Wits’ End

I have reached the end of my wits with the Boy. Dinner has been a battleground for over a year and I am so very tired of it. Just tired. Breakfast is not a battle. Lunch is not a battle. Dinner is always a battle, every single night. Food he loves, food he’s okay with, food he’s never had – doesn’t matter. Time of night doesn’t matter – 5pm? 6:30pm? 7pm? Doesn’t make a difference. It will take him upwards of 2 hours to eat dinner and that’s WITH us telling him every few minutes to take a bite. Bribes worked for a little over a month – telling him that if he ate all his dinner, he could have a gold dubloon (chocolate coins in the gold wrappers). Even that isn’t working any more. I have reached the end. I feel like I’m running out of options, except the ones I don’t like and I might have to go with those. I am TRYING to get that child to gain weight and it is NOT working. But if nothing else is working, I feel like I have two options left:

Give him a reasonable amount of time – maybe 45 minutes? – to eat his dinner. After that, I am taking it away. If he tells me he is hungry later, he can have his food back. I haven’t decided if I will bother to warm it up for him or not. Temperature doesn’t seem to matter to him either, although he periodically tells me something is too hot when it is barely lukewarm. I think that’s just a toddler thing though, another way to procrastinate. My parents took this route with me at some point, but I think I was older than he is now. They did it on the advice of my pediatrician. I don’t know what I think of this.

My other option that I see is simply to be all “alright, you’re done, you can go play but you get no food the rest of the evening”. The problem with that one is that sometimes we eat fairly early, like 5:00pm, and he doesn’t go to bed until 8:30pm and most mornings he doesn’t wake up until 7:00am or later. That’s nearly 15 hours without food, and that’s not really okay either. Sending him to bed essentially without dinner because he won’t eat turns my stomach.

In both cases I feel like I’m falling into the “he’ll eat when he’s hungry” camp and I don’t like it there. I refer to that as “starving my kid”. Why? Because he tells me a lot “I’m really hungry AGAIN” and then I give him food and he doesn’t eat it. That’s what he told us last night while Aaron was making dinner…and then he didn’t eat it. I don’t want food to be a battleground because I don’t want to instill a hatred of food (because it means fights and nagging and crying). By the same token, the child NEEDS TO EAT. If he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t gain weight. If he doesn’t gain weight, his clothes don’t fit. He’s currently in 3T because his 2T fell apart and they are a little tight…but the 3T are too big in waist AND they are too long, but there’s no point in getting him more 2T clothes that he’s going to grow out of soon (theoretically). I know that both of my nephews were 48# when they were 2 and they stayed at that weight until they were 5, but they were growing taller so it made sense. I don’t think the Boy is even growing taller at this point.

Do any of you have other options that I am not seeing? I know, all children have their battlegrounds. This is ours, but it’s one I’m no longer willing to fight. Food has actually been a big thing for us most of his life. I’m tired. Aaron is tired. We’re frustrated because we can’t solve this. I don’t want to be the parent who sends their child to bed without dinner – that seems harsh, and like it should be reserved for something bigger. I”m not making him a special meal – this child would live on mac and cheese if he could, and I know that I lived on balogna and cheese sandwiches for many months when I was his age, but it doesn’t seem HEALTHY to do that – just because he won’t eat. If he didn’t like it that would be one thing, but he does this even with foods he loves. I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t do this with the mac and cheese! Help!!!!

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  1. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    Is he just not hungry at dinner? Best option I can think of is make sure he’s getting a full balanced breakfast and lunch, and good snacks, and let dinner slide. Make sure you have at least one food he likes at dinner, but don’t force the issue.

    Hearty breakfast, midmorning snack, hearty lunch, midafternoon snack, dinner (whatever he eats in 30 min, and then quit), and pre-bed snack. He’ll be ok.

    • I hoped you’d chime in. I know you are VERY familiar with eating issues and..yeah. Thank you. I passed the info on to Aaron to see what he thinks. I am mostly certain that he gets a balanced lunch (it’s almost always at daycare), and good snacks (I’ve seen what he gets fed). Breakfast is usually cereal and milk because I know he’ll eat it!

      • I went and looked it up for you … At 3 kids need 46 cal/lb/day .. and at 4 it drops down to 41 cal/lb. So for a 35 lbs kid it’s 1600 ish at 3 … but drops down to 1430 at 4. (Sliding scale, obviously, and individual needs vary.) I always found it helpful to know about what they “should” get to help me chill. (That said – my 3 year old gets nowhere near 1600 and grows on air alone it seems.)

        Cereal is good and nicely fortified. Put some toast and pb on the side and some fruit and you’re probably good. Toss in a multi-vitamin to cover the bases. If he is *really* not growing at all, there’s always pediasure and instant breakfast and other such things.

      • You. madam, are awesome! I can probably get him to do fruit after the cereal but toast and peanut butter are highly suspect to him. I can do a multi-vit, since he likes “candy” and we have the gummy ones. 🙂

  2. I think you’ve gotten about the best advice you can get. If you do end up trying meal substitutes, keep feeding him normally along with them and he’ll gain. Abby kept sneaking Grammy’s ‘chocolate milk’ (sometimes my mom can’t eat solid food) last summer and wouldn’t fit in her pants by the end of vacation.

    • He used to eat “chocolate breakfast” which were those fiber one bars – lots of protein, and coated with chocolate and he’d eat them. Suddenly, he started refusing them and they were his favorite. I have been unable to successfully get him to eat them again. We were also doing the Carnation Instant Breakfast stuff for a while, after we got him off of formula, to help him get the calories he needed, but then he was so full from that that I couldn’t get him to eat anything for lunch!!

  3. Is he growing normally otherwise? I know a kid who was not eating and not growing. The two are linked in both directions. Getting him to eat was a battle at every meal. It’d take hours to feed him, bite by bite, and then he’d upchuck and he’d have to be fed again and by the time that was done it was coming up to time to start the next meal…

    Eventually, he tested borderline low for HGH. He agreed to start HGH shots. And with that… he was suddenly willing to eat. His body had gotten instructions to grow, and that triggered hunger. He’s still pretty finnicky about what he’ll eat, but he actually does eat now. And he’s growing faster.

    No idea if that’s what’s up with your Boy, but it may be something worth looking into. Even if it’s not HGH, a hormonal imbalance or something could be affecting his appetite.

    Or he could just be a fussy, willful toddler. That happens a lot, too.

    • He’s not stunted, no. He’s on the short end but the docs aren’t worried. And he doesn’t have CVS, so that’s good. No puking. Just not eating dinner.

  4. My niece didn’t eat dinner for about a year at that age. Her parents bulked up breakfast, lunch, and snacks to compensate. At dinner they put her plate out, encouraged her to eat, and then cleaned up when they were done. I think she had to try a bite of everything, but that was all. Eventually she grew out of it and started eating on a normal schedule again.

    • It’s been like this for over a year but all the things we’ve tried have worked. They just…aren’t working any more. And his eating therapist that he had, who also works at his preschool, doesn’t see it…because it’s not dinner.

  5. The only other option I can think of is to front-load calories into lunch since it isn’t a battle, and make dinner more of a snacking/grazing experience. And then have there be a goal: “when you can eat a full meal at the table, we’ll know that you’re old enough to take to X.” But it could just be that he associates that meal with the end of the day, which is the end of playtime, and he just doesn’t want to dedicate the time to eating when there are other things he wants to be doing. Whereas lunch and breakfast come at a time when he knows the rest of the day is still stretched out before him.


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