Eating Toddlers

by doodaddy on February 23, 2009


On a rare eating day. If you count a cup of whipped cream at Starbucks ‘eating’

Now that you mention it, getting a 3-year old to eat can be really tough. Some say not to try: I know a nursery school teacher who calls kids this age “freshairitarians.” Another friend of mine went all Dr. Spock on my ass and told me not to force it: Boo will eat what she needs to when she needs to and will get hungry when she gets hungry.

Fine. Except: she doesn’t.

Boo can be entertained (and dissuaded from her plate) by any number of dinnertime distractions: picking just the right fork, for example, or discovering how many yoga positions can be accomplished at table. (You’ve got to see her do Utthita Pada Sirsasana* over the chair back. Breathtaking.)

So why not just let her be, you ask? Well, you see, if Boo goes to bed poorly fed, she’ll be up two or three times in the night. As a defense mechanism, we’ve resorted to trying to stuff her with snacks before bedtime; it’s either that or stuff her with snacks at 2 a.m. when she wakes up hungry.

It’s not even that she’s picky. She’ll eat a huge range of food when she’s in the mood. (Raw mushrooms? You bet. Green beans? A favorite!) Those happy eating days come about twice a week, and she’ll pack away the calories, go to sleep happy, and wake up nine hours of undisturbed sleep later.

But in between? I get desperate to fill my girl’s belly and maybe — just maybe — get a decent night’s sleep. So we break out the milk and crackers and to hell with the crumbs: just eat anywhere.

The warnings about eating disorders loom large: don’t give them a complex about food, don’t use food as reward or punishment, do make sure that meals are balanced and healthy. But Boo’s innate curiosity (or stubbornness) has developed before her appetite, so the rules are impossible to follow.

* That’s this: headstand-splits (1)

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in behavior,failure,food ·

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy February 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

We actually try and stuff our daughter with snacks before bed too. She won’t wake up if we don’t, she just won’t even go to sleep.

Danielle is on and off with eating as well. I think I read somewhere that you should look at the total on a weekly basis, not a daily one. Danielle, like Boo is big for her age, and good for height/weight proportion so we must be doing something right.


Backpacking Dad February 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Erin has taken to eating less and less during the day and that is translating into waking my ass up at 5am for “milk” although really I think she’s just starving because she had 3 grapes in the previous 11 hours. So, yeah, we’ve started trying two dinners, an early one and a late one, and then snacks right before bed before she has any milk or water.

This morning? Up at 1am, then 4:30am. What the hell kid?

Just kill me.


doodaddy February 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm

@Amy – Does the “weekly basis” thing go for sleep, too? I sure wish that it would work that way for me!


doodaddy February 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm

@Backpacking Dad – Oh, yeah, you were over at our house last night, huh? Sleep has become a bit of a mythical beast over here. At least I don’t go to bed until 2 myself so the first wakeup usually interrupts only blog-reading.


Jerri Ann February 23, 2009 at 5:35 pm

All I can say is I hope Boo outgrows this before she is 4 like my son who….I swear is living off of air and not only that…he has yet to outgrow the terrible two’s and the ripe age of 4.3…ugh!

If you figure it out, let me know….please.


Veronica February 23, 2009 at 5:51 pm

My favourite way of getting Amy to eat is not making her any food, just feeding ehr off my plate. Win win, either she doesn’t eat and I haven’t wasted anything, or I have to go and get seconds because she ate all mine.

But otherwise, she doesn’t eat hardly anything either.


Busy-Dad-E February 23, 2009 at 7:28 pm

My oldest (4) is a full-fledged picky eater. I’m amazed at what a toddler can eat (or not eat) and still grow and function. Some days, he eats a total of 1 pretzel all day, other days it’s the equivalent of 3 Happy Meals.

We struggle with similar issues of not eating during the day and then wanting to eat before bed/at night. Mine does this in an attempt to delay bedtime.

I think that a compromise is necessary. I agree that for some (especially strong-willed) children, that forcing the issue actually makes things worse. That said, you’re still the parent and “in-charge.” We expect our kids to sit at the dinner table at mealtime, whether or not they choose to eat (much easier said than done). We don’t deny them snacks before bedtime, but this comes at the “price” of reading fewer stories before bed. I think that a 3 or 4 year-old can understand this.

That said, it may take a little “tough love” to extinguish the behavior of waking up in the middle of the night, but you deserve as much rest as possible. Granted, you’ll probably have to endure a few nights of screams and protests, but if you make it absolutely clear that “there will be no snacks between bedtime and breakfast”, things should get better. The key is “sticking to your guns” and not giving in. Boo will learn quickly that she better eat before bed or she’s going to be hungry.

It’s not all that different from letting a baby “cry it out” at night. You’re going to be punished for awhile with screams of protest, but the duration gets shorter over time, and eventually the child learns to comfort themselves.

And remember, you can always supplement their diet with Flintstones, especially for iron and calcium. 🙂


Super Mega Dad February 23, 2009 at 11:27 pm

I so hear you. I just wonder where they get the energy they use during the day wihout eating ANYTHING. Truely amazing!


doodaddy February 25, 2009 at 2:03 am

@Jerri Ann – Not to scare you, but I have a relation who I don’t think has yet grown out of the terrible twos… and he’s well into middle age.


doodaddy February 25, 2009 at 2:04 am

@Veronica – Hm. We may need to try that, though I worry about what if she eats even less?!


doodaddy February 25, 2009 at 2:08 am

@Busy-Dad-E – Yeah, we’re not cry-it-outers at all. Not that I think it’s cruel, just non-functional in our case…


Veronica February 25, 2009 at 2:37 pm

@doodaddy – I suppose if it turns out that she eats even less, you can stop?


donditiples March 1, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Eli won’t even come near the table at mealtimes unless there’s a bowl of powdered milk mixed with sugar next to his plate. I guess it could be worse.


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