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Old 10-01-2008, 11:02 PM   #1
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Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

Ugh. Meal time is driving me crazy. I feel like I need to ground myself in some guiding principles to help me through the emotional ups and downs that are coming up. My main concern is that my dd will take up to an hour to eat her meal. I tell her if she's all done thats okay, but she does not WANT to be done. She is probably motivated by the fact that she knows that if she finishes her meal then she can have a cookie after dinner. But even if I don't say anything like this, she will dawdle and distract and take forever to eat. Its not a physical issue. She can wolf down a bowl of pasta or something she really likes. Its when the meal is not pasta that she brings on this act. Then she says she can't do it and wants me to feed her. Should I just feed her?? I've tried setting a timer for dinner time, but this does not motivate her to speed it up. She doesn't quite get that concept, just that she's afraid if the timer goes off she'll lose her dinner. Any thoughts??

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Old 10-02-2008, 01:04 AM   #2
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

Have you tried explaining to her that while she doesn't need to eat quickly all the time that she cannot take forever to eat?

Although, honestly, I would take the food away after awhile. Sounds to me like she is simply not hungry enough to eat. But I am not likely to do that before the age of 3, which I don't know if your LO is or not.

Or, here's another idea -- could you move her mealtimes at all so that she is hungrier when she sits down?
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Old 10-02-2008, 04:52 AM   #3
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

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Originally Posted by kedmac View Post
Ugh. Meal time is driving me crazy. I feel like I need to ground myself in some guiding principles to help me through the emotional ups and downs that are coming up. My main concern is that my dd will take up to an hour to eat her meal. I tell her if she's all done thats okay, but she does not WANT to be done. She is probably motivated by the fact that she knows that if she finishes her meal then she can have a cookie after dinner. But even if I don't say anything like this, she will dawdle and distract and take forever to eat. Its not a physical issue. She can wolf down a bowl of pasta or something she really likes. Its when the meal is not pasta that she brings on this act. Then she says she can't do it and wants me to feed her. Should I just feed her?? I've tried setting a timer for dinner time, but this does not motivate her to speed it up. She doesn't quite get that concept, just that she's afraid if the timer goes off she'll lose her dinner. Any thoughts??

I think you are making a big deal out of nothing. If you told her that she 'has' to eat her food before she can have a cookie. What do you expect her to do when she isn't that hungry OR she doesn't want to eat what you have made for dinner? I am not meaning to be snarky, but my mother did that to me. Don't use 'eating" as a reward or punishment. I know that you aren't meaning too, but you will make her get an eating disorder. Do you know that our family takes a hour to eat EVERY single day? What is wrong with that? It isn't healthy to scarf food down. You are supposed to chew your food slowly, savoring the smells, taste, texture, etc. Toddlers have tiny little tummies. It is best for toddlers. well most people really, to have 6 SMALL meals a day instead of 3 large ones. Toddlers graze throughout the day and that is okay.
If it really bothers you so much, stop making her finish her meals before she has a cookie/ice cream/etc. Don't make desserts/sweets 'rewards' or "punishments". That sticks around, especially with females. {eating disorders, eating for comfort, etc}. LOSE THE TIMER too. How would you feel if someone set a timer for you, told you to 'hurry' and eat? I just can't imagine the anxiety that poor little one feels. Why is it so important to you to 'control" her eating? How fast she eats? etc? Did your mom do that to you? What does it hurt if you are finished, get up from the table, clean up, while she is finishing her meal? I do that all the time. We have meals that we sat down as a family together at, but we don't make everyone rush to finish up. We also do not have a dessert at the end of meals. {We are usually too full anyway and think it sends a message that you have to eat when you aren't hungry}.

I bet if you stop making eating stressful and a 'reward' .. things will go a lot smoother. Don't make her 'clean her plate". Let her eat until she is full, how long that takes {or how short} and don't judge or say anything. Try that for a couple of days or so, and see how it goes. I would also offer her things that she likes to eat.
I hope you aren't taking what I say as attacking because I am not meaning it to be that way. I just want you to know that it is ok that a toddler take that long to eat. I also wanted you to know that there are some things that you can do to take stress off of her and yourself. It really doesn't have to be so frustrating.
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Old 10-02-2008, 08:00 AM   #4
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

First of all, you are SO not alone! WHile I have to beg my boys to slow down a little, many children are slow eaters. My niece was like this, omg, it took her forever to finish a meal. Eventually, my sister had to put limits on how long she could sit at the table. 20, 25 minuets and the food came up. MY niece figured this one out pretty quickly!
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Old 10-02-2008, 10:25 AM   #5
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

I put my son in his highchair with his food, sometimes it's when we're eating and sometimes he eats at different times. Anyway, I just let him sit there and eat his food however fast or slow he wants to. If he takes longer than I want to sit there, then I find something else to do in the area and let him linger until I notice that he's not eating anymore, then I ask him if he's finished, and get him down from the chair. If he eats it all, great, if he doesn't, eh, that's a toddler for you.

