The back-up

Lately, lunch is a breeze compared to family dinner

Things have been a bit rough around the family table this week. Raised voices, pointed fingers, gauntlets thrown down, etc.

Refusing to even touch what we make for dinner (lunch is a breeze —the boy eats everything we put in his backpack), complaining fulsomely about the “yucky” noodles or “nasty” green beans, our six-year-old has turned dinner into a bomb-strewn and bloody battle field.

Admittedly, the adults have played a part in escalating the tensions. We haven’t exactly handled this latest hiccup in the family dinner experience with the kind of grace and reserves of patience we might have. But the truth is, it really burns when you’ve hustled home to be with your kids, made a nice, healthy meal for everyone and a single look—not a taste, but a look—is enough to turn your kid into a refusenik. It can make a person, well, unreasonable.

But with the distance of a good night’s sleep, I’ve decided to return to my old ways of having various options on the table—not a separate meal, but a variety of bits and bobs that everyone can choose from. It’s worked before and while it can require a bit more thinking during prep time, I think it could definitely work again.

But I’ve also discovered a new idea to keep in my back pocket.  “The back-up” is the brainchild of the brilliant Dina Rose and her incredibly insightful blog about kids and eating called It’s not about nutrition.

In a post called “Cottage cheese saved my life,” she explains that when her daughter wouldn’t eat, she always had a back-up: in their case cottage cheese. It wasn’t her kid’s favourite food, but she could tolerate it, and whenever she didn’t like what was on offer at dinner, she would always be offered the back-up. It was healthy enough and, most importantly, eliminated the possibility of a power play.

Rose offers a couple of rules that make a lot of sense to me like “The backup must be a NO COOK item” (this isn’t supposed to be MORE work for parents) and “The backup must NOT be a preferred food.” She suggests stuff like tofu or hummus, beans or plain (not flavoured) yogurt, things your child will eat but wouldn’t necessarily chose first. And the key is, it’s always the same.

She also offers a slew of other wise and useful suggestions about giving kids food choices while holding firm on the non-negotiable aspects of family life. I think I’ve found my new family food guru. After this very challenging week, I definitely need some guidance.

[photo by Andrea Curtis]

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