Most parents would be on the lookout for the elusive appetite, a species of creatures that is quick to take off and disappear on vacation, especially when called to ensure that a child is well-fed.
The appetite displays some strange habits. It will disappear for days on end, then suddenly show up, looking all ravenous and unable to control itself, just when dessert is being served.
Rare is the parent that has not tried hard and eventually tried to tear his/her hair out in frustration at the thought of sneaking some food into the mouth of a child unwilling to eat.
I have tried every trick in the book. In my hands, food zooms through the air, making numerous sorties, and then I suddenly apply the brakes right outside La Niña’s mouth, only to find the door stubbornly barred from the inside. The poor morsel, finding itself unwelcome, has no option but to head back to the base (read: plate). There is no way I can prise her mouth open to force feed her, even if I were to think of that as a feasible option, which I don’t.
For a while, I tried to get creative. On one occasion, I filled a small katori with rice and upturned it into the plate to form the two wheels of the bicycle. Then I made the pedals, handlebars, etc. using slices of tomato, capsicum etc. La Niña was delighted. She polished off her food, and demanded something even more creative at the next meal. I obliged, giving her food the look of a car. For some days, everyone was happy. But it wasn’t a long-term solution.
Being a working woman, I don’t have the time to indulge in such creative pursuits on a daily basis. The experiment fizzled out after a while.
There were times when I found myself bargaining with her. If she had so many spoonfuls (later rephrased to bites) of the vegetable cooked for the day, then I would let her have an extra helping of dessert.
I would try to be firm with her. If she wouldn’t have her meals, I would refuse to give her any other snack that she asked for. Her doting grandparents, however, don’t always favour my firm methods, and sometimes allow her to have such things as banana milkshake at mealtimes. Their goal involves ensuring that she does not go to bed hungry and mine is to ensure that she eats something healthy, something that can provide nutrition and is a worthy part of a balanced diet.
I soon discovered that there were many other parents who faced the same problem. Many told me that this was a problem that some kids faced between the ages of 2½ years to 4 or 5 years, and that the appetite returns by the end of that period.
I console myself with the thought that “this too shall pass.” I remember how I used to give my mother a hard time with regard to eating chapatis. I could never eat them, unless they were accompanied by something sweet.
Now that La Niña is growing up, the battlefield-like pressures at mealtimes have eased somewhat, but she continues to keep me on my toes with her tendency to eat the wrong things at the wrong times and her refusal to eat any vegetables except lady fingers. But we just celebrated her fifth birthday recently, so hopefully things will improve.
If you are reading this, come home soon. All is forgiven.
(This post was written for Parentous, an online community on parenting related issues.)