At about 3 years old, both of my kids started doing this thing that drove me absolutely bat-shit crazy. They decided to go on strike and barely ate all day, and then proceeded to demand food all night until I lost it and had to declare that the damn kitchen was closed.
My current 3-year-old monster sweetheart is in that phase as we speak.
Here is what his meal schedule looks like lately (and I use the word “schedule” very loosely):
He wakes me up at 6 a.m. and tells me he’s starving with the saddest, most piteous look on his face. I roll out of bed to feed him. “Cereal, honey?” I ask. “No,” he says, deadpan. I offer him waffles, bagels, eggs, etc. He wants goldfish. We settle on pita chips because I have standards here. Three pita chips are eaten.
I pick him up from preschool and he declares, “I’m starving.” At home, he tells me he wants a chicken patty “cut up” (with no bun or bread, that’s how he rolls). As I’m serving it to him, he tells me he didn’t want it cut up, and bursts into tears. He asks for corn. The corn is “broken” (don’t ask). He asks for a rice cake. The plate the rice cake was on was “too wet.” He lies on the floor telling me all the food in the world is “yuck” and then ends up eating the eggs I’ve cooked for myself, out of my bowl, because “Mommy’s food is the best.”
After the fiasco of lunch, I’m not taking any chances with dinner. I make him his favorite foods without asking for his opinion on the matter. The spaghetti is eaten (at least half a bowl of it). But the carrot stick sticks are “slimy,” the hot dog is “sticky,” and the cauliflower is “mushy.”
You see where this is going, right? When is this little rascal going to eat a thing before bedtime?
Now, I know some parents fall into the “eat it or starve” camp, and I totally get why parents don’t want turn into short-order cooks. But I also know it’s important for kids to follow their inner hunger cues and eat what they feel comfortable eating, even if it’s not at the time you hope they’ll be hungry. Teaching our kids to listen to their hunger cues can lead to healthful eating habits as they get older — which is vital, especially as obesity rates skyrocket everywhere.
And yet, if you do that to an extreme extent, your kids will probably only eat goldfish, toast, and cookies all day. So you definitely need structure and rules when it comes to mealtimes, and I’m all for that.
But listen up: Feeding our kids is never going to be perfect, by no stretch of the imagination. They’re kids — fickle, annoying, picky, opinionated kids. And so there will be days — weeks sometimes — when they eat so poorly and in such an annoying manner that you will wonder how they haven’t dropped dead from malnutrition.
As you might have expected, when my 3-year-old eats practically nothing all day, he ends up starving by the evening, and that is the point where he ends up finally giving into his hunger, and eating his face off.
I don’t know what spell kids fall under when they enter this phase (and I know it’s not just my kid; this sort of thing runs rampant), but sometimes there’s nothing you can do but go with it. So, as reluctant as I am to do it, I let my son have a snack after dinner. And by snack, I mean meal. He’ll ask for nuggets, tortillas, even celery sticks, all right before bed at 7 p.m.
I think of it as a phase that will end eventually, so I just basically go with it.
But here’s the thing that destroys me. I’ll think I’ve got him fed, finally. He gets in his PJ’s, we brush his teeth, and we get into bed for books and goodnight.
Then, at 8-freaking-p.m., he tells us he’s “starving to death.” (Where do kids pick up these phrases?) And this, my friends, is where I draw the line. At least, I’m starting today.
I made the mistake of not putting my foot down about this issue with my first child. Every single night for months, he would demand to eat after his teeth were brushed and he was tucked into bed. And after trying my best to resist, I would eventually give in. It was a stupid cycle I had gotten myself into, but he was also a skinny, skinny kid and a very picky eater, and I basically would do anything to get food into him.
But to my littlest son — and to any other ridiculous kids out there who have gotten their parents into this predicament — here are the rules:
The kitchen is closed at 8 p.m.
All the lights are out. The granola bars are tucking in their little granola bar babies. The cheese sticks are getting cozy in their wrappers. The apples are cuddling up together in the crisper.
No more eating.
We are all nice, understanding mommies here. But you can’t starve yourself all day and then eat all night. You just can’t. And if you have to go to sleep a little hungry one night, you’ll live. We promise.
And also? Maybe you’ll eat your damn breakfast in the morning.