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'No More Broccoli!' and Other Ridiculous Things I've Said to My Overeating Toddler

March 7, 2011
By Deanne Haines

One evening at dinner I uttered three words I never thought I'd say to a child of mine: "No more broccoli!"

Healthy eating is one of my top priorities as a mom and broccoli is my favorite superfood to serve. But after three helpings of broccoli (and a large meal besides), my toddler, who never knew when to quit eating, needed to be stopped.

As a first-time mom, I received advice from others about how much to feed my new baby. They all seemed to agree: "Your baby will let you know when he's full."

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I wish that had been the case with my son. By the time he graduated to solids, he was obsessed with food and immediately started crying when the food was gone - no matter how much he had just eaten. Certain medical conditions can cause this type of behavior, but my son was diagnosed with just being a boy who likes to eat ... and eat ... and eat.

Few friends could empathize with my situation. As they dealt with their picky eaters who would eat nothing but macaroni and cheese, they thought I had it easy. After all, my child ate broccoli of all things. But "easy" does not describe dealing with horrible tantrums when food was anywhere in sight; people questioning why I made my son stop eating (after all, a child crying that hard must really be hungry); and the constant frustration of having to tell my son every five minutes, "No, it's not time for a snack."

One instance I've tried unsuccessfully to block from my memory occurred after my 2-year-old ate a granola bar. Five minutes later he decided he wanted another one. When I told him "No" he repeatedly said "Bar!" every five minutes for the next six months! And that is only a slight exaggeration.

After consulting with my son's pediatrician I learned the first step was to teach my son self-control. I set up a feeding schedule and had to be unequivocally rigid with it. My son had breakfast right when he woke up. I gave him his morning snack at exactly the same time every day. Lunch came as soon as the clock turned 11:30 a.m. (On a positive note, my son quickly learned how to tell time.) After one snack in the afternoon, there was dinner. That was it.

Researching healthy portion sizes helped me gauge the appropriate amount of food to serve, but it continued to be a mental struggle. What if his tears at the end of every meal meant he really was still hungry?

At mealtime I offered him one serving of food followed by a second small serving when he was done with the first. I always needed to include a warning with that second helping, however. "When you're done with this, you're 'All Done!'" If I ever forgot to mention the warning ahead of time, watch out - meltdown!

Eating out in public or worse yet, eating at someone else's house where food was set out was another ordeal. "Oh no, not a buffet!" That was my worst nightmare.

I'm sure I was labeled insane once at a party where all the appetizers were on the table. I told my son - after he ate way more than a 2-year-old should ever be allowed - that after his last cracker he was "All Done!" So when he immediately asked for a carrot, I had to stay firm and tell him "No." Down came the tears (his, not mine. Mine came later.)

Then from across the room I heard, "Let the boy have a carrot!" My face turned bright red as I realized how it looked - I was an overly strict parent who would not - under any circumstances - let my child have a carrot (of all things!)

My son actually ate very nutritiously. It was easy. Because he was obsessed with food, he would eat anything put in front of him. Cauliflower? No problem. Spinach? Gobbled it up. Beets? Not a flinch.

I never thought the day would come, but to my relief, my son eventually outgrew his emotional behavior regarding food. Now when I witness odd behavior by other parents, I don't question it - I figure they must have some reason for acting the way they do.

My husband likes to joke about how cute it was when my son was stuck on the word "bar" for many months. I'm not sure how much time needs to pass before I can laugh at that one, but apparently four years is not enough. The thought continues to send shivers down my spine.

My son still loves to eat, but today he's an active 6-year-old who also has his mind on school, Legos and playing with his friends. Now, if only his love of vegetables would have stuck with him.



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