This past week my 2-year-old, L, has decided eating is an option she doesn’t want to do it anymore. This is not written in my usual dramatic hyperbole. The girl doesn’t eat from about 4 pm each night until 7 am the next morning.
She’s making husband’s recent daily 14-hour fasting goal look easy.
I know toddlers are the best judges if they are hungry or not. I know she will not willingly starve herself. Her appetite starts waning after 1pm and apparently ceases once the sun goes down. I also know actual toddler “serving sizes” are microscopically smaller than you’d think: a quarter of a banana is the recommended serving for a 2-year-old, 2 tablespoons of Cheerios is all they are “supposed to” have at a time.
I once went to a ‘Toddler Workshop’ at the library and the childhood nutrition specialist there blew my mind with these facts. At that time E was 2 and would easily eat more than me for at least one meal on the daily. He’d plow through two full Eggo waffles, two scrambled eggs, a handful of berries and juice and want a snack one hour later.
It’s hard to fight the ‘clean plate club’ idea. It’s driven into me, from somewhere, kids need to eat. Eat something. I can now see how easy it is to fall into the trap of young children skipping dinner but then eating “snacks” an hour later. You don’t want to harm your kids. You don’t want them to starve.
But that’s the thing. I also rationally know, if L is hungry enough, she will eat what we offer her. And it’s not like she is sitting at the table screaming her head off for sweets- she doesn’t even want to sit down in the evening to eat. “L, time to eat!” I call. “No!” she shoots back, and runs away.
So, even though a part of me feels like I’m failing somehow, as I sit down to eat a nutritiously balanced dinner with my older son and she’s in her room playing with dolls, I also know that I’m avoiding a tantrum, tears, and annoyance by just letting her be. She goes to bed without dinner, sleeps 12 hours straight and wakes up hungry and happy so, I guess for now it’s all good.
Living with a toddler is living with an irrational power hungry dictator wanna-be. I know I can not physically force the kid to eat. She’s gonna do it when she wants to do it. But, on the flip side, I control what she eats. I can’t give her options, the knowledge that she maybe could have a choice of not just when to eat but also what– that’s how you end up with kids only eating chicken nuggets or grilled cheeses for three years straight.
So, this power struggle really isn’t a power struggle. It’s all internal with myself. She will eat when hungry, but only what we, the parents, deem healthy for her. And that’s how it is she ends up eating roughly the same calorie intake that Emma Stone dieting to fit into her Oscar gown does each day. And it’s ok.