The Battle of the Beans

Today has been quite hellish at times. I have cried at least twice, I have certainly ranted and I've lost count of the times that I have said, "Just eat your food!"

The Boy has always been good with his food, even as a baby and feeding from the bottle, he drank beautifully and without fuss. When I started weaning him, he accepted each new taste with pleasure and a great tolerance. Apart from mangoes, and who can really blame him. Second stage weaning saw a baby who was enthusiastic about the home-cooked meals that I prepared and cooked, and he went from strength to strength always eating everything given to him.

About six months ago he decided to exhibit the typical two year old's decision to exert his authority and ability to control a situation. He is well behaved with everything and always does as he is asked, but at that point he decided to show that he can control things himself, and he would become a right pain at mealtimes. I rode it out as he was still so young, and things improved drastically quickly.

Lately I've noticed he's messing around a lot at dinner times and is barely eating. I have never wanted to force him to eat, but I don't find him saying he's finished after three spoonfuls an acceptable amount for a child who's going through a growth spurt. He isn't getting enough nutrients or calories in that small amount to sustain himself throughout the day. An added concern to this is that he's started at a private nursery one morning a week and has lunch there, serving himself and eating with his friends. The feedback is that he's not eating very much, and this week he refused to have a drink of milk and half a banana at snacktime. This is not good because if nothing else will enter his mouth, they are the two staples he would survive on.

Today has seen World War Three and Four in this house at both lunchtime and teatime. He was served exactly the same meal at lunchtime as Mr. TheBoyandMe who sat and ate with him, but it took him well over an hour to eat it, and even then he didn't finish. Lunch was one of his favourite meals: cheesy pasta with ham. There was no reason for him not to eat it, but he couldn't be bothered. He wasn't exerting control of the situation he, just didn't want to eat it. Tea was similar with his other favourite of beans on toast. An hour!

There are those who would tell me that he'll eat when he's ready, but I'm not prepared to accept that. When it has been going on for more than a fortnight, during which time he's developed ear infections and a cold, it's not ok. I can only conclude that he's developed lazy habits at mealtimes and, with his third birthday next month, it has to stop. I'm at the end of my tether and I feel like I'm failing him.

That's why this evening I'm going to be sitting down to read this book that I've been sent:

It's been sat on the kitchen shelf for a month or two now, and I was going to get around to reading it, but now I need to. Because I can not have another day like today. I can not scream like a banshee at my child. I can not sit and sob at my failings as a mother.

With sections on 'why it hurts us so much', 'how much does a child need to eat', 'a child's three defences', 'what not to do at mealtimes' (I suspect digging my heels in is one of them), and 'how not to force a child to eat', I am hoping that 'My Child Won't Eat' is going to change my perception and explain things a little bit more to me. I want him to be happy at mealtimes and healthy because of the food he's eating.

In the meantime, there are certain things that are changing at mealtimes. And it's been with the help of the lovely folk of twitter that I've reached these decisions:

  • no pudding unless the main food is eaten (we've always relented in the past because 'he's done quite well', or 'he's just a baby'. No more!)
  • no snacks in between meals (there aren't any really but it's something I need to tell my mum who does give him some)
  • while breakfast is still in two parts (cereal first, toast or brioche half an hour later), he will no longer have the second part on a plate in the living room while he's playing or watching television. He'll be sat to the table and will eat it there.

Mealtimes mean eating kiddo! Once we've got that re-established, then you can chat!

Any more tips or advice please?

I was sent this book to review, my situation and need is real and frustrating.

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  1. Jenny paulin says

    One thing i have learnt is , as hard as it is at times, dont let him
    See how frustrated you are at him not eating – i find with B that the more exasperated i am the more he reacts by messing about and not eating. I find sometimes i need to resort to things like saying i bet you cant eat that, or i pretend its treasure and i say now captain Burton dont wat mummy's treasure, i turn my back and say aloud "mmm i cant wait to eat my treasure" he then eats it so when i look at him he is smiling and showing me he has eaten it!!
    I am not saying you should act out such games, but i find it helps!!
    Goood luck
    Ps. We have good and bad meal times too (hug)

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I know what you're saying but I just get so distressed that my good boy who behaves so well isn't eating.

