My oldest daughter has been on a dinner strike for almost two years now. We thought that when she turned 4 she’d get over it, like her big sister did. But four came, and is almost gone and the dinner strike continues.
It doesn’t matter what I make for dinner – Asian style ginger grilled trout with crispy leeks served over jasmine rice – or a simple bean and cheese burrito (Both of my daughter’s favorite food since birth). Dinner always goes the same way with my youngest.
“Yuck. I don’t like this.”
“You’ve never tried it, how do you know you don’t like it. Just try one bite.” (Or, “but it’s your favorite, you asked for it…”)
Tears. Lots of tears.
“Just try one bite, it won’t kill you… (But I might).”
“EAT YOUR DINNER NOW!!!”
More tears. Lots more tears.
“Fine, don’t eat. Go to bed.”
Even more tears. This time half of them are mine.
At some point she takes a bite, then two, then three until she’s eaten enough to satisfy her evil overlord parents and their desires for a healthy child.
Well, I have to say this diner scenario is beyond old, beyond frustrating, beyond enraging. The fact that it persists two years after it has begun is beyond imagining and calls into question ALL of my parenting. (We mothers LOVE guilt and yes, we believe that it’s all our fault so please – don’t remind us. We feel bad enough already.)
So, the other night my husband and I sat down to talk about the dinner strike. It was time to end it. Making special meals for our youngest hadn’t worked. Pleading hadn’t worked, begging, bribing, and the latest – screaming DEFINITELY hadn’t worked. So what?
That’s when I remembered a story I read back when I was a kid – and was smart enough to still have on my shelf. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. In this book there is a story about a boy who takes only the tiniest of bites and eats very slowly. His parents don’t know what to do. They go to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in desperation. She offers them this solution:
She gives them a set of the “slow-eater-tiny-bite-taker dishes and tells them to start with the largest set and serve him only portions that fit the dishes, working their way down to the smallest set.
By the fourth meal the young boy is being served on a plate the size of a penny, a cup that holds a single drop, a fork the size of a sewing needle and a spoon the size of a pin head. His mother serves him a grain of egg, two toast crumbs with two raspberry seeds from the jam and a drop of milk. He’s so tired from not eating that he can barely life the needle sized fork, yet he still cuts the grain of egg in two before eating one piece of it. Just then Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle calls to remind him that it is his turn to exercise her spotted pony. He is too weak to do it properly and finally his mother has the leverage she needs to convince him to eat at a normal pace.
Well, my daughter eats just fine – except when it comes to dinner. We’ve tried cutting her off food after lunch (skipping afternoon snacks) but that just got us a VERY cranky four-year old who was too exhausted to eat her dinner.
Still, I thought, perhaps Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had a point.
So, now every night we make our youngest daughter her plate with exactly one small bite of everything. Tonight it was one pad Thai noodle, one bite of broccoli, one small piece of chicken, one small sliver of red bell pepper, and one half of a snow pea. The first thing she said when we gave her her plate was, “why did I only get a little food?”
“So you know you have to eat all of it and you don’t have to ask.”
It still took a couple of reminders to eat, not sing. Eat, not dance. Eat, not tell ghost stories. BUT dinner did get eaten, and there were no tears – from her, or me!
She also knows that once she has finished her first serving she can ask for more of anything she liked. Last night she asked for more steak and more artichoke. She didn’t have to force down any more potato though, she’d already had her one small bite.
So – here’s to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle aka Betty MacDonald, for helping yet another desperate parent in a time of need. This wasn’t the first time I’ve turned to you for parental guidance, nor will it be the last. I only wish that I was more like you and that when my parental wisdom ran out I too could fall back on magical potions and powders like the Tattle-Tale cure, or the Interrupters cure. But I suppose even when you had to resort to magic you mixed in a healthy pinch of good old-fashioned folk wisdom too, I’ll just have to read those stories again to find it.