Friday, January 19, 2007

Dishing out the truth

I think you are either blessed with children that eat* or sleep, not both. Sounds fairly simple, right? It is, and after no scientific study whatsoever and lots of my opinion and me studying all of our friends with children, this is the conclusion I have come to about this topic. This doesn't mean that children who sleep well eat nothing at all, or that children who sleep poorly eat liver and onions. Just in general, children are more inclined to be better at one over the other. That is the way it is in our house anyway.

*When referring to eating this does not apply to the true baby stage of nursing or formula. This applies to when babies turn into toddlers and preschoolers and can voice an opinion on their food preferences.

Mine are sleepers. I have been blessed with children that more or less have slept fairly well from early on. By about eight to ten weeks both girls slept through the night. By this, I mean had a feeding around 10pm or 11pm then slept to 5am or 6am ate and went back to sleep for a bit more. They napped with great regularity with two solid naps a day then down to one. Rosebud at 3 years old still naps about two hours every afternoon.

That is not to say we didn't experience nights from hell. When Papoosie Girl had colic she slept wherever and whenever she wanted. That included, but was not limited to, the car seat, swing, and stroller. We took her for car rides to put her to sleep many nights. We also had teething set backs, nightmares, and changes in routine. When I returned to work after my eight month maternity leave, I slept on Papoosie Girl's floor on an inflatable mattress for a week, otherwise she screamed for hours.

In general though, whatever setback we experienced we were always able to get back on track. My girls went to sleep awake, fell asleep and stayed asleep with great predictability. Sleep was something that came easily and when it didn't we were able to tough it out and get them back on track fairly easily. I did let them CIO (cry it out) occasionally, and they generally slept by themselves in their own rooms. I am not a big Family Bed proponent but, I do have friends who do it and I completely respect their decision (especially for those nursing.) Personally, it is just not for me. One, I need my sleep or am not a functioning person and I was afraid I would roll on them or somehow squish them. While I wasn't a crazed Ferber follower we did follow that mindset when treating any sleep issues. The idea being we would help them figure out how to get to sleep as opposed to doing it for them.

So they sleep, great. Now everyone is mad at us. Not so fast, life cannot really be that rosy. Although they do sleep and go to bed by 8pm every night with absolutely no fuss we pay a price. Our food situation is not exactly as show-stopping.

Up until the age of two Papoosie Girl ate just about everything you gave her. She ate meat, veggies and fruit with no qualms. She was never a fan of peaches and pears (still is not) and did not like peas (I swear I had nothing to do with that.) She ate regular meals with regular food and life was good. She could eat an entire chicken breast and we started ordering entrees for her in restaurants because I was tired of sharing and starving. I remember being in a restaurant and another mother asking me how I got her to eat "real" chicken. At the time, I remember feeling slight smugness telling her she didn't even know what a "nugget" was. Of course, that same mother would see us now and laugh. Papoosie Girl did not have a potato chip until she was three years old. With the first one I was able to control what she ate fairly well.

At around the age of two Papoosie Girl started to become "picky". When I look back now I realize it was a gradual process and something that should have been addressed at the time, not now after the fact. First it was meat, then certain vegetables, then certain fruits. Soon she had a menu of about five foods she would eat and they were mostly some form of a white carb. By the age of three she lived on her Yia Yia's homemade chicken rice soup (her only meat), grilled cheese, pancakes, french toast, scrambled eggs, macaroni with cheese, spaghetti and Parmesan, and very few veggies or fruits and absolutely no meat other than what was in the soup. Oh, she loved cookies and treats but, healthy food choices were a struggle. She also had issues with texture and no matter how much we minced things she would just not be able to eat sometimes.

Our doctor was never overly concerned about this and said that the more you force the more a toddler will resist. He told stories of kids eating one or two foods for months and they were perfectly fine. So, between my internet self-diagnosis of the problem, his advice and parenting books all echoing the same thing, I didn't obsess too much, not an easy feat for me either.

By now Rosebud was born and we were busier and more tired and it just became easier to let her eat what she wanted. Most nights hubby works past the dinner hour so it would just be me and Papoosie Girl, it seemed to exhausting to make a lovely healthy supper for two that would be diligently ignored by one of the guests. I either ate what she ate with a salad on the side or whatever yummy food my mother-in-law packed for me at my last visit.

