Making dinner for a toddler is a frustrating experience. Some days he cleans his entire plate and then wants whatever I’m eating. And usually whatever the stranger at the next table is eating. Then, he gets mad because he doesn’t get it (at least from the stranger). Other days I watch him eat four strawberries, two bites of a potsticker and then push his food away proclaiming fullness. I beg and plead with him to eat more, but it does no good. He may drain his cup of milk, but no more food will pass his lips.
The sane part of me knows this is actually a much healthier eating philosophy than I have. He eats when he’s hungry; not when he’s bored, or mad or depressed or just because he realizes he still has a heart-shaped box of Valentine’s candy in the fridge (granted, it only has eight pieces in it, but it’s there). He rarely asks for a snack and when he does, he’s satisfied with a cup of raisins or a cheese stick instead of several handful of salt and vinegar chips.
Still, when we sit down to eat and he only manages a few bites, it makes me a bit frantic. Part of me gets a little insulted that he doesn’t eat whatever I’ve taken pains to make for dinner (even when that’s merely heating up leftovers). The other part of me is somehow worried he’s going to go hungry. Although considering he’s 30 lbs and over 3 feet tall at 2, I’m guessing he’s not starving any time soon.
Deep down I know it stems from my own neurosis about food, eating and being overweight. Not to mention all the crazy food habits I learned during my childhood from parents who had a candy bar drawer instead of a veggie drawer, who let me drink 12 cans of soda at picnics with their friends and who themselves have been known to have two filet-o-fish sandwiches, large fries and Coke for dinner. I somehow doubt they went to quite the pains I do to make sure my son gets a healthy, nutritious meal.
Aside from birthday cake and a spoonful of ice cream every now and then (maybe once a month), my son doesn’t get any sweets. We don’t do juice (only milk and water) and snacks are either chock full o’ calcium (cheese sticks), whole wheat (they even make whole-wheat goldfish now) or fruity (blueberries are his favorite, although he’s got a real thing for raisins lately). Every dinner has a vegetable (and sometimes two or three). Every breakfast and lunch have fruit. Even when we get fast food, he doesn’t get fries. I know he eats better than I do, and yet I worry.
I worry that despite all the pains I’m taking now, he’s going to get my sweet tooth. I don’t want to see him struggle with his weight the way I have. Since he’s a boy and society places far less stress on being thin on boys, I’m hoping my bad genes don’t impact him quite so much. I just want better for him.
So, tonight with his dinner of strawberries and nibbles of potstickers, I sigh, ask if he’s done and take his plate away. I’ll fight the urge to make him eat something before bed and instead be content to secretly sneak a few bites of his uneaten potsticker off his plate (in my defense, they are REALLY good).