Monday, October 3, 2016

Chapter 3, It Might Be Possible to Have Peace at Mealtime

Let’s face it, mealtime can really suck. In my house right now, Finnegan and Wyatt have this new issue: Wyatt won’t eat if he’s sitting next to Finnegan and Finnegan will only eat if he is sitting next to Wyatt. It’s been really fun watching Wyatt move a chair away from Finnegan to only have Finnegan then move a chair closer to Wyatt countless times. Tears and whaling screams—that’s how every meal in my house starts right now.

Believe me, I get how hard mealtime is and no matter whether you make the most ultimate log-cabin out of carrot sticks with a spinach roof or cook everything laced with honey, you could still have tears throughout dinner.

However, in attempt to help you reach a few peaceful meals here are some tips and rules that you might find work for your family.
Tip 1: Mealtime Schedule, Rules and Rewards

Mealtime Schedule:
I’ve already talked about a mealtime schedule in Chapter 2, under Rule 2, but let’s get more specific here.

In my house this is our schedule:

Breakfast: Usually served around 6:40AM. My kids have 15 minutes to eat it. I literally set a timer. Once the timer goes off breakfast is over. Otherwise my kids would sit there for an hour whining about their oatmeal being too hot, their juice not cold enough or the fact that their brother looked at them funny, and before you know it, were late for pre-school.

AM Snack: They can have it anytime after breakfast, but see the rules below for when they lose it. In addition, this is the only time they are allowed a sugar snack.

Lunch: Usually served around 11AM

PM Snack: I try to serve it no later than 3PM so it doesn’t affect their hunger levels for dinner.

Dinner: Usually served around 5PM and I’ve been known to set a timer for dinner too.

Bonus snack: Has to be served before they brush their teeth. Once teeth are brushed, kitchen closes. I allow the bonus snack because sometimes my boys are still hungry after dinner. So I let them have peanut butter toast, handful of nuts, dried mangos, frozen raspberries—whatever they want that doesn’t contain refined sugar.

Let’s add a little side bar here on ice cream and deserts. I know I’m horrible mom; my kids aren’t allowed ice cream after dinner. I actually rarely have the frozen goodness in the house so there is no temptation. Sugar consumed right before bed is a bad idea, especially if you are having bedtime battles.
Now, you might be asking yourself, does this crazy mom not allow her kids one of the greatest American treats of all time. I promise, I do. We just go all out when we have it! We make it a special event! Remember I have an exception for special events. Once a week we all pack into the car to head out to the greatest local ice cream shop called Mike’s. In the summer time the lawn is filled with kids balancing their scope on top of their cone while playing tag. Ryan and I always get a brief moment to simply smile at each other and sometimes even get the chance to give him a quick peck on the cheek to show my love. Our ice cream stops are awesome. Find a great local shop and make it a fun ritual in your family’s life! 
Back to mealtime schedule talk, the above times noted are the only time food is consumed in my house. No Exceptions! It’s not always easy to follow. Just the other night, we got home late from gymnastics and I was trying to cook a quick dinner while I had both boys clinging to my legs sobbing and yelling that they had to eat right now or else they’d throw their pirate ship Legos at me and hope that I’d die. My kids are total drama queens when they get hungry. Believe me, I was so tempted to give them something quick, but if I did they weren’t going eat the dinner I was making for them.

There is no right or wrong schedule. Many of you might not get home from work in time to feed your kids by 5PM, that’s fine. Make a schedule that works for you and your family. And you know what – if letting your kid eat desert after dinner works for you – that’s great! Really, don’t change what isn’t broke! I think the most important thing is to be aware of when your kid is eating sugar.

Mealtime Rules and Rewards:

Establishing rules and rewards for mealtime not only creates consistency in your toddler’s life, it also helps you be consistent about what you want to enforce. Target weaknesses in your families eating habits and create some rules that might help.