I guess my point is that I personally just don't stress over it, because then it would just be one more thing to get frustrated over in our day. I like to make things as easy on all of us as possible.
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Old 10-02-2008, 02:28 PM   #6
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

For DS, dessert is fruit (raisins or fruit cups, etc). As long as he eats a good portion of his dinner, I'll give him his "dessert" with his plate in front of him. Sometimes, he'll eat the remainder of food on his plate after he eats his fruit.

I second the PP about not making a big deal out of it. I think toddlers thrive on pushing buttons and getting reactions.
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Old 10-02-2008, 08:49 PM   #7
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

Thanks everyone for their thoughts. So here is another question based on the advice provided thus far. I understand, and know, that using desert as a reward is not idea or recommended. However, where do you draw the line? For example, if I feed her apple sauce, beans & rice and carrots for dinner and she eats all her apple sauce and then asks for more, do I say she has to finish the rest of her dinner first and if so, isn't this just setting up the same contingency as desert?

Another question, okay, I can deal with an extended dinner time, but is it okay for her to play with her food for an hour rather than eating it. Im not opposed to play with food, but meal time becomes an hour adventure because she's more interested in pretending her carrots are little people than she is in eating them. If i point out that she's no longer eating and just playing games with her food and that must mean she is done eating, she will say no, she is not done. But no more eating occurs. This is where I start to lose my patience. At this point she also may begin to ask me to feed her. Im not sure how to reply to this. If I do feed her, she is still really in the mood to play games and not really to eat, so I get frustrated further.

Thanks again for all of your support. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and reply.
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Old 10-02-2008, 09:29 PM   #8
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

In my house we eat according to our hunger. I offer our toddler Healthy snacks, all day long, and let her eat what and when she wants to eat, and at dinner time, we all sit at the table, we might not all eat, and we don't take the same amount of time, if our toddler is still eating when we clear the table, she stays there, but the minute she asks to come out, she is allowed out and anything she didn't eat gets put in the fridge or in the garbage (if you use VERY small portions, you can refill plates without much food waste).

"Dinner time" in our family is more about sitting together to talk than it is about eating. We don't withhold food from people when they are hungry, and we don't make people eat when they are not, but we do sit at the table for a while together in the evening. KWIM?


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I understand, and know, that using desert as a reward is not idea or recommended. However, where do you draw the line? For example, if I feed her apple sauce, beans & rice and carrots for dinner and she eats all her apple sauce and then asks for more, do I say she has to finish the rest of her dinner first and if so, isn't this just setting up the same contingency as desert?
Just say no, toddlers don't have a lot of reasoning skills, and you don't need to confuse her by trying to make her understand your point of view. "Nope, not right now"
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Old 10-03-2008, 01:49 PM   #9
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

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Originally Posted by mbsr76 View Post
I put my son in his highchair with his food, sometimes it's when we're eating and sometimes he eats at different times. Anyway, I just let him sit there and eat his food however fast or slow he wants to. If he takes longer than I want to sit there, then I find something else to do in the area and let him linger until I notice that he's not eating anymore, then I ask him if he's finished, and get him down from the chair. If he eats it all, great, if he doesn't, eh, that's a toddler for you.
Same here! My 2.5 yo will often take an hour too, and that's without any dessert incentives. (Sometimes we give her one, but we try not to make it contingent on anything -- we just wait until she *has* eaten enough of other, healthy foods before offering it, and we don't offer it often enough so she expects it.)
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Old 10-03-2008, 01:58 PM   #10
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Re: Dinner Time - Toddler takes 1 hour to eat!

I don't see how to quote the quote-within-a-quote, where you asked about where to draw the line, and isn't "after you finish your dinner" the same as a a dessert....

Quote:
Just say no, toddlers don't have a lot of reasoning skills, and you don't need to confuse her by trying to make her understand your point of view. "Nope, not right now"
I guess I disagree with this. I explain all I can to my daughter (2.5y), and she might not understand it deep down, but she accepts it and is building a knowlege base. Here's a phrase you might find helpful: "You need a variety of foods to make you healthy and strong." I started telling my dd that at maybe 12 months old when she wanted just to eat fruit. By 18 months, if I said, "No, I think you've had enough applesauce for now. Eat some meat and then we can think about more applesauce", *she* would say, "Variety of foods!" and by now she might say, "You need some protein to make your muscles strong." She's unusually verbal, but I suspect most toddlers have the capacity for the same understanding, even if not the same parroting.

With cookies or ice cream, I introduce them as a treat. "You've eaten a good variety of foods today. Would you like a treat?" On the whole, though, I try to present fruits and other more healthy foods as equally desirable, offering them with equal enthusiasm.
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Last edited by S Starr; 10-03-2008 at 02:21 PM.
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