Setting Limits with Feeding

by Dana Snook on July 25, 2016

Fussy eater

Sometimes being a fly on the wall can help me to better understand what my clients are thinking, but afraid to say to me. Yesterday, I was scrolling through my phone waiting for my daughter’s dance class to finish up. Let me first say, none of the other moms know what I do for a living. Most of the time I avoid the topic because let’s face it, dance class is not the place to counsel on such a topic.

I overheard two of the moms talking about their children’s epic meltdowns when they don’t give them the food they want. They both commented how they said (before kids) they would NEVER cater to their children and here they are doing it. Oh, I could count the number of things I had said the same thing to and for the ease of parenting did it anyway (Ahem, letting my daughter in my bed). However, when is causes more stress then ease it could be something worth changing.

Part of me wanted to jump in and tell them, “It doesn’t have to be that way.” The other part of me just sat there silently with empathy understanding the struggle is real for a lot of parents. Being over 50% of my clients come to see me for their child that is “picky” I know all too well this is a real struggle in a lot of households. What if there was a better way? What if you could make just ONE meal and everyone could come to the table and do a good job?

If you are catering, you know, it doesn’t make meal time easier and it certainly doesn’t help. Have you ever made exactly what your child wanted only for them to refuse to eat it? How frustrating and stressful that must have felt, right? More work preparing the extra meal, more stress when they refused it!

Children want and need limits. They need lots of opportunities to be independent and practice autonomy, but at the same time they also need to understand they are not in charge. How do we know when they are asking us to set limits though? Wouldn’t it be nice if our children would just say, “Mom and Dad, I don’t want you to give me the choice for dinner tonight, please allow me to pick and chose from what you are eating at the table.” Ha, that would make everything so much easier, but, unfortunately they don’t. When children need limits set, they ask in the most undesirable ways possible….resistance, whining and the epic tantrum.

Now, I’ve practiced the Division of Responsibility of Feeding since the beginning with my daughter, but they doesn’t mean I’m immune to these situations. One thing I have come to learn it that all phases shall pass if I stay consistent in my feeding practices and messages. So, it’s important to give your child autonomy while setting limits.

The best way I can explain this to parents is through a little empathy. Keep in mind, we should be in charge of WHAT to feed them at each meals and snacks. It’s not their job, it’s ours. Since it’s our job to decide the what, we can’t expect our children are always going to run to the table excited to eat what we were in the mood for tonight. Just because I was craving meatloaf and mashed potatoes doesn’t mean that she was. It’s important to have a variety on the table so there is something for everyone to fill up on. My go-to options which are always served on the table are milk and bread and butter. If all else fail your children can have milk and bread and butter (protein, carb and fat)! This is where the autonomy meets setting limits.

Here’s an Example:

Child: “I don’t want meatloaf”

Me: “That’s fine, you don’t have to eat it”

Child: “What am I going to eat (whining)?”

Me: “There is milk, bread and butter, mashed potatoes, strawberries you can fill up on”

Child: “Awww (whining), okay”

In this example, I’m showing I’m in charge. Of course she is testing the limits…it’s her job to do so. I set the limit, BUT allowed her the autonomy to choose what to eat from what is served. It’s an example of being considerate without catering.

I know what you are going to say, but what if she doesn’t eat any protein? Well here is the good news – do you know the average 4yo only needs about 20 grams of protein. Each serving of starch has 3grams, each cup of milk has 8grams, each serving of veggies has 2grams and each 1 ounce of protein has 7grams. It really adds up quickly. One meal without protein isn’t the end of the world.

Finding the balance between setting limits and giving our children autonomy is never easy, but it does start with us being consistent, setting limits and being in charge of what to serve on the table!

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