Problem One # 1 in my house:
The biggest pain in the ass in my house is my boys don’t finish their meals and I’m so tried of fighting with them over this.


I created a consequence for when they don’t finish their plates and a reward for when they do.

Consequences: In my house, if you don’t finish your whole breakfast, you don’t get your AM snack. If you don’t finish your whole lunch, you don’t get your PM snack. If you don’t finish your whole dinner, you don’t get your bonus snack.
And yes, if my child doesn’t finish his breakfast and hence doesn’t get an AM snack, he will be a hungry cranky monster and I still have to hang out with him. Oh well, luckily lunch is only a few hours away and chances are he will finish it pretty easily.

Reward: When my boys do finish their plates we celebrate! I cheer and hug and kiss them. I say, “I’m so proud of you for eating good food. Your body thanks you too!”
I also created a stamp chart. It has seven rows going down and seven boxes going across. I bought these super cool stamps and funky inkpads and they can stamp one square for every meal they finish. When they finish their row, they have two choices: (1) we can go to one of the amazing bakeries in town and buy whatever yummy treat they want. I know, I’m rewarding good eating with a sugar treat, but I can’t deny them the experience of smelling cinnamon cooking and the site of gigantic cookies lined up in the window. Or (2), I have a special box (it’s actually just an old cardboard box that I drew a star on it with a sharpie), and it sits on the top shelf of my closet. It’s full of inexpensive fun toys: the smallest boxes of Legos, little toy cars, mars mud, fake poop and whatever else I can find at the local hobby store. The boys can choose from the box when they finish their row. Pending the small toy, it actually ends up being cheaper than a trip to the bakery.

Problem # 2: Getting my boys to simply come to the dinner table! Why is it so hard? As soon as dinner is served they think it’s time to start taking every toy out and create the ultimate fort with all the pillows in the house.

When breakfast, lunch or dinner is served you have 15 minutes to eat. If you don’t finish your plate in those 15 minutes, you don’t get a stamp. In addition, if said child does not come to the table when the meals are served, said child has to go to his room.
I don’t force my children to eat, but they have to come and sit at the table for 15 minutes. Often these 15 minutes are awful. Wyatt’s favorite trick is to lay flat on his chair with his arms and legs sticking out like Superman. I simply ignore him. If he wants to be hungry for the next few hours, so be it.
Kids have an extremely hard time with transitions. What kid wants to go from playing with his toys to sitting at a boring dinner table? Not many. But I find that when my kids finally get to the table often they start eating.

  • Figure out key problems in your house and try and create some rules/rewards that will hopefully solve the problem or at least alleviate your frustration.
  • Write the new rules and rewards out and tap them to the fridge so that you and your children don’t forget them.

Tip 2: Sit Down Too

Many times I catch myself at the kitchen sink woofing down my oatmeal so I can quickly pack my sons’ lunches, while I make them sit at the table eating their breakfast. First and foremost, it’s really hard to get your toddlers to do something when you don’t do it. Think bike helmet again. If you don’t sit down and show them how to eat, they will never want to. Besides, you owe it to yourself to take a few minutes to slow down. Sit down at the table, take some deep peaceful breaths while ignoring the fact that your four-year-old just spilled his water for the fifth day in a row, and enjoy your breakfast.
I often hear many moms say, I don’t have time to feed myself. Or, I can’t possibly make myself lunch, it’s hard enough just getting the kids lunch together. If this is you, I challenge you to start thinking of yourself as one of your own children. If you had one more child, you wouldn’t not prepare that child’s lunch too. When it gets tough, I often say to myself, I’m the third child and deserve to eat too. And when my boys are screaming at me to finish lunch so I can read to them or play, I say, “It’s important for moms to eat well too. If I don’t eat, I won’t have enough energy to play and I will be cranky all afternoon.”

Sit down and take time to eat. Value your nutrition as much as you value your kids’. All moms need level blood sugar and a full belly to handle toddlers.

