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At dinnertime, we go through phases where things are peaceful, we light candles, say grace, talk about the good things in our day, and everyone eats what's on their plates.
We're not in that phase right now. We're in the getting-out-of-your-seat-ten-times, arguing-over-who-sits-beside-mommy, spilling-at-least-one-drink, refusing-to-eat, treat-bribing phase.
It's stressful. And like every mother, in the midst of my exasperation I'm trying to be flexible, open-minded, and resourceful while also trying to make sure my children get the nutrition they need to grow.
Let's face it. Women are busy working outside the home, blogging, trying to keep up with decorating magazines and some weird concept they we about what our lives "should" be like. We nurture our hobbies, have interests and passions, and need more hours in the day.
So, why do we kill ourselves every day creating a meal that a lot of our kids refuse to eat? It creates a shift in the day's energy when daddy gets home and turns into a 1950s disciplinarian; we hear things coming out of our mouths that make us shake our heads (e.g. "You are not leaving this table till you eat what's on your plate"...can anyone say, "Future eating disorder"?) Someone always ends up crying, I get a knot in my stomach and wolf down my food just to get it over with. It's not fun or relaxing or enjoyable for anyone, to be honest.
There are many layers to my discomfort with this normal family ritual. My children have gradually gotten into the habit of expecting a treat after dinner. Christmas kind of oozes into the many celebrations of late Winter/Spring (Valentine's Day, Easter, and all five of our birthdays). It seems we're always celebrating something, and with celebrating comes treats.
While promising a treat if your child eats their dinner up works in the short term, it intuitively feels wrong. But what mother hasn't fought her intuition in order to get her child to eat, sleep in her own bed, etc? Sometimes bribes and threats are all a girl has going for her.
I've decided I'm done with it. I'm going to experiment next week. Six small meals: 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m, with room for one more where needed. What's the difference? Do we hold on to this notion of eating a big evening meal because our foremothers did it?
This pattern of eating small meals throughout the day resonates with my own levels of hunger. It seems to me that by feeding my kids this way, I might help to regulate their blood sugar so that they will eventually stop craving the treats that have become a habit for them, and skip the daily "witching hour" which coincidentally corresponds with the time of day when I'm trying to make dinner.
Because what is it that we really want? I know what I want: healthy children with healthy eating habits. By 4 o'clock, everyone is cranky and hungry and clamouring for a snack. I'm stressed and trying to get dinner ready at the worst time of day in terms of my children's moods, putting them off, promising that dinner will be ready "soon". I'm teaching them to ignore their hunger to eat at a prescribed (and admittedly arbitrary) time.
Here are the ideas I've come up with for mini-meals:
*smoothies made with berries, bananas, nut butter, kefir or milk
*granola/cereal with milk
*mini-pitas with tuna salad
*ham slices rolled around pickles!
*scrambled or hard-boiled eggs
*hummus and veggies
*fruit and almonds
*crackers with cheese
*toast with nut butter
*cold chicken with steamed veggies
*homemade muffins/energy balls/healthy cookies
With a bit of planning and preparation, it seems like it might actually be easier to have lots of little things on hand rather than feeling this pressure to cook a "meal".
How do you feel about this? This might be one of those unexpectedly inflammatory posts. A dear friend who is a mother of five does not feed her children snacks. They eat three meals a day, and because they don't have snacks, they eat what they're fed. I can see how that kind of system would be necessary when feeding seven people seven days a week. I know people who feel the ritual of sitting together as a family is vitally important (and I would agree). Please be assured that we will enjoy these mini-meals together, around the kitchen table as always.
But can't we sit around a tapas plate taking the foods we prefer, listening to our own bodies when they tell us we've had enough, learning to not eat whatever is on our plate just because it's there? It seems to me that teaching our children to savour and enjoy their food will teach them much more about healthy eating than making them eat "one more bite" will. I trust my children's abilities to decide when they are satisfied; if they are offered only (or mostly) healthy fare, it seems that there would be nothing more to worry about.
Please share your thoughts, experiences, eating habits, and ideas for mini-meals. It can't hurt to try it out, can it? I'll keep you posted.