Yet another yummy lunch…

…of which she’ll eat, like, ten percent. My money’s on the apple sauce, maybe a nibble of cheese (picture a “Honey I Shrunk the Mouse”–sized rodent), maybe part of one cracker, and if it’s a good day, she opened the carrot bag.

Goddess only knows what regulates her appetite. The beloved and I have given up trying to understand the erratic little vehicle that is her taste, and instead attempt merely to steer it in generally healthy directions. We offer her balanced options, and try to remember what a wise friend once told us: over the course of a week or two, she’ll have checked in at all the major food groups for a visit.

We’re beginning to accept that unless we strap her to her chair and ram it into her, we’re just not going to see all the major food groups get into her body in one day. We remain unwilling to dangle a “treat” at the other end of the healthy food, even if it is a humane alternative to bondage at the dinner table. We are fatiguing under the strain, over the long haul, of not using an inducement (so convenient! so sure-fire!), but we continue to hold fast. We want to do our little part to reduce the aura of specialness around sugar, a heavyweight drug right up there with caffeine and TV, neither of which we’re looking to use as rewards, either. Ask me in another year, though, and I may have to concede that we have a whole stock of Wonka bars in the pantry that are pressed into use nightly as bribes for her to finish her brussels sprouts.

Meanwhile, I do think there are some noticable benefits to our not being dominatrices about her eating everything we dish her up. So far, she hasn’t lost the ability to tune into her natural feeling of “fullness.” Because we don’t insist she finish her plate of food at home (I comfort myself by thinking), she doesn’t feel compelled to do so anywhere else, either. Time and again, she is the only kiddle at the preschool to push away from the table with a 3/4 eaten cupcake. ‘Cause she’s just full, that’s all. And it’s not like the sugar food has been reinforced as the fun stuff that’s a reward. So far, I’ll take that as a tiny win.

Then again, it could also be that she simply doesn’t have the taste for it. Her brother’s eating habits are already very clearly taste driven, in a mega-carnivorous direction. I fear for us if we stop to get out and stretch on any drive through cattle country. I picture him now, trotting through the field towards the biggest heifer he can find, bib tucked into his little shirt and blunt little plastic fork and knife in each hand.

I rummage around RookieMoms for rays of light to guide me. This site (which also has a blog), is done by two infinitely inventive local gals, one of whom was in the beloved’s “mom’s group.” (We took to calling that group her “Hetero Mom’s Group,” by the way, to distinguish it from the posse of lesbo parents we’ve met with ever since we found ourselves in the same queer gal childbirth education class.) Funny thing about Berkeley, there were three lesbo mums in that “hetero” mom’s group, out of a total of I think nine gals. So “hetero” was a bit of a misnomer. Or it was hetero as in heterogenous, or mixed: both hetero and lesbo mums. But here I’m getting us all tangled up in terminology and really what I wanted to do was lament about the pressing (if Sisyphusian) challenge of preparing my daughter a tempting lunch box.

Some time back, Rookie Moms had a post about a woman who made lunchboxes suitable for display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or perhaps even the Smithsonian. The idea is that the kids respond positively to the visual splendor, about which I have no doubt. I would. But I have fruitlessly (no pun intended) tried to find the post at RM. Instead, I get sidetracked onto various other posts about how to fix food for your kiddles that they just might eat. For instance Snacks For Toddlers. I’m kind of hoping I don’t find the Kid’s Lunch Box as Work of Art post, though, because I worry that every morning thereafter, when I stare at the intimidating blank canvas of our daughter’s lunchbox, I will wither under the pressure. I could resort to copying the masters. Maybe some of my favorite SF Museum of Modern Art pieces. A Jackson Pollack thing, maybe, with catsup and pesto splattered all over a backdrop of cheese? Or a take-off on Robert Rauschenberg’s “White Painting” thing, only with yogurt.

Needless to say, I’ve asked her directly. “Sweetie, is there anything on God’s Green Earth you might be tempted to eat, if I put it in your lunch box?” That just got a little chuckle out of her.

Then I tried a slightly more helpful question. “When you’re at preschool, and you see the other kids eating things, is there anything WHATSOEVER that looks good to you?” Of course she had been eyeballing the vittles in the box of the Big Dog at school, a personage she pretty much ID’ed in the first few weeks. Let’s call her “Canis Major” (not her real name).

Canis Major has stuff that I like.”

I’m all excited: hope is on the horizon! “What does Canis Major eat, sweetie?”


Insert your favorite game show “Loser!” buzzer sound here. Not like I don’t love sushi like the next urban sophisticate. I just can’t assemble it. Or let’s say, I’m not sure how I can fit sushi assemblage lessons into my busy schedule just yet.

