Monday, February 2, 2009

Eternity Mealtimes

I have a problem.
I have a problem, and it involves mealtimes with my children.
It's not that my children are overly picky eaters- I am blessed with kids who (for now, at least) will try a variety of foods without complaint, and who actually like many healthy things. I'm also not concerned about how much they are eating- while I loathe waste, I know that it is counter-productive to try to force children to "clean their plates". I try to serve small portions, and the rule is simply that they must try at least one bite of each thing on the plate. If they really do not like it, that's fine- they don't have to finish eating that item. They may have more of whatever they do like, if they want- since I try to only offer healthy choices, that's not a problem. If dessert is available (and it's definitely not an every-day thing), they must eat what I dictate if they want dessert. But choosing to forgo dessert is a perfectly viable option, and I'm not disappointed with them if that's what they decide. Let's face it- sometimes they're just not that hungry.

So, I'm not struggling with WHAT they eat. I'm not struggling with HOW MUCH they eat. My problem is HOW LONG IT TAKES them to eat.

Doesn't that sound silly? After all, it's healthy to take our time with our food, chewing well, savoring the flavors and having conversation with our family. A little friendly banter at mealtimes helps cement family relationships, keeps everyone relaxed and makes mealtime fun. After all, I don't want us all wolfing down our food and running off to resume our separate pursuits. So what's the problem?

My children can take an E-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y to eat a meal. If I left them to their own devices, they would still be sitting at the lunch table when dinnertime rolled around. (Yes, really.) They talk, goof off, make each other laugh, tell stories, sing songs, talk, laugh. . . they're having a great time but they're not eating. I have to police the whole meal, prodding, reminding, scolding, while my blood pressure no doubt gets higher and higher. How often I find myself saying in frustration, "JUST EAT!!!!!! PLEASE!!!".

I guess they come by this honestly- Billy and his siblings still laugh and reminisce about how long it took them to eat because they were having too much fun, and how it frustrated their poor mom to no end. Sometimes I resort to a timer- Billy's mother had to do that. I set the timer, and when it buzzes mealtime is over. Not finished? Sorry. Still hungry? Too bad. I need to clean up, you need to have a nap. That's a miserable way to eat together, though. It doesn't feel healthy. I'm so very frustrated- I feel like the food nazi! It's not at all pleasant. Often I find myself eating my meal with them, not hurrying, having a conversation, and when I am finished I excuse myself, get up and leave. I clean or take care of Babyman, and call out from time to time, "Take a bite!!". I just can't handle sitting there and being the policeman.

It's extra frustrating in a restaurant- usually I need them to eat, because we are out and about and they will be better behaved if their blood sugar is stable. Plus, let's be honest: it's harder to be laissez-faire about how much they eat if we're paying for their food in a restaurant. My boys are well-behaved in restaurants, but often I leave stressed out and frustrated anyway. It's ridiculous! But if I let go, if I relax and let them eat however much they eat, we invariably have a meltdown when it is time to go because they're STILL HUNGRY!

When I've asked others about this, I either get helpless sympathy (from parents of young children) or the all-knowing advice to "let them be hungry, then".

I understand the beautiful logic behind that approach. I bet it would eventually work. But, really? Have you ever tried that? I can be "mean" enough to do it. But it COMPLETELY derails the rest of the day. It absolutely ruins the child's behavior and the mood of anyone within a 2-mile radius. I've tried it. It's terrible. If I force them to pay attention to their food and eat until they say they are full, they will be their normal (mostly) well-behaved selves. And I spend mealtime being the stressed-out food nazi. If they miss their opportunity and end up hungry, everyone's day is totally shot.

Hence, I have a problem.
Thank you for letting me vent.
Any ideas?


S said...

I don't have any advice, I'm sorry. Have you ever noticed that Funny Girl can nurse a bag of Pirate Booty the entire playdate? Last week Dimples spent 45 minutes or so eating at the other table. Unless we are in a restaurant, I let them take as long as they want. If we really need to go, I pack up the food and take it with us. They can finish in the van or at home.

Robotson is more like B and I though. We eat quickly and I think you can tell the difference unfortunately.

Grace said...

I feel your pain! My girls eat all time. My husband and I HATE the words "I'm hungry." I used to enjoy cooking and now it is the worst chore I have in my domestic day. E takes forever to eat as well. She will still be eating when I've cleaned all the dinner dishes. She has reminded me on several occasions "Mom, it is polite to sit at the table until everyone finishes". Well, if I did that, I'd never finish any tasks. I usually say, "Well, I'm right here next to you doing the dishes." Argh!

Kit said...

Thanks, ladies. I do know this problem isn't unique to us, but it does help to be reminded of that anyway. I wonder if they grow out of it??