Rosebud followed a similar pattern of being a great eater until the age of two. Then the same gradual process started to unfold. During these two years I would go on a rampage even now and then and would cook only healthy food for everyone and insist they eat/try everything. This would last a week or so and I would get tired of tossing meals out and I would go back to making them what they wanted. I would hear of families that made one dinner for everyone and the kids ate everything the adults ate, I could lie, but that would not be remotely close to, "dishing out the truth." Truth was I did not make one meal, hardly ever. The only meal we ate together was (whole wheat) spaghetti, hold the sauce for Papoosie Girl. I personally know children who eat any and everything you put in front of them, I am always amazed to see kids scarfing down grilled salmon or asparagus.

As Papoosie Girl got older we started a reward system. If she ate meat or tried a new fruit or vegetable she got a sticker on the calendar. After 10 stickers - give or take - a trip to Woodbine Mall for some rides. This has worked very well with her and she now regularly eats many of the foods we originally tried. She eats fruit now and a few veggies and although meat is still a struggle we are working on it. Her personality is suited to this reward system and after many discussions about healthy eating and studying the food pyramid she gets it. She understands now that when we put healthy things in our bodies you become a healthy person.

This strategy has not worked so well for Rosebud. She is much more stubborn and not so much a pleaser as Papoosie Girl. You can put a box of Smarties on the table and tell her if she just tastes the orange she gets them. She will tell you, "I really don't like Smarties" and walk away. She will never have a fit or beg for the treat just dismiss the whole event. I even tried a fruit party with hats, balloons, the whole works, Rosebud would not try a single fruit. She will tell you she will eat it when she is bigger, maybe when I'm four she will say.

People always assumed we were giving our girls lots of snacks but, that was not the case either. They hardly ever ate between meals. We have friends whose children cannot go twenty minutes without eating something, whether it is fruit or cereal bars or Minigo. They are constantly eating something which is something my girls never do, in fact, they could easily skip meals if you didn't prompt them.

Where is this all going? I guess I am just trying to figure out how hard I want to draw the line in the sand. I have dear friend who grew up like me an only child and meals were a battleground. She vividly remembers sitting at the table gagging down food with her stomach in knots. All the focus was on her and she remembers the horrible feeling of staring at her plate night after night. I would never subject my kids to such torture of course, but is it say mean to force a few bites of a food I know they like? We have talked about healthy food, read books and made collages, painted pictures, and created food animals and people but ultimately, I cannot eat for them. This is a power struggle of epic proportions and I just don't want to engage that way with them.

There are no definitive answers here folks, sorry. I think we are on our way to a healthier eating plan but we have a ways to go. I am so proud of Papoosie Girl for trying new foods, I know it is still hard for her and I blame myself for letting it get so out of hand. I don't want to spend the rest of their childhood trying to figure out how to "hide and disguise" food. I want mealtimes to be about sometimes having your favourites and sometimes having things that are not your favourite. I try to not describe food as good or bad, just healthy or not really healthy. They both understand that before anything not so healthy can be eaten you must fill up on healthy first. They understand that they will be strong and well if they do that, but actually doing it is sometimes a struggle. I don't want food to be the enemy, I worry they will fall into bigger food issues as they get older.

I hope that Rosebud follows her big sister's lead and there are signs of progress, a couple of nights ago she ate some salad! Rosebud is suffering from some constipation issues right now after her five days of stomach flu the first week of January and three days later a fractured foot she has just not been eating or moving enough to keep things moving. The doctor told us today we have to put her on stool softeners and natural laxatives to help things along at least until the blockages move out. If this isn't motivation enough to get us eating better I don't know what is. Watching her suffer with stomach pain and a bloated tummy is horrible.

So, the sleepers want kids who eat and the eaters want kids who sleep once in a while. I just want two healthy little girls who enjoy meals. When Papoosie Girl gets excited about Raspberry salad dressing and Rosebud eats a huge bowl of whole wheat spaghetti covered in vegetable rich sauce I know I am doing good job. I want more of that and once in a while I think I would trade a good nights sleep for it. Well, once in a while anyway.


bubandpie said...

So I'm curious - what is it you think you could have done earlier that would have prevented things from reaching this point?

So far, Pie will eat just about anything thrown her way, and Bub is just starting to turn the corner towards eating more foods. Mostly his diet consists of breakfast cereal, milk, yogourt, cheese, macaroni and cheese, chick peas, peanut butter toast, several fruits, and occasionally corn, peas, green pepper, or carrot sticks. (Note the absence of meat, there.) Lately he's been responding well to the airplane approach, but I'm with you - making two or three meals most nights, and trying to avoid turning it into a power struggle.

I was a picky eater myself throughout my childhood, and I too vividly remember how horrific it was to think of putting certain things in my mouth - and how miserable it was to keep sitting at the table long after everyone else had finished. My mom says that when I was 4 I went on the white food diet - soda crackers and white rice were all I ate for a year. Then I had my tonsils removed and my eating improved dramatically.

