Fun with meals

For the past few weeks since Christmas, I’ve been doing a point-system for my three older kids at meal time.  They were all to take a teaspoon of each food (at the minimum) unless if the dish had gluten (for my gluten-free oldest son).  If they tasted that teaspoon they’d get one point.  If they ate the whole teaspoon they’d get two points.  If they asked for more, they’d get three points.  There’s no penalty for not tasting the food, but you don’t get a point, obviously.

Now, you might be thinking, “A TEASPOON?  What kind of ridiculously small amount is that?”  You certainly have a point.  But, I have to be very cautious about too much stress at the meal table lest eldest son revert to the crazy loss of self-control he used to exhibit a couple years ago when it just even came to something SMELLING wrong on the table.  So, I’m starting small and I’m keeping expectations even for simplicity’s sake.  I most definitely could get away with making my daughter and second son take more and comply with tasting/eating everything, but for various reasons, the above set-up just “felt” right.  For instance, sometimes I think it stresses eldest son out to be singled out (inevitably due to his special considerations), so this takes attention off of him.

When they had accumulated 20 points, I went out to the dollar store and grabbed something for each of them.  My daughter has sinced earned two more prizes (the number of points you have to accumulate keeps rising), but the boys have not.  They do continue to get points, but just at a slower pace since they don’t as often eat the whole thing or ask for more like she does.

We started level two yesterday.  In level two, you have to take two bites to earn your point.  Being that eldest son has diagnosed oral issues, he just has to do two licks (for a liquid like soup or a smoothie) or two nibbles, but I want the other two taking decent bites.

Here’s what I’ve concluded so far:

Eldest son has seemed VERY on-edge and more stressed out for the past couple weeks.  I’m hoping that it’s more contributed to the transition from vacation to back-to-school than because of the meal point system, but he has voiced displeasure about it (although mildly, in my opinion) a few times.

I, however, am having fun with it.  I find that I am highly motivated to make new things, so we’ve had many nice meals and I’m not afraid like I used to be about the repercussions.  Yesterday I even got away with serving a tuna casserole, which two years ago would have met with eldest son kicking walls, shouting at us, and the like all because the smell set him off.

I’ve been reading some good books, like “The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution.”  Years ago I’d read Elizabeth Pantley’s “No- Cry Sleep Solution” book.  Her detailed, incremental plan was really helpful for us with our baby daughter, so I was very excited to discover the picky eater book and devoured it.  🙂  I found a few ideas that I found interesting and some information that shed good light on the subject.  I also had many thoughts reinforced.  The “two bite” idea came from that book.

I think the main thing is to avoid stress at meal times.  Pretty much every “expert” I’ve ever read on this subject says that meals are not the times to fight battles about food.  Do what you can (without becoming a short-order cook) to keep meal-time pleasant.  If that means that your child chooses not to eat much of the meal, so be it.  Try to make conversation the pleasurable element.  If they know that another opportunity to eat will come up soon, they shouldn’t be so edgy about what’s on the table.  I know this really won’t work for some moms who feel strongly about the meal they’ve made getting consumed a.s.a.p. (and achieve their desired result), but that hasn’t worked for me and I know that there are other families out there in my same boat.  So, Pantley suggests serving a bedtime snack (good carbohydrates without too many simple sugars) to actually induce better sleep.  That was interesting news to me.  I have NOT been a bedtime snack server.

Anyway, most experts believe that many children will actually decide to eat some of the less-desired food simply because their stress level is reduced by the knowledge of another chance to eat coming soon.  Reverse psychology?

I look forward to a time (hopefully soon) where my children will look forward to meal time ESPECIALLY because we’re trying something new.  I want them to feel that foods are adventurous and exciting, and to fully understand that it’s ok not to like something.  I want them to be comfortable with the idea that you can eat something you don’t like and BE OK.  Tasting might be slightly uncomfortable, but once it’s swallowed, it’s gone–and you’re still alive–go figure!  It’s not that they have no grasp of this concept now, but I’m looking for much more progress, for some of them more so than others.

I also recognize that most children are picky, and the “No-Cry Picky Eater Solution” helped me understand that in many scenarios it’s biological and developmental.  Some children are born adventurous when it comes to food, and many are not.  A big part of it has to do with taste buds.  Certainly parental approach has a role, but there are parents who honestly believe they’ve raised multiple kids with the same approach at meal time and have very different responses from their kids about foods.  There’s the biology aspect for you.

We also are strongly considering getting back to feeding therapy.  Our son’s therapists recommended early last spring that it go on the backburner, but in light of him needing to now be on a 4-day diet rotation, they’ve reevaluated and are hoping to help us expedite this process.  I’d love to do this on my own and save thousands of dollars, but I understand that there are many physiological and behavioral factors that I don’t have the specialized training for.  We do need to make a decision about the therapy–it’s just a bit overwhelming right now when we’re also needing to buy a different vehicle and trying to settle into a routine with a new baby.

So in the meantime, I enjoy figuring out what’s going on the table at our next meal, and waiting to see who will try what and how many points they’ll end up with.  Maybe my system won’t sit well with many of you moms out there, but if it helps my kids (or anyone else’s), I’ll be thrilled!

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