My Child Hates Dinnertime

by Joelle Wisler
Originally Published: 
Joelle Wisler

Before my 5-year-old daughter, I had no idea a human being could survive on five bites of food a day, with three of those bites being something made out of cheese. It’s like she’s figured out how to turn the air she breathes into energy somehow. Maybe that’s why she talks so much. I’m pretty sure she only grows because she drinks milk like she was born on a dairy farm.

I’ve tried a lot of things to get her to eat dinner — pleading, bribing, crying, hollering, wishing upon a star, invoking Daniel Tiger songs. The child literally does not care about food. You could have her very favorite dessert sitting right in front of her, but if she has made up her mind that she isn’t going to try the casserole, it’s just not happening — ever. If hell were to freeze over, she’d still be sitting at the dinner table with her napkin over her head.

And she’s like some kind of genius food detective. She can see a chopped-up mushroom hiding amongst the hamburger from 3 miles away. She somehow knows when I’ve tried to sneak some spinach into her pancakes in a sad attempt to get one bite of a vegetable into her body. She has a sixth sense for tomatoes that aren’t completely puréed in her spaghetti sauce. Everything is too spicy, too meaty, too dinner-y, not enough like a bowl of Cheerios. She would happily live on cereal for the rest of her life if I let her. I’m sometimes tempted.

She has made me do things I swore I would never ever do to get her to eat stuff. I cut her freaking apples into slices the shape of a heart once because she promised she’d eat them. And she did. I once rocked her stuffed otter at lunchtime so that she would take bites of her grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, I understand that she’s toying with me, but you know what, she ate that damn sandwich so who is the real winner? You’re right, probably her.

At dinner, she doesn’t care if she grows, she doesn’t care if her stomach is going to hurt in the morning, she doesn’t care that the damn cow died so she could have a hamburger, she doesn’t even give a crap about Santa Claus or any of his elves. And I’ve definitely heard the wise advice of, “They can eat what you make or starve.” I never make her anything different than us, but I just really worry that she’ll always choose starvation over tacos.

As a family who loves and celebrates food, this is all hugely frustrating and confusing to the rest of us. We spend our weekends cooking or planning on what to cook. We love having friends and family over and making our whole evening about tasting new recipes and coming up with ideas of what culinary delight we can prepare next. She is like a little non-food-eating alien in our midst who frowns angrily at the beautiful plate of homemade pasta in front of her.

I know that there are some kids in the world who are even pickier than she and will eat only three of four different kinds of food. I’d totally light candles for you folks if I did that sort of thing, or if I had any energy left over from trying to bribe my 5-year-old to take the napkin off her head and just eat one freaking bite from her dinner plate.

We’re really trying to make dinner a little less torture chamber and a little more fun. She recently decided that she wants to be taller than her brother so that helps when there’s a pile of broccoli on her plate. And as she gets older, she’s becoming much more willing to take at least one bite of something just to get us leave her alone. I’ve read that it takes 10 to 15 bites of a new food for kids to like something and so I feel like I’ve made a huge accomplishment if she just gets that one bite down.

We’ll keep trying one bite a time, one dinner at time, and hope that eventually she will enjoy dinner with the rest of us — or at least not make us all miserable in the meantime.

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