Yesterday, an acquaintance told me about the way that family meals go down in her daughter's house regarding their three-year old girl. Dad heaps an adult-sized serving onto the 3 year old's plate, then demands she eat it all. She doesn't. He yells at her. She still doesn't. He puts her on time out. She still doesn't. He yells some more and sends her to her room.
For a lot of parents, meal times are stress times. Their child may eat next to nothing or perhaps their child eats only three things and no other foods can pass their lips without a wrestling match. I, personally, refuse to engage in battling over food. Here's why.
1. I don't start fights I can't win. Unless you plan to force the food into your child's mouth physically, you can't make them eat something they don't want. And I, for one, am not about to start jumping on top of my kid and shoveling food into their mouth while screaming at them to chew. It sort of smacks of abuse, no? As a parent, I refuse to have my authority undermined by starting something I can't or won't finish. Wanna look weak in front of your child? Fail to enforce what you say three time daily.
2. I know my kid is not stupid or suicidal. Children will eat if they are hungry. They don't go on Ghandi-esque hunger strikes... and if they do it doesn't last long. Your toddler will eat when they are hungry because they don't yet have the self-control to do otherwise. Or the stupidity, really. And your child is amazingly good at stopping when they've had enough, so long as you don't intervene in their body's ability to detect fullness by forcing them to eat beyond what they can hold.
3. I can be sneaky. Normally, I'm incapable of it. I can't sneak up on anyone without giggling so much that they hear me coming. But with my kids' meals, I'm a freaking master of subterfuge. Lasagna can get some spinach. Home made chicken nuggets can get some ground cauliflower in the breading. Muffins can sneak some zucchini or pumpkin. Just Google "sneaking vegetables into kids food." I got 451,000 results. If they won't eat those veggies, sneak them in.
4. I really don't want to screw my kid up for life. Rates of obesity among adults and children are ridiculously high right now. Forcing my kid to overeat, teaching their body not to feel full until it's consumed three or four times the food it requires, is setting them up for problems. Arguing with them about how much they eat can set kids (little girls especially) up for bulimia or anorexia. Teaching your children to respect their bodies by listening to them can only help them in the long run. Beyond that, I really don't want them to spend the rest of their lives remembering family dinners as hell on earth, full of screaming and threats and time outs.
Now I know what some parents will say. "My kid pretends not to be hungry just to get out of eating something they don't like." As they get older they probably will start feigning full to get out of those lima beans long enough to get a cookie later, but there's an easy way around that. Give them reasonable portions at the meal and if they don't eat it, put it in the fridge. When they say "I'm hungry" later on, bring the meal back out and reheat it. And if they don't eat the lima beans, offer more chicken or potatoes or something. Perhaps, instead of a cookie let them have some fruit. That way they get their "dessert" without eating crap food, and they learn to enjoy natural levels of sweetness rather than grotesque levels of high fructose corn syrup.
It's just not worth it, in my book, to make food into a battle.