Our Two-Step Approach to Food Challenges

Kids and food issues can make dinner a challenge. Kids from “hard places” and food issues can make dinner a war zone.

After nearly thirty years of parenting, you would think we’ve tried every trick. What will they eat, how much will they eat, what will we require? Will we be strict or easy-going? Will we let food become a battle?

Photo Jan 21, 2 24 56 PM

For the most part we chose not to let food issues consume us and were fairly easy-going with our kids. Then we met our daughter who had such severe trauma surrounding food and hunger, the issue commanded our attention.

We worked with her therapist, tucked beef jerky in her pockets, had healthy snacks readily available, did EMDR therapy, and when she began to spin out of control, we always considered hunger as a possible trigger.

She made significant progress in this area, the fall-out, however, was our easy-going dinner table became somewhat strained and unusual. One of our sons developed unhealthy habits and became unreasonably picky.

Russ was frustrated. I hardly noticed and became unreasonably accommodating.

Tension rose between us, which was also felt at the dinner table, except by the child who wanted (and too often got) his own way.

We knew we had a problem and needed to solve it, so we sat down and hammered out a new plan. We didn’t want to abandon everything we knew about therapeutic parenting and giving voice to our children, but we also didn’t want a nine-year-old to have so much control over dinner.

This is what we agreed on:

A Two-Step Approach to Food Challenges

1. Try Everything | A small serving of each food prepared is put on the child’s plate. If we know the child specifically hates a food, we don’t intentionally create stress; we give him one bite. When the children were young we called this a “thank you” bite. When each food is eaten, he can request seconds of any food he likes.

2. No Thank You | Each week he has two “no thank you” cards (the post-its shown above). He can spend them anytime during the week and decline a food. We’ve found he rarely uses them, saving the cards for a food he really doesn’t want. He’s not sure if something worse might appear on the table later in the week and most of the time the food on his plate is tolerable.

Let’s be honest, we all have foods we hate. I still don’t eat peas, drink milk, or eat tuna fish sandwiches. I couldn’t stand them as a child and I can’t stand them now, as a result, my children have never eaten tuna fish sandwiches and it’s a rare day that I serve peas.

Acknowledging preferences is a means of giving voice to children, a way of saying, “What you feel, what you like and don’t like, matters.” It’s okay to politely say “no thank you” but it needs to be the exception, not the rule.

That’s our entire two-step plan.

This won’t work for every kid or every family, especially for children with complex histories of deprivation who are in early stages of healing.

This plan is working for our family, giving us a (relatively) peaceful dinner table and a less anxious boy. Nearly every night he eats what is set before him, and when he uses his “no thank you” card, we accept it without discussion. He has choices and we respect him as a person.

He is ten now and it won’t be long before he is making much more important decisions far away from our dinner table. He’ll be offered things we don’t want him to accept; practicing using his voice to say, “No thanks,” isn’t such a bad idea.

All from me today. If this post is helpful to you, please share it with friends.

I would love to have you follow me on Facebook.  You can also sign up for my “friends-letter” which I send most weekends right to your inbox. It’s a little more like a letter to a friend and lots of fun for me to write.

Have a great start to your week, friends.

Lisa

Portrait-small

 

 

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

13 Comments

  1. Gina
    January 23, 2017

    Great idea! This seems like this will work well with an older kid that can plan ahead and think about the no thank you card.

    For our three year old we have a no thank you plate next to her dinner plate. She used to yell and cry and freak out “I don’t like this food!!” And need it off her plate. A friend suggested a no thank you plate but the catch is she has to 1. Smell it, 2. Give it a kiss goodbye 3. Put it on her no thank you plate. One by one. That way she’s getting a smell and taste of it and also it has some semblance of compliance. Also takes some time so at least she’s sitting there with us a few minutes longer 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 23, 2017

      I like this, Gina! Great idea. You’re asking her to experience the food and giving her voice to say “no thank you.” Good job!

      Reply
    2. Emily
      January 24, 2017

      What a great idea!

      Reply
  2. Emily
    January 23, 2017

    This reminds me of “Three more questions” we have a child who had to ask so many questions- often even when he knew the answers. He needed constant reassurance, the plan needed review many times, and he was practicing his own reasoning skills – so we let him ask and ask and ask. But if there was a point where his asking had gone on a long time or was disrupting something or staving off bedtime we would say “Ok- three more questions” rarely would he ask all three. He never wanted to use up the last one. Of course we would never do this until we felt sure all of his important questions were answered. Love you!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 23, 2017

      Great idea, Em. It reminds me of the “question cards” we used with Kalkidan. I wrote about it in this post: My Learning Curve: Twenty Questions

      Reply
  3. Joelle
    January 23, 2017

    That is a wonderful plan! Well done.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 23, 2017

      Thanks!

      Reply
  4. Matilda
    January 24, 2017

    Our rules for our 3 small kids were that you could not say you didn’t like something new before you had tried one teaspoonful. You did not pull a face and say ‘ewww’ or ‘yuk’ or ‘disgusting’ . Your food had been made with love my mum or dad and they did not put ‘disgusting ‘ things in front of you. They seem to have turned into normal responsible adults in spite of our tyrannical parenting!!!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 24, 2017

      That made me smile, Matilda! Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  5. Emily
    January 24, 2017

    I really like your approach to this issue; we just might have to try the “no thank you” cards!

    Our child’s issue is severe oral aversion (SPD). Since my husband has the same issue, he is extremely compassionate for this child, whereas I was prone to force a “no thank you” bite early on. When enough of those bites resulted in vomiting, I took a new path. We keep spinach, kale or romaine lettuce in the fridge at all times since that is a healthy alternative food to all those mushy fruits and cooked veggies that cause the “fight-or-flight” to kick in. He is always free to swap the fruit/veggie choice for spinach, kale or romaine–even if that means pancakes with spinach. 😉

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 25, 2017

      It’s great that your husband can empathize with this challenge, Emily, and that your son will eat kale!!

      Reply
  6. Dani
    January 25, 2017

    I love this! In your house, is the no thank you card used to not have to try it at all? I like the idea of using this so kids feel that their likes and dislikes are acknowledged and that we care. Right now, they don’t have to eat anything, but can’t have anything else either…

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      January 25, 2017

      Right, the “no thank you” card means he doesn’t have to try it. Most likely it’s a food he’s had before and knows he doesn’t like, or it’s something he’s just not up for trying. I feel like that sometimes too!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *