Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Forced Fast

Tesla is 15 months old. She's growing in all ways and watching her develop and learn brightens my day. She's got this sparkle in her eye all the time. But there's one problem - she's been refusing to eat vegetables for a couple of months now. Even the vegetables she used to eat before. I'm trying not to create a power struggle, but I don't want this type of eating habit to carry on throughout her years.

Now, I've read more than my fair share of parenting articles, especially ones related to food, and yet I'm at a loss for what to do. You see, it's not as straight-forward as all the mommy-blogs make it out to be.

My job is the serve healthy, balanced meals. The child's job is to decide what and how much to eat, if at all. Forcing, coercing, bribing, cutting deals, rewarding, and punishing are all big no-nos. Young children never intentionally starve themselves and they will eat when they are truly hungry.

Well, that's all great in theory, but in practice, I'm having a very hard time with that. You see, I did a little experiment just to gauge how far I could push things with Tesla. In the morning she had breakfast and ate until full. At 9 am, I serve a snack to the daycare kids and if Tesla is hungry, she gets a snack too. So, she had a snack at 9 am.

At 11 am I serve lunch. This is when my experiment began. I put 2 slices of cucumber, 2 cherry tomatoes, and 2 slices of red pepper on her plate. She freaked out. I knew she would, but these are foods she used to eat, so I wanted to see how long it would take for her to try them again. I excused her from the table because she was angry about her lunch options and 10-15 minutes later I put her back in the high chair and offered her plate again. She cried about it, but then she picked up a slice of red pepper, took a bite, chewed, and spit it out. She was done with lunch after that, so down she went.

She threw a fit, begged for different food, begged for milk, but all I would offer her was water or her veggies. She eventually went and played, but she was cranky and not much fun. She even took a nap for a bit, but it wasn't as long as she normally naps. She was probably too hungry to sleep.

At 3 pm I served the afternoon snack. I grabbed her plate of veggies from the fridge and offered them to her. She cried, but it was different sounding. Like she was defeated. She ate 1 cherry tomato and that was it. She sat there for 10 more minutes, pouting, while I hoped she would try another bite, but she didn't. She was miserable.

Except for that one cherry tomato, she hadn't eaten in 6 hours! I felt like that was too long to make her go without eating, and she did try the cherry tomato, so I gave her half a cup of fresh pineapple, which she devoured greedily. She wanted more food, something, anything but the vegetables, but I refused and made her wait until supper at 6 pm where she got a new, different meal. She was so hungry!

I felt evil. I can't imagine doing that to her every day. Won't she be malnourished? How is she supposed to grow and develop if she's skipping all her meals? A lot of kids refuse foods because they have small appetites. Not Tesla! She's always had a big appetite and during my experiment she was clearly hungry and asking for food, but by limiting her options so severely, isn't that just another way of trying to force her to eat it? (Something you're supposedly not supposed to do.) Making her choose between this or nothing isn't exactly giving her a choice. On the flip side, I run the risk of raising a super picky eater by catering to her all the time.

So, then what's a mom to do? Where do you draw the line? If she's hungry, she's unhappy, she can't sleep well, and she's miserable to be around, throwing fits like crazy. Does she even understand why I'm not feeding her? Probably not. This popular tactic doesn't work on children who can't comprehend what's happening.

And I ain't some softie parent either, oh no! I'm the tough one. I laugh in the face of tantrums. But seeing her face, so angry and confused when I wouldn't feed her, broke my heart and it just didn't feel right. She's too young to implement this sort of food rule. Even if she ate just enough to survive, (remember, they won't starve themselves to death) it's not enough for optimal growth and development. I will try again when she turns 2. She eats meat, she eats fruit, and she eats dairy. That's good enough for me for now. There are kids who eat less.

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