and an end, then it is easier to get some meal time routine, and the focus is the conversation and not the food.
I think that children need to know that you won't cook another meal. So if they don't like it and won't eat it. Fine. But there is nothing else at this meal. Or there is then pudding to fill up on (fruit or healthy) and then that is it.

dikkertjedap Wed 26-Sep-12 20:56:18

It is really hard if a child is a fussy eater.

My ds eats everything, always has.

My dd first ate everything (was really easy when weaning) then got terrible gastro-enteritis at about 1 year (which took a long time to recover from), then she ate only mashed potatoes (with cheese), fishfingers, bread with cheese until she was about 4. No fruit, no vegetables! Very stressful, but paediatrician said she was getting what she needed and advised to totally back off and let her ask to try things rather than to keep offering things. Then suddenly, around five, she has become really curious and gives almost everything a try now (including fruit, vegetables) and eats really well. I did worry a lot about the lack of vegetables/fruit though during the three years she refused them.

Bumpstart Wed 26-Sep-12 20:57:24

I think you've got it. You need to model the behaviour you want from dc. You might find eating together makes all the difference. I have good eaters, but some poor table manners from them until I stopped skulking in the kitchen and came and sat with them to eat.

NoToastWithoutKnickers Wed 26-Sep-12 22:11:27

I do sit with her and sometimes have a bit of what she's having, especially if I've done too much pasta or something, and I'll have fruit and a yoghurt with her. I just don't tend to eat my main meal when she does. If it's a quiet day we'll have a proper lunch together which is easier.

I also make sure that if she's totally refused her meal she has extra yoghurt and I offer bread too. She'll also get extra milk at bedtime.

susitwoshoes Wed 26-Sep-12 22:23:28

with new foods I tend to let DD (2.9) try some from our plates on days when she's had her tea at nursery and is bumbling around while we eat ours. Or, I'll put something new on her plate with a load of stuff she does like and see how she goes, without making a big deal of it. I'm not too bothered about it, we don't have a hugely varied diet ourselves and she's just not that bothered about food herself so having a good meal, even if it is just loads of carrots, peas and spuds and hardly anything of what's new, is fine by me. I'm a bit puzzled by the 'new food once a week' - that's 52 new things a year! I don't think I eat 52 things! Golly, when I think of what we had growing up in the 70s, there seems to be a lot of expectations that our DCs will eat loads of different things these days.

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