In the spirit of one of the hundred-plus bright ideas I’m getting from the LD Reader Survey, I will end this lament with a question, to better foster some back n’ forth with you all bright lights (even though I know the gal who proposed more dialog was thinking Bigger Thoughts than just eating habits). Yet and still. If you have known kids who are Air Ferns like the lil’ monkey, how in the Sam Hill did/do you get them to eat anything?

22 thoughts on “Yet another yummy lunch…”

  1. Our eldest eats EVERYTHING. He would prefer mounds of veggies to meat but he will eat some meat because he knows that protein is important. This is the kid that will go to our local cafe and beg for friends’ sides of greens. For about three years, we deluded enough to believe that his eating habits were a result of exceptional parenting. Yes, you may begin laughing now. When did we realize that our parenting wasn’t so great? Yes, when our second child was born. Last night, she burst into tears at the thought of having to eat a veggie burger! I’ve said this before but…we are living with Jack Sprat and his wife.

    I have no advice other than keep trying. Where did I read that a child has to taste something 11 times before they get used to it and can then like it? I might have made it up. Point is…just keep trying. Our daughter is now eating salad which I never thought possible. Miracles do happen.

  2. Vegan Lunch box by Jennifer McCann, maybe?
    Dana over at Mombian recommended it.

    I looked at your lunchbox somewhat incredulously. Every kid here eats the same at lunch: bread of any variety, with cheese or meat, or vegetarian spread of any variety. I wouldn’t even dare contemplate giving her a pasta salad for lunch. I might give that a try though and see what happens.

    Our paed always repeats the same mantra: does she eat, does she sleep, is she happy? Upon which we always answer ‘yee-ees?’. Her answer invariably is always the same: “So why are you worried?”.

    We can’t complain: empty lunchbox every day and she eats the weirdest stuff with gusto.

  3. Miracle of miracles! I can login and comment again!!! Ah, LD, how I have missed you and your wonderful commenting community.

    I think I read a lovely post somewhere, perhaps linked from ParentHacks?, about beautiful bento box lunches for little ones.

    And like Vikki, I have read the claim, apparently based in science, that people generally begin to like foods that they initially disliked after 10-15 exposures. Having had a strong aversion to vinegar my entire adolescent and adult life, I can say that I am much more able to politely choke down salad with dressing now than I was as a teenager. Like is still too strong, though. 🙂

  4. We have two wives and one Jack, with one baby still defying categorisation. Though just to confuse things, the baby that eats like a wife, looks like a Jack.
    They’ve all had the same homecooked baby food which has introduced them to a variety of tastes and textures, yet seem quite different in their approaches to eating.
    Both older kids go through marked phases of feasting, then growing, then off food a bit (off food for say a month at a time). 2 still snacks lots in the afternoon rather than eating a proper evening meal.
    We sit down together for meals, minimise distractions/ interuptions and try not to force anything on them we know they don’t like. Their tastes are different to ours.
    We still puree sauces at times to hide vegetables, and allow small amounts of convenience foods.
    If she’s healthy and growing fine I wouldn’t worry. Palates change and develop. We encourage the ideas that tastes change; trying different things is important; favourites and less-liked are de rigeur and ‘you’ll like this when you’re a grown up’ has borne results a few times. It’s worked so far. Ours always eat when they’re hungry and always have a good breakfast.

  5. You might also take heart in knowing that the appetite of a preschool aged child is frequently very small. Their stomach is about as big as their little fist. So appearing to eat almost nothing is fine and normal. If she gets a morning snack even if it happens a while before lunch she might just not be hungry when official lunchtime comes around. Also – 75% of preschool aged kids show compulsive behavior around food.

    The above was said while wearing my Phd in child development hat. 🙂

  6. We have always had very picky eaters. Middle child went through a long stage where she would eat nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches – and she would literally pick the cheese out of the bread to eat it (she refused to eat the bread). Then she would only eat meat that had no resemblance to real meat (chicken nuggets, fish sticks, etc). Thankfully, she’s grown out of that now. In fact, during one of our camping trips, she put away 2 multi-adult-sized pork steaks. I have no idea where she put them.

