On Second Helpings, Satter & Upping the Dinner Ante
I started reading your blog when I was pregnant with my oldest (he is almost three). I wouldn’t have made it through pregnancy and early motherhood with as much sanity intact so thank you! Also, I love you and your boys as much as I could possible love a person I’ve never met.
Fangirl moment over. As for my question…
I love her approach to eating and it is absolutely working for us, or I should say we have made a lot of progress, but I have a few questions.
I put all of the food groups on my son’s plate. He almost always goes straight for the carbs/fruits first, and generally asks for more before eating any veggies.
She talks so much about trusting your toddler to know what they need. Do you give second helpings of anything before expecting them to eat everything on the plate?
What do you do if you are a few weeks in of eating only carbs or fruit at meals with no veggie or meat eating in sight? (I do sneak veggies in wherever I can, and he drinks a spinach smoothie daily, but I want him to know he’s eating veggies and enjoy it.)
He used to eat everything. Asparagus! Avocado! Squash! Now, not so much.
A Word About Second Helpings
So regarding second helpings of fun/easy food before eating the more challenging ones: Nope, not in my house.
Now, I am totally not sure if this approach is 100% Satter Method Approved, as it does kinda go against trusting your child to regulate his or her own food/nutrition intake, and not being a stickler for “clean plates.” But it’s a rule I enforce more so my kids don’t drive me absolutely bonkerpants at the table. So I win. Sorry, boys.
Your son IS getting vegetables (that he doesn’t know about), so nutritionally, he’s probably doing just fine. But like you said, it’s also important that he actually be aware that he’s eating vegetables, is getting a somewhat reasonable amount of protein and ALSO, generally being open and okay with trying and eating non-preferred foods.
From a portion control angle, I am in total agreement with Satter that an emphasis on eating every bite of food on your plate (especially when it’s an adult who determined how much food to put there in the first place), is counter-intuitive and not the best approach to establishing good long-term eating habits. But that’s TECHNICALLY not what you’re asking of your son, because he’s requesting for more food and indicating that he is still hungry. When one of my children does that, I typically tell them (CHEERFULLY) that they can absolutely have more rice/bread/pasta — as much as they’d like, actually! — after they eat the protein and/or vegetable they already have. I TRY to be careful to phrase it in a way that doesn’t set up a “how many bites?” bargaining maneuver, or sound like I’m demanding they eat every single bite no matter what before I’ll give them the other food. But sometimes yeah, they’ll just take one tiny bite and then stare at me, like WELL??? I then ignore them, change the subject and eat the food item I’m asking them to try, and usually after a minute or two they get that I’m not impressed with their effort and they eat some more.
Real World Confession Time, though: My almost-4-year-old will generally reject at least one thing on his plate every single night at dinner. Not breakfast, not lunch, but dinner is where he STILL consistently tries to start a power struggle for attention. And it’s completely random: Sometimes it’s the vegetable, sometimes he’ll happily dig into a salad but reject the protein. Last night he refused to eat pasta. P-A-S-T-A. Any attempt to get him to eat that item will escalate the situation into a Big Huge Tantrum Suck of Attention Seeking. So with him, I occasionally will make exceptions on second helpings just out of a refusal to give the rejection any specific attention, since that’s what he wants. If he’s rejecting EVERYTHING, however, he goes hungry and I don’t even feel at all guilty about it. BUT, he’s ignoring the green beans but wants more chicken. I am fine with more chicken. I’m a bigger stickler on the carbs, though, which leads us to the second part of your question.
Change Up the Dinner Routine
If your child is generally responding well to the Satter Method but still mostly subsisting on fruit and carbs, it’s time to up the ante. Start making meals that either don’t necessarily include those things (I mean, I’m sure he’s getting plenty of fruit and carbs during the day so skipping them at dinner is not a big deal), or prepare them in a way that doesn’t allow your child to eat them completely separately. If your son is capable of using a spoon and fork, congratulations: he’s ready for Next Level Plating.
I don’t typically include fruit in our main meals, unless it’s part of a salad, for example, and yeah kids, there’s some kind of dressing/seasoning involved that I’m not wiping off. The only time we see bread at the table is if it’s part of a sandwich or burger, and yeah kids, these are GROWN UP sandwiches and burgers, with STUFF ON THEM THAT IS NOT JUST CHEESE AND KETCHUP. Most of the time our carbs are grains like quinoa, freekah or barley, which are GREAT for mixing with all kinds of wonderful vegetables and proteins that can’t be easily avoided. We don’t let anyone eat with their fingers (manners!) so it’s pretty much impossible for them to pick around all the veggies in order to just eat those tiny little grains. Whole wheat cous cous, orzo and brown rice work well too — my kids never see those arrive “plain” at the table anymore, and with time became agreeable to the fact that their pasta is always going to have “green stuff” in it and their rice comes mixed up with sauce and meat. Once your child is old enough to eat with a fork and spoon, ditch the divided kiddie plates of separate finger foods. Make it a little more challenging for them to reject food groups wholesale, and instead learn to tolerate different textures and flavors mixed together.