Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vive la France

We're two weeks into my French experiment, which I've dubbed the War on Snacks, and I'm thrilled to report that it's changed our lives for the better. I've realized the error of my past ways and embraced the continental model of food rationing with an evangelical zeal.

The Grape no longer indulges in mindless grazing whenever the mood strikes him. We no longer carry a selection of snacks superior to that found on long haul flights in the stroller. He no longer pushes away his meals, with complaints that he's not hungry or that he wants "something else." I no longer scramble to produce the vaguely defined "something else," only to end up frustrated when the child, presented with an array rivaling that of most hotel buffets, still refuses to take a bite of dinner. If he absolutely must have a snack because everyone else is doing it, he knows it's going to be fresh fruit or nothing.

I never meant to create a little monster, but in hindsight, I let it happen.

I was so afraid the little waif wasn't getting enough calories that I let him determine when and what he ate, even if doing so messed up the day's planned events for everyone concerned. I spent hours pleading with him to eat at meal times, often failing to persuade him to take one lousy bite of something he'd gobbled happily the previous day. I pulled out fistfuls of hair (mine, not his) in frustration. I begged, cajoled, threatened and lost my cool more times than I care to recount.

I tossed all kinds of foodstuffs down the disposal. I hate wasting food, but there are only so many times one can re-heat a dish (I think about half a dozen). I'm not a religious person, but I believe throwing away good, healthy provisions constitutes a grave sin.

Even if my kid isn't old enough to grasp that there are children starving in Africa, and going very hungry in the United States.

No more. I'm not ready to parachute onto an aircraft carrier in front of a banner proclaiming, "Mission Accomplished" (because I harbor an aversion to jumping from perfectly serviceable planes), but I am nearly giddy with the results.

I have a good little meal eater. His diet is more balanced, his attitude is better since his blood sugar no longer yo-yos from intermittent hunger strikes, and meals are actually a pleasurable event in our house, for the first time since the pre-Grape era.

Some might say I've swung too far the other way. That I'm too rigid. To which I say, we can always loosen up as time wears on. But for now, I believe the best way to form new habits is to stick with the program that's working. And to those who say it's mean to deprive the kid of dietary autonomy, I offer two points.

First, given complete dietary freedom, my kid would eat 90 per cent dessert items, which he would ingest at the rate of one bite per seven minutes, through all his waking hours.

Second, the Grape may not stay waifish into adulthood. Should his metabolism decelerate after puberty, he'll be glad to have good and mindful eating habits. Ask any weight loss expert, and they'll say that many overweight people struggle with mindless eating (also known as eating to combat boredom).

I was hesitant to believe that a drastic change, implemented cold turkey, in how we dole out food could make such a significant positive impact so quickly.

But I'm encouraged and inspired by the results. Because of the success of the War on Snacks, I'll be more confident making drastic course corrections next time something in our lives isn't working.


  1. It's fun to read the progress report. Do you follow Sharon Bially's blog (from WU)? She wrote this post and mentions the Bringing Up Bebé book. My kiddo snacks and eats dinner too. He's not two yet.

    1. Hey Stacy - nice to see you here!

  2. Yes, the Bebe author is getting lots of attention in the blogosphere. I agree with Sharon in that living to serve one's kids is a notion prevalent (peculiar?) in America. And I'm delighted that the concept of child rearing (as opposed to nonstop child cheering) might get some new traction from the dialogue Druckerman's book sparked.

  3. Hallelujah! From one who has taken this approach with my kids from the start (made easier by the fact that the start was in France and my husband's been pretty firm about it all along) I don't even see it as rigid. It's just sensible. And even good sense needs to be approached like a discipline.

    One of the nice side effects, now that my kids are older ( about to turn 9 and 13) is having little people who like to sit and enjoy a meal with big people, no matter what's on the table. And -- LOL -- last weekend we were in a Creole restaurant in Harlem and the almost-9-year-old ordered.... 'gator. It just struck his fancy! Go figure.

  4. Ok, now I feel the need to qualify. I'm not utterly rigid. I will make exceptions for things like holiday candy and birthday cake!

  5. That's what makes exceptions truly special and all the more enjoyable :-)

  6. I used to give my toddlers snacks of "bugs on a log" (from a nature center they went to) which is cream cheese or peanut butter on celery with raisins AND peeled and sliced cucumbers sprinkled with salt. The last was my mom's way to get us to eat them. I actually would peel and slice one cucumber per child and give it to them when I was making dinner and that was their "green" for the meal and their pre-meal snack. For pre-school, I would slice strips of red pepper for them. Believe it or not, my 3 year old traded his ice cream to his brother for his cucumber one time. I kid you not. Their Dad was big on salads, not me, but they loved the cucumbers, and that was the easiest thing for me to do. I also did not force the boys to eat anything, but we told them they should try everything at least once. And they will eat salads when we're out on their own, tho sometimes we'll split one. Don't ask me why they ate those when I gave it to them as a toddler. I don't know. The youngest also loved watermelon, so I would hand him that in the van after preschool to cover both snack and juice.