      • Jenny paulin says

        If this is the first thing he hasnt been a good boy about then you and he have done brilliantly so far!! This is a stage he is going through and not eating a lot is better than not eating at all. Things will pick up he is just being a typical toddler!! B started this last Oct i think and he has good patches and bad ones. Your rules are a good starting point i wish you luck. BUT this is normal toddler behaviour so dont beat yourself up about it – remember they are clever and this is all a phase which he will outgrow xx

  2. says

    we have those 3 rules that you've implemented, and whilst I think its a good idea to have those rules, don't expect miracles. My 2 don't eat. They are still growing though, so I'm hoping they might grow out of it soon (maybe when they are 19 or 20)

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      The only one which is vastly different is the one about the sitting down to finish the second half of his breakfast. He hasn't had a pudding at either meal today and he's accepted it and understands why not.

      Thanks for the advice.

  3. Misslexywoo says

    Oh I know this frustration and upset and torture. I know this power struggle, hurt and worry.
    When you've read that book PLEASE tell me if it's any good and if it is I'll buy it. 2 years I've had of this. 2 damn years. But I'm sure it'll pass… It'll pass right? I NEED THAT BOOK!!!

    Ps – you are not failing him because you are trying. Failing him would be not giving a crap whether he ate or not. And you always care. It's hard, it's frustrating and it's horrific. I have only one piece of advice that worked for me (and still does but I still want that book because he still doesn't eat enough!) AS ABOVE – the more frustrated you get the less likely he will be to eat. Take a deep breath get up and walk away. Once you are calm come back and channel your frustration in to a calm voice. Eat now please. And just repeat it every two minutes. Worked for us. I love you baby yes. Eat now please.

    Enjoy the book. You are a great mum xx

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      It's so God-damned hard Lexy, he's such a good boy at all other times so this is really upsetting me. And I worry that he's not growing strong and healthy, especially with the ear infections that he's got at the moment. Good tips about the calming down, I remember now that that's worked in the past.

  4. Saskia says

    I find distraction great with my 2year old. When she starts playing up and doesn't want to eat I give her a few minutes while I look after her sister or my own dinner. After that I start talking to her about anything but her food. What we are going to do later that day, or what we did earlier or about people she cares about. Once I have her attention and she starts chatting away I just put a spoonful of food in her mouth. I find the first mouthfulls the hardest, once she has one or two she accepts the fact that she needs to eat. At that stage I try to engage her in the food, talk about the different things on her plate, colours, textures. She loves peas since I started calling them "ball", pasta are "curls" etc. I think it kinda takes the battle aspect out of feeding time. And if she really doesn't want to eat, I just accept it, tell her it's ok (but she has to try at least one spoonful) and let her get on with the day. She only gets one snack a day, so if she skipped a meal she is normally starving by the next time it's feeding time and she will eat. Think the key is definitely no snacks (or limited) and try not to make a big deal out of it. They are getting too cute at that age and seem to playing up more if they feel you are frustrated. Hope this helps!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you, I think this is the one that will work the best with us; it's not quite a game, it's more of a distraction from what's going on? I guess that eventually he'll eat? But how ill will he get in the process?

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      • says

        I think the more we focus on the food when they resist, the more of a battle it can become. To keep mealtimes positive, just concentrate on something unrelated that is positive and as soon as they lose their defensive attitude (starts very often as soon as I put my one in her high chair) it's ok to talk about food again too. Just keep food a positive thing. Some days I find it easier to engage my toddler than other days, but I found that after a week or two of a struggle she actually does it great now. Some days she still starts winging, but she gets over it fast enough.

        Especially as he used to be a good eater, it's not about the food at all, but about testing to see how far he can push his own will through. Completely normal at his age. So by taking the opportunity away, I would think he'll start eating well again soon enough.

        Something I have always been told and really believe is, children don't starve themselves. They know they need to eat to survive. They might get a bit hungry, but if you keep away the snacks and make them realize that they're hungry they will eat eventually.

        Really hope you get it sorted soon and that he won't be getting sick. I'm only talking out of experience with my own toddler, I am definitely not an expert but really hope the above helped.

        I am not really into parenting books very much, but one book I would recommend to everyone is "Why French children don't throw food" from Pamela Druckerman. I'm originally from Belgium and raised in similar way as the French, so I might be a bit biassed but I actually really think her book makes sense. She's American but moved to Paris and compares how children are raised and behaving in France and US/UK (it's about parenting in general, with a good bit on food too). It's very addictive night time read, very easy but very interesting.

        • TheBoyAndMe says

          I took your advice today, combined it with a thought of my own too. I gave him a choice of two vegetables and two potato types, but wouldn't budge on the fishfingers. He was far more receptive to the idea of dinner. Then I made it into a train (I think I saw you look at the picture I tweeted as well) which meant that I could ask him to eat the carriage or the wheels or the clouds, and not refer to the food types. I think not calling them the food made him feel less "God, food again!".

          I also stuck to my guns about pudding, and explained that unless he ate it all he wouldn't have any. (Gave him a choice of that too) I then asked Mr. TBaM if he would like one because he had finished, and The Boy said, "Mummy and daddy can have one because they have finished. I haven't, so I can't." looked at his plate and ate it all up. He didn't finish the pudding but he did finish the main, and he understood what needs to happen!

          I'll look that book up, thank for the suggestion. Also thank you for continuing to give me wise words because I was so upset about this last night.

  5. says

    You are not failing, it sounds very similar to my niece. She'll be 3 in June and has always been amazing eater. Recently though she's twigged that time eating means less time playing and it's become a battle. Even bribery was tried to get her to eat but now they are doing same as you. No cakes or puds or snacks unless she eats. Some days are better than others… I think my brother is hoping she will revert back to being her usual self soon!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Day one of sticking to the new routine worked well, we just need to be patient and firm! And I need to make his food into a helicopter tomorrow…

  6. says

    I missed all this trouble with The Boy. He is just asserting he control where he can which can be very tricky for you. True he won't starve but you need to ensure what he does eat are the important things and in that I totally agree with your 3 new steps. they are all a given in our house. My advise would be make the rules clear, stick to them but don't make an issue of it or he will learn it is an area he can wind you up when things, even not food related, don't do his way. I have had a difficult eater too.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I gave him a choice of vegetables and potato types tonight which seemed to help because he had a little control in his food. I then also made it into a nifty train picture, which meant that he had fun eating the carriages or the wheels. I stuck firm to my rules, he realised that he wasn't getting any pudding but we were and he ate the lot. Thanks for your tips.

      I need to work out how to do a helicopter for tomorrow!

      • says

        So pleased you seam to have turned a corner. Well done on being firm, it is such an easy one for children to take the lead on as food is emotive and a worry for Mums. Winning the early battles over diet is so important as they become much harder if you let it go now. I love the train idea, fun with food is great for kids. Best of luck for the helicopter, carrot battons for blades?

        • TheBoyAndMe says

          That's what I was thinking, and for the 'feet' of it too. Maybe a burger or fishcake shaped a little bit as the actual helicopter? He likes to set me a challenge.

          Lunch was more of a success, I gave him acceptable choices again. When he started to give up I told him no pudding. He carried on eating. He tried to tell me no again and I said that was fine as it meant I could have my pudding. He finished it, ate his pudding and said, "It's nice to have pudding together mummy!"

  7. says

    Iv been having the same problem lately! G (shes 4) was always such a good eater, even now she loves olives and camembert! (proud) BUT whenever i try new things lately she is becoming fussy and wont try it! Even things she has had before shes being fussy! i cant cope with it either! My worsed nightmare is having a fussy eater!!! God meal time are hard!! Really feel your pain!!! xxxx

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Today was much better because I gave him a choice of vegetables and potato types, then I made it into a picture and I stuck to my rules. He's learning already because when he saw that we were going to have puddings but he wasn't then he ate up. God it's hard though!

  8. says

    My 3 year old is the same. We have him eating nutella sandwiches at lunch because he thinks it's chocolate (it's coca powder but it has nuts and the bread is good for him). All I know is all my boys went through it and the next oldest is only 4 and eats perfectly now. Best of luck.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you, taken bits of advice from everyone which seems to have worked well today. He *will* learn!