Tip 3: Don’t expect much
Have a very low standard of what to expect from your toddlers at mealtime. This way when things do go well, you can be left pleasantly surprised! Really in all seriousness, it’s easy to expect too much out of our toddlers. It is impossible to get a toddler to sit perfectly still at dinnertime and eat every single bite on his plate and then delicately whip his mouth and say, “Thank you mom for making in incredible meal.” That’s not going to happen ever.
Think of each mealtime as a movie and you have no idea how it will end. It could be a comedy, a thriller, or sadly a tearjerker. Try to enjoy each movie for what it is. I have a friend that tries to write down one funny line her toddler says every day on a scrape of paper and merely throws it in a draw. Sometimes these one-liners end up on her Facebook page and they often come from mealtime and have everyone dying laughing. And many times, these one-liners were probably not funny at the time, but rather a result of a very miserable moment that when looking back on it you cherish the humor in it. Remember that even in our worst moments as parents, we can find humor. During mealtime take a deep breath, be prepared for the worst, and merely try to laugh it off.
In addition, toddlers can sense our frustration and often replicate them. If you are frustrated and mad at every meal, your toddler will be too. If you can be relaxed and easy going, you might find your toddler joining you in this quasi-happy state.

Don’t expect to have perfect meals where everyone is happy and polite. Try to enjoy the chaos.

Tip 4: YouTube it!

YouTube just became your best friend. If you don’t know how to cook something, YouTube and watch and learn. I really struggle with a lot of cookbooks. Honestly, they assume I know too much. I have no idea what braising, and I don’t care! Just tell me how to cook the darn chicken. And that’s what YouTube does. I had no idea how to cook a whole chicken, but after a quick five minutes on YouTube I was ready to go, and since my family is still alive, I know I didn’t poison them!

If this book ever takes off, I promise to post a bunch of videos of me cooking dinner with my two boys in the background trying to kill each other.

If you ever have a question how to cook something, simply YouTube it. After a quick video you will be all set.

Tip 5: Find a good grocery store

Here in Hood River we have a store called Mother’s Market and it’s a true gem. Not only do they carry really healthy food, they have the best green smoothie and juice bar. Ginger and wheat shots all around! My sons get a juice that taste like lemonade that contains a shot of wheat grass and they love it! Most importantly, the people who work there are incredibly knowledgeable and love sharing healthy tips. When I found out Wyatt was allergic to the world, it was the people in this store that held my hand while I re-learned how to feed my family.

I wish every town in the world had a Mothers store. Sadly, I know this isn’t the case. Too few people have access to incredibly good and healthy food. Even Whole Foods is a pathetic store compared to Mothers. Last time I walked into a Whole Foods I was applaud at how everything short of the vegetables was laced with sugar. Even if it’s organic sugar, it’s still sugar!

Explore your town and try and find a local market that aims to provide you with the best food.

Tip 6: Get Creative

Please don’t shiver if you’re not the creative type. Start thinking of what interests your kids. If your kids love magic, start calling your smoothies potions. If your kid likes dinosaurs, start telling them that collards and spinach was T-Rex’s favorite food. If your kids like Princesses, tell them that Cinderella ate carrots every day because it helped her sing better. If your kid is into soccer, tell her that all professional soccer players eat a full serving of broccoli once a week to ensure they can kick the ball super far. If you are serving black beans, line them up and make the beans look like a train, the broccoli like trees and the sweet potatoes like mountains. Okay – so some of you might be saying that I’m telling you to lie to your kids. Well, I don’t think I am. Who knows what T-Rex’s favorite food really was? And eating lots of vegetables is very healthy and will make everyone perform better, even soccer players and singers.

Tip 7: Change is hard

Change is hard for adults and really hard for kids. Know that any change you make to your child’s diet will be really tough and a sure way to create a tiny monster. Remember, decreasing the amount of sugar your child eats and increasing the amount of vegetables is a really good change and worth doing.

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