    Don’t worry. She’ll eventually be eating you out of your house. Enjoy this while it lasts :o)

  7. don’t sweat it. the lil’ monkey won’t allow herself to starve. provide her with a variety of balanced, healthy foods. she will eat enough to satisfy her needs (full tummy, nutrients for growing). the less of a deal that is made of it, the fewer food issues she will have to contend with. good luck. 🙂

  8. I’m with JennyJ all the way. Stop fussing, begging, cajoling and the like – sooner or later food will turn into a power struggle if it hasn’t allready, if you keep that attitude.
    My granmother always said about her picky dog: I’ve never seen a dog starve to death with any kind of food around, and I fearlessly applied that when we had kids. So I serve a number of healthy dishes and let them eat. When they leave the table, its over. They know they cannot graze between meals, except on fruit, and only to a limited extent.
    So, the practical part: serve something for dinner that you will enjoy, sit down, have a cosy mealtime, and butt out of what she is actually eating. Don’t put anything on her plate, tell her to ask you for what she wants, pass it, and then get on with your own meal and chatting. Ask her about her day.
    The lunch box: as it is now, with different things and variations from day to day. Leftovers are usually nice. Maybe a little meat, if she likes it? The one displayed looks very carb-heavy to me.
    We limited the access to fruit. They have to ask before taking, say, a pear, and if they want one right before dinner, we’ll go – No, you can have it after, if you want it then. Anything that is limited, as you know, will take on a special aura.
    You really should just relax. Unless this becomes a power struggle (which could make her cut off her nose to spite her face) she WILL take care of her own needs (I knew a girl who starved herself in front of her parents, and they were worried sick. But she ate like a horse in daycare to compensate).
    If the only choices she has are healthy, how could her diet go wrong? Her appetite really will take care of it – and on that score, too, you have done well in not having her empty the plate. We did that too, and I sometimes get handed the remaining 20 % of an ice cream with the words “I’m full” just like you do.
    I give my kids supplements, though – a multivitamin/minerals-supplement, extra vitamin D, because we live in a nordic country, and fish-oil in capsules (we call it brain-oil – my husband is a biologist/research chemist, and he says the prevalence of mental illness and learning disabilities today is related to a lack of essentialt oils, which make up the better part of the brain).
    And, you know, look at her. She seems to radiate with health and joy in the photos. She prefers to dance and sing rather than slouch in the sofa. Whatever you are doing, it can’t be all wrong.

  9. Here are a few of those lunchbox sites…now I just need a Mum to come make them for ME!

    Lunch in a Box:
    Great photos, good ideas for portions, and although she apparently has mad bento-making SKILLZ, she shows you the tricks of the trade, combo ideas, ideas for dips (does yours like to dip things?), etc.

    and the infamous Bento Box!

    Uh…yeah… right. And hello, a little OCD on the tupperware organization there, no? But there are some great ideas in there. Little gyozas from a bag (hello Trader Joe’s), lots of things to dip or layer, and the fact that some things that would taste hideous to us (think tomato sauce and cheese on pita) turns into a mini-pizza for them. If you make the tomato sauce yourself (blender, some peppers, zucchinis, other veggies) she’s getting some vegetables in there! So think of those sites as more of a buffet for options than a recipe book.

    But really, *any* rewards around food can quickly turn into A Quagmire To End All Quagmires. Any kind of reward (sugar or otherwise) does seem to make food itself into this thing to be controlled and monitored. And we all know how little young people figure out where the battlegrounds are going to be (what? you don’t care if I wear one pink sock and one brown sock, but you care how many carrots I ate? Hmmm….) OK, who are we kidding, if one more person asks if I ate the entire bag of Pirate Booty sitting on my desk, I’m going to ask THEM for a food diary! Point being, it’s not just the young uns who hate this 🙂
    Speedy lunch manifesto:

    I think you’re totally right to think of it as a “two week meal plan” rather than each day — she’ll figure out her likes and dislikes, and you’ll go from there. She’s so darned cute and so obviously glowy that you’re doing something right!

    Oh last thing, as for sushi. There are these little sushi balls you can make instead of fussy rolls. Think one big handheld sushi rather than little fiddly things. They’re called Onigiri and there are lots of recipes online – easy to make and you don’t have to use fish as a filling. You could use some scrambled egg, veggies, whatever!
    She has a recipe for Onigiri for kids and lunch boxes:

    Take that Big Dawgette!

  10. I was also going to suggest perhaps vegan lunch box, which someone already mentioned above. My partner also sent me a flickr set yesterday here: with pictures of the really amazing bento boxes someone makes… There is much evidence on flickr of the great amount of time some people put into making beautiful meals for transport (search for bento) some ideas of which might be applicable even for those of us who are stretched for time.

    Good luck.

  11. Wow! This has all been so helpful! I am renewed! Jam-packed with optimism and crafty ideas! Wow! See? Power of Isis!

    I am now just about practically almost completely reassured that we won’t find, in some doctor’s exam when she’s 17 years old and just about on her own, that she has been suffering all her young life from some critical undernourishment that will have been behind her depressed college entrance exam scores and her overall sense of hope and well-being. I am totally slipping fish oil into her milk tonight when we do Books n’ Milk.

