Hooper Eats.

This is a continuation post. You can read the first two posts in the series by clicking here.
A glimmer of hope.
Our Occupational Therapist, Kary came over and joined us for dinner. Willy cooked a mild fish with rice and peas. We followed Kary’s instructions and ignored Hooper while we ate. One by one, he ate his peas (not shocking, as it’s one of his favorites). We had a record playing and were enjoying adult conversation, sharing stories of parenthood intermixed with advice on how to improve our current situation. And for the first time, in a long time, the table was a fun place to be.
Apparently Hooper noticed it too because he stuck around. Sure, he got up a few times to go do this and that but each time he came back around to see what we were all up to. And to our surprise, as conversation and laughter weaved it’s way over the table like the aroma of the food itself, he ate his fish. On his own. Every bite. Willy and I took turns exchanging oh my gosh glances like a freaking comet was passing right by our window. Kary kinda chuckled and exclaimed that it doesn’t usually go that well so fast.
And as we walked her to the door and thanked her a thousand times over, I thought we may just have a child prodigy on our hands. Problem fixed.
Oh the ignorance.
I’ve always believed that life gives you only what it knows you can handle. Van is a good eater because I’d probably rip off my toenails one by one if I had to deal with another poor eater. And that glimmer of hope was just that: a glimmer. Exactly what I needed for what has turned out to be an otherwise uphill battle. But oh that glimmer sparkles bright as a reminder of what could be and what will be so long as Willy and I are able to keep to our roles.
The following rules were given to us by Kary.
The Rules
-No more than 20-30 minutes for a meal. When 20-30 minutes are up, take the plate away. If he protests, tell him mealtime is over. If he’s still hungry, remind him he can have a snack in an hour.
-Offer a new food at most meals with one or two preferred foods.
-Be consistent. Consistency will teach Hooper what you expect of him. Try using a mealtime routine.
-No getting up from the table more than three times. When he gets up from the table, ask him if he’s done. If he says “yes”, take his plate away and excuse him from the table. If he says “no”, have him sit back down. Do not keep asking him if he wants to come back- only if he’s showing you he does by hanging around the table and trying to get attention.
If he is done and barely ate anything (or chose to not eat at all) don’t make him something else until snack time (one hour later). Then you can make him a preferred food so he gets something in his belly but keep it “snack” sized.
If he wants to eat his dinner after you’ve excused him (more than 3 times) tell him the meal is over but he can eat again in one hour (you can bring the food back in 15 minutes since at this age he can’t tell time). Have him sit back at the table with the same meal. If he doesn’t want the same meal and is asking for something different, tell him he needs to wait until snack time (truly one hour later).
-Stick with statements, not questions. Examples: “It looks like you’re done” versus “are you done?” and “Mama would like to share this with you” versus “Do you want to try some?”.
-Create an environment you would want to be a part of. The more relaxed, fun, and enjoyable the table is the more likely he will be to join in.
-You are in charge of the what, when, and where of a meal. Hooper is in charge of whether or not to eat anything and how much he wants to eat. Trust Hooper to know what his body needs as long as you are giving several opportunities to eat healthy foods.
-Give small amounts (2 tablespoons) of each food you are eating with the meal and let Hooper ask for more. If he is filling up on just one thing, tell him that’s all gone but if he’s still hungry you can have (______) instead.
-Try to give small rewards for trying new foods (not food rewards and not big rewards). But don’t make a big deal; the less attention, the better. Wait until the end of the meal to give the reward and/or praise.
-NO putting food in Hooper’s mouth for him. If he decides not to eat, that’s okay. (Ignore our rule breaking photo evidence above).
-No encouraging him to eat a particular food on his plate. If you really want to encourage him to eat chicken he has left on his plate, for example, don’t mention the chicken at all but if he asks for more of anything (like pasta that was also part of the meal) tell him it’s gone but if he’s still hungry he has chicken left on his plate. This is the closest you should get to “encouraging” him to eat. You can also model good behavior by eating the chicken off his plate after he tells you he’s “done”.
Your thoughts? What has worked with your toddler?

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5 Responses

  • Oh, those incredible OTs!!

    i have no real advice here, i am completely guilty of making 2 dinners because they wear my sorry ass down 😉 luckily they boys have a nice selection of stuff they will eat but they BOTH stopped being experimental at around 3, i am hoping it will change eventually.

    the one thing i can say is that i have friends whose kids wouldn’t eat JACK SQUAT and with OT and time it’s changing. i know how scary and upsetting it can be going through the process! hugs!

    I watch my brother’s kids eat stuff like shrimp and STEAK and random spicy pastas in awe. my sister in law can cook from the food network magazines for EVERYONE. lucky duck.

  • thank you for taking the time to write/type this out! my child is getting picky and i will definitely be trying a lot of these tips. really helpful stuff!

  • I LOVE THIS. I’ve been struggling with being crazy overcontrolling at mealtimes since my daughter could really eat her own meals. I absolutely make her her own dinner frequently, and I don’t really worry too much about that aspect of it. Honestly, I stay home with her and our 7month old, my husband is rarely home before 8 (and doesn’t eat his “dinner” until 11pm sometimes because he’s nuts), and we tend to each eat our own meals. We also don’t have a dining room, so we rarely all eat at the same time. I don’t love this routine, but I do plan to get my mealtime shit together eventually (probably).
    I find myself harassing my daughter, like ‘sit down!’ and ‘butt on the seat!’ I struggle in general with feeling like any correction I give her is reflection of my failure as a parent’ In the case of the harassment to sit while eating, I do feel like that’s warranted; its polite, it keeps our home clean, and sitting on her butt in the chair (as opposed to her knees) prevents her from falling over (which she HAS done). I do know that I need to take your advice and not focus on the one food. I do find, with her, saying X amount of bites works well. Is that bad?
    Is there someone who can just give me a parenting rule book PLEASE!!??

    • I found myself tonight at dinner counting… You have five seconds to take a bite before you go on time out… one… two… three… bite… repeat. Some days I ignore the “rules” all together and just go with what works to stay sane. I’m lucky if Hooper eats the first five bites in his chair. Toddlerhood, I suppose. When you find that rule book, send it my way.


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