  9. Johanna says

    Something I still do with E (who is now 5) is that she is allowed to not clear her plate, but it will be left on the kitchen table, and if she wants a snack later, she can have what's on her plate. It will taste a lot better if she eats it now rather than in an hour when it's cold, but she has nothing else until it's all gone. Sometimes she finishes her meal with us, sometimes she comes back and eats it later.
    Another one I used, particularly with new foods, is that she must eat 5 more forkfuls. I would fill the fork, so it was a reasonable amount going in (and had a bit of everything, not just her favourites). Sometimes she would only eat the 5, sometimes she would take the fork off me and clear her plate.
    There are lots of debates about whether or not we should insist on them clearing their plates: are we setting up bad habits which will lead to either obesity from encouraging overeating, or anorexia from creating a fear of food. My take is that I give them what I know they can eat, and I expect it to be eaten. There is always fruit or yoghurt if they want more, but it is in addition to the provided meal, not instead of.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Taken bits of this and adapted it into today's meals, it worked much better. Thanks for taking the time to comment, I do appreciate it. We'll get there but I need to be firm!

  10. says

    As others have said, its not about the food but his desire to test your boundaries (and your patience and sanity!!) However you decide to approach it (and this has to be whatever works for you and what you feel comfortable with), be ABSOLUTELY consistent. He will soon learn what he can and can't get away with. Try to remain calm at all times (ha!) and definitely don't discuss it with anyone else in front of him – then it becomes a 'big deal' and he will play up to what he will know you are expecting. Good luck – you are a fab mummy, and don't let anyone (including yourself) tell you otherwise.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I think you're right about the testing the boundaries. Tonight I made it into a picture and he loved it. It came to the last few mouthfuls and he said he didn't want anymore (but it was boredom) so I explained that he couldn't have pudding unless he finished. I asked Mr. TBaM if he would like pudding as he had finished and he replied yes. The Boy said, "mummy and daddy can have pudding because you've finished. I can't." and then looked at his plate. I reminded him that if he wanted pudding he needed to eat it all, and lo and behold he did! Success! I also stayed incredibly calm and it helped. Thanks for reminding me the basic of not discussing it in front of him, I forget how much he picks up

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      God I hope not! No, in all seriousness it won't be that. He's been messing me around for longer than he's been at nursery, but thanks for the suggestion.

  11. says

    Poppy like "The Boy" was always a fantastic eater but then went through a period where she wouldn't eat anything. I think it was just before she hit 3. She came out with things like "it has skin on it" or I don't like the look of it. It was a terrible time over a few weeks or a month where I became increasingly stressed and fed up.

    We did similar to you, especially no snacks and generally became even more consistent/strict around mealtimes. If she caused a real fuss and started crying etc we put her on the naughty cushion to calm down. 4 days later she started eating again and we have never looked back. Good luck, there is nothing worse xx

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you, today's been much better as we've been firm and resolute with him. But I think I get frustrated because I feel like I'm failing him otherwise, do you know what I mean?

  12. says

    I don't mean to sound patronising in ANY WAY but please please think yourself lucky that this is a recent phase that he will most likely pass through really soon. Luka has never ever eaten well and only this week our consultant has reverted back to 3 monthly appointments (we'd moved to 6 monthly) as his weight gain is once more a problem and he is falling off the charts again. We've also been referred to Alder Hey for further investigations as they're questioning their original diagnosis:(
    It sucks when they won't eat so I hope the book works for you. And sorry for the long comment!!
    ps let me know if u read any useful tips! :)

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Oh I'm so sorry! You must have felt really frustrated when you read this, and that it seemed petty. You must be at your wits end with Luka not eating, they can't let this carry on for much longer, surely? A referral to Alder Hey seems frightening but surely it's good if it gives you a diagnosis and he sees a 'proper' specialist? Big hug.

  13. says

    My boys go through phases of eating and not eating. I think as long as they aren't snacking or getting sweets they will eat. I think you are doing the right thing and it just takes time. x

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