Alpha Dogma said...

I'm another with great sleepers, but not-so-stellar eaters.
Dr. Know (the oldest) is a pretty good eater now, though he use to be awful. Danger Boy is much fussier and so very, very stubborn.
They are just like your two in temperament, Jen. Dr. Know is much more eager to please and Danger Boy won't give me the satisfaction of being sad when denied a bribe.
We've given up the nightly struggles and now send them to bed hungry. It seems cruel, but the alternative is to make them eat food against their will. My parents did this to me (ahh, the 70s, the Golden Age of Feeding your Child by Force) and I too vividly recall the feeling of gagging on brussel sprouts under my mother's watchful gaze. It was horrid. I don't want to do this.

Jenifer G. said...

I love it when my two favourite blogger ladies pay me a visit!

A million dollar question and my answer is worth about two cents I'm sure! I think it all comes down to persistence. I wish I was more persistent when they started to refuse previously loved foods. I wish I didn't give up so easily when they started to refuse certain foods. I think it would be a lot easier if they kept seeing those foods on their plates - it would not seem so alien know to see a piece of chicken or pork.

Meat seems to the big sticking point for many kids. I know many other parents who say the same thing. I know for us meat issues are texture issues, at least I think that is problem.

I think I was a bit of a picky eater too as a child. My Mom was the type that made one dinner and if you didn't eat it you were on your own to find something else to eat. I really don't remember her forcing me to clean my plate. Thankfully, these are not part of my memories. I do remember my Aunt Lil cooking fish when I was over and I was around 5 or 6. I called my Mom to come and pick me up. Ingenious solution I think!

Finally, your "white" diet sounds like my pregnancy diet. I was so sensitive to food and smells with Papoosie Girl that I lost about 15 pounds the first 3 months. I always joke it is the best diet I ever went on - morning sickness. I could eat no meat, nothing with garlic, nothing remotely part of my pre-pregnancy diet. I ate arrowroot cookies, toast, and french fries. I would agonize over the "making every bite" count articles. In the end I gained back 9 pounds and was able to eat a bit better towards the end of my pregnancy.

I wonder if having your tonsils out was the answer. Maybe your throat hurt so you ate things you could easily swallow or dissolve. Mine were removed with my addnoids at about two (or even younger) so that could not be my issue.

Thanks for your thoughts, it so reassuring to know you are not the only one struggling with something.

Our kids do sound similar. I am hoping that as Rosebud gets older she will follow Papoosie Girl's lead and start trying and adding new foods into the mix.

I agree I won't force them to eat, it is just wrong on so many levels. While I have never honestly sent either of them to bed starving per se, they have missed dinner and went to bed with their cup of milk and maybe a Minigo before bed. I admire your guts in sticking to just one meal...I always fell short in that department.

I truly hope we reach a happy middle ground where this is no longer even a topic for discussion. Last thing. One thing my doctor emphasized to me is to watch portions. Huge amounts of food can really turn kids off and on the other side it sometimes only takes a few bites to fill them up.

Food for thought.

Alpha Dogma said...

Can I link to this article for a post I'm composing? It is about slippery slopes. LIttle compromises that wear you down.
I do feel bad when they go to bed hungry, but am confident that they're not starving. If they were truly hungry they'd eat their dinner. It means they wake up a bit earlier than usual and eat a big bowl of porridge.
That was a great post.

Jenifer G. said...

Absolutely you may link, I would be honoured.

I agree with you that if they were truly hungry they would eat something. Sometimes though (at least with Papoosie Girl) it is so hard for her to eat certain things, as if she just physically can't do it. That is why we are approaching meat and similar textures with a gentle pace.

I want her to enjoy eating not gag all the time. That said she does have to try the food and at least eat a few bites by my rules. She is allowed to "not like it" but, she still has to try. Some days she goes along with this and some days goes a bit hungry.

That said, hubby is always the first to comment on a day say where we have not given them lunch - how well they eat their dinner. Skipping a meal now and then prompts such wonderful eating the next meal. This happened on our vacation this summer in Florida where we were busy all day and lunch was just a small snack. By dinner they were starved and ate everything with little complaint. Mind you, I wasn't ordering them steak but they would eat much better.

They are clever little monkeys and of course would never starve themselves. I love the idea of a "slippery slopes' post, I may have to borrow that idea one day.

Have a good weekend.

Oh, The Joys said...

Sleepers?! You are so lucky. Mine are not.