I find mealtime for my daughter the most stressful time of the whole day. Unlike most everything else in our day, it occurs three times in the span of about 12 hours. Nothing comes that regularly and with as much baggage as feeding time.
Like the clock on the wall mindlessly and dauntingly counting time, mealtimes come with exacting regularity. Whether I am on schedule or not, my daughter lets me know all too well just when it is time to eat. It may be the full-out fall to the floor and sprawl while screaming, or the subtle and cute quietness, but when it is mealtime, she lets me know. The need for the body to have food, is I assume, one of the three or four most important functions of the brain. Breathing, pumping blood with the heart, and eating are probably tied for first place in what to do first in our brains. I know I don’t think about breathing or beating my heart consciously so to my daughter eating is probably the most important function she has control over. There are other “functions” that happen regularly throughout the day, changing diapers, though that does not have the same stress-inducing second-guessing that feeding brings up. You pull off the dirty one, clean her up, and throw on a new one … simple.
“Did she eat enough? Were the things I actually got her to eat healthily? Does squeeze fruit with apples and squash count as a vegetable? How much actual squash is in that thing? Do gummy rabbits have any nutritional value at all?” These are the things that run through my head when I am sitting at the dining room table and my daughter is in her high chair “having lunch”. I always try to start with healthy stuff. Carrots, chicken, broccoli and maybe cheese. Then, after she has chewed through 2 carrots, and all the mashed-up remains are in the bib, I go for the yogurt drink. I know that there is a lot of sugar but she’s growing right? I mean there’s protein and fruit in there, so it has to be good.
Inevitably, after a while, she throws a spoon full of yogurt or the whole packet into the air where it smears onto the carpet and the placemats … and I reluctantly move on to the next mealtime item.
“More, More, More,” she says while making the sign for more in front of her and pointing to the brownie on the kitchen counter. She had a piece last night, as a treat after dinner, and she can see it now in plain sight. “Why did I leave it out on the counter?” I say to myself trying to distract her with a spoonful of applesauce. With the cries and wails of torture that emanate into the vents of the building when the spoon moves towards her mouth, I am waiting for the doorbell to ring and someone to say, “Is everything ok?” Applesauce is in front of her and she needs a brownie now. I try to get her quiet and thinking about something else by saying, “Have some milk!” This works for a second when she remembers that there is milk in that cup. For the most part she loves milk, but after three or four big gulps, staring at the brownies the chant of “More, More, More” continues. “OK sweetie, you want some brownie?” “Yea, Yea, Yea, Daddy!!!”
With the world’s biggest smile on her face and cheeks that look like they are glowing, she takes a bite and starts eating! Finally, food is going down her throat and into her belly at mealtime. Victory! Nourishment – that primary building block for her body, mind and growth is flowing to the right place and not on the floor or in the air. Peace has taken over and she is holding a smashed piece of brownie in the air and singing “Must Be Santa” with a ring of chocolate around her full mouth.
Meanwhile, I get more stressed: “Oh no, she’s eating chocolate and sugar which is going to rot her teeth and stunt her growth. I am a complete failure as a parent.”
This routine is repeated about 5 hours later…and as I mentioned earlier, happens three times a day. The foods are different each time but always have similar qualities. In descending order, they start healthy, move to OK, and then end with junk. Sometimes she will eat two whole bowls of sweet potatoes and I have a pink cloud moment where I have succeeded in being a father who is providing the right kind of nutrition for her. Other times, her only dinner is a juice box and half a bag of potato chips.
Mealtime is the most stressful time of my day with her because I want the best for her. I want her to have a balanced diet where her brain is getting the optimum amount of vitamins and minerals so she can develop and grow up. My wife and I are little so if she eats well she will be healthy and strong and not have to worry about her small stature. Feeding her the right foods now when she is learning how to fuel her body will set the precedent for healthy living and eating in the future. These are the reasons I get stressed out when I feed her because I, like any parent in the world, want what’s best for her.
It’s only after about three or four of these fiascos that I remember something my mother in law said when she was little. “No child that is offered three meals in a day will starve.” Upon remembering these words I can usually smile, “she is healthy, she is growing, and how lucky I am to have food on the table for her to throw around when the brain’s primary task has been bypassed.” When I remember this and reflect, I open a bag of chips, or a package of M&M’s, and pass it back and forth while we smile and laugh about eating junk food. I strain to let go of all the stuff my brain is telling me and just enjoy her eating and being happy. The moment of a stressful lunch has left me and we are calm and happy … until dinner, she has got to eat some of those green beans, they’re good for her! Urghhhhhh! “Honey don’t throw those, it’s messy to throw food and it’s not nice.”
About the author
Jack (Jake) Howard Potter resides in New York City with his wife, Erica and daughter, Skylar.