  12. Dude, I was so going to suggest lunch in a but someone beat me to it… I strongly second that recommendation.

    as for eating… Sassa is also very inconsistent with what she’ll eat. One night we took her for Indian food and she ate an entire adult’s entree. We don’t know where all the food went. The next time we went there, she drank tamarind chutney and that was it, ate nothing else that night. We just mentally tossed our hands in the air and passed the dhal around.

    We’re also really happy that Sassa still listens to her internal fullness sensor. Some days she barely eats anything, other days she’s a bottomless pit. We figure her body knows better than us what amount of food it needs in a day.

  13. Another random thought, about the peculiarity of little people’s eating habits. We call Noah’s daily eating pattern “tanking up.”

    For breakfast at home, he’ll happily eat 2 or 3 cartons of yogurt, a piece of fruit (or 2, or 3), and peanut butter on whole wheat toast.

    Then we take him to day care, where they say, “Do you you want breakfast?” and he runs joyfully to the dining area to devour whatever they’re serving.

    At least on the weekends, lunch is fairly light, and dinner not much more substantial than lunch.

  14. oh! Sassa does that same thing, Liza! In the mornings we feed her breakfast (quite often a huge bowl of oatmeal and some fruit and maybe some bacon or sausage) and then she gets another breakfast at Daycare. How much breakfast she eats really does have an effect on how much food she eats the rest of the day.

    She’s like a hobbit. Breakfast, then second breakfast. On weekends the parent lucky enough to sleep in gets to sleep in AT LEAST until after Sassa’s had second breakfast.

  15. Yepp! Well said jennyj and ullalauridsen! Even though I dont have kids of my own that seems to me the smartest way of getting them to grow up actually thinking of food as a good thing and enjoying it. Because food IS a great and if you, as a child, dont experience bribes and/or other bs around the dinnertable I think you have a pretty good chance of growing a healthy relationship to healthy food. I ,too, haven t heard of any 3 year olds starving themselves. I believe that kind of behavior has to be proceeded by lots of fuss around the whole food issue. So dont fuss about it and everything will work out just fine!

  16. This is my favorite subject, as you know (remember that horrid baloon picture?). So I thought some more, and remembered that when the kids were small, my husband and I both had raving appetites, so when the kids seemed to loose interest in their plates, we would, quite without guile, lean over and hopefully ask: are you done? Can I have that? That actually made the kids think of food as a precious ressource they had better guard. You have to look out for the less than two year old, by the way – they may, from a lack of foresight and the goodness of their hearts, offer you their food, even if they could eat it themselves.
    Another thought: almonds and nuts (hazel, cashew etc.) are nutritionally great. They are packed with protein, fiber and the right kinds of fats. They are easy to store and bring along, too. My kids have small jars with assorted nuts stashed a school, for the occational bout of hunger. Just a few – maybe five for a three year old – is a filling, healthy snack, and it’s rare to meet a child that doesn’t like them.

  17. Fussy eaters suck. I put my mom through hell. Now I’m paying the price! The ten year old is worse than I ever was. When she’s hungry, LOOK OUT. She eats, and she’s rail thin.

    Come to think of it, that’s how I was! She’s not biologically mine, but go figure. She has so many of my mannerisms, it’s unreal. Damn.

    Great site. I’ve meant to visit sooner, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Now I’m all registered and ready to go. And just think, I merely MODERATE my comments. BAH!

  18. Hi LD – your het mom’s group friend here 🙂

    I think at some point, I probably linked to, but honestly, I don’t remember. The links that your other posters put up are so much fun, I don’t think you need me! I LOVE the flickr pictures of the artistic lunchboxes.
    Julian (Monkey’s age – 3.5) is also picky and sort of a non-eater. Except for Life cereal. He could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have gone as far as telling him he was having something new for dinner called “pollo” which he refused to try and then at the end of dinner as we were playing some ridiculous bargaining game (which admittedly only heightens the tension around food) to get him to eat it, he looked at us and asked in a terribly sad voice, “Is it chicken?” (Damn bilingual preschool.) “I don’t like chicken!” he reminded us. Duh.
    Anyway, my point to share is that although I love the adorable presentation of food as shapes and animals, I feel especially frustrated if I take the time to do that (using small cookie cutters) and he won’t eat it, so I think it’s not a great strategy. It has worked a few times, but more often backfired.
    Rather than tell you that we should relax or whatever, I’ll just be honest that it is comforting to read that someone else’s kid won’t eat. I don’t know if a bento box can change their behavior. Keep me posted if Lil’ Monkey goes for it.

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