There is always something about the behaviour of my kids that has me freaking out. It might be a period of being untruthful, or perhaps being melancholy or even being more unruly than ever, whatever it is, it generally passes fairly quickly and whilst the mummy-guilt might kick in and I might stress about the behaviour for a few seconds (or even minutes) I know that everything will work out. I generally don’t make a big deal about it, instead trying to chat with the kids about possible issues without being confrontational. I know that together we can work it out and until now that has generally been the case. Sure we did go through a particularly rough patch last year with the boy at school, bullying and his intense dislike of his teacher and of school in general, but it all worked out and he currently loves going to school. All was well with the world.
The relaxed approach is the way I like to get things done and it seems to work for us, until now. I have to admit that I have been freaking out by my girl’s behaviour and attitude lately and what is scaring me most of all is that she is a smaller version of me. Not the me that I was when I was also 7 but more like the me that I am now. You see, my beautiful little girl isn’t eating much. Now this may be normal in many households but not around here. Both of my monsters eat like, well, like monsters. Breakfast is always eaten, and can range from a tin of baked beans (a full regular sized tin, not one of those kiddie ones, straight from the can) to 3 slices of toast on a typical day (more for the boy), a huge bowl of porridge if I have had time to make some or even a bowl of pasta if there is any left over from dinner. Breakfast around here is sizeable, often larger than dinner and on many occasions it is eaten over a few sittings.
Now one would think that with such a large breakfast, perhaps lunch wouldn’t be a big thing but a typical lunch is 1 1/2 rounds of sandwiches, an apple, a mandarin (or banana if they are affordable!), a row of crackers, some cherry tomatoes and a piece of cheese and most of it would be eaten most days. Sure both kids have had phases of not being hungry at school and being too busy to make time to eat, but it doesn’t last long, and never for more than a week. Then on the days of not eating much lunch at school, they would clean out the pantry when they got home from school. Hell, most days even if they have eaten all of their lunch, they clean out the pantry after school and still eat dinner!
Dinner is pretty relaxed, we go for the self serve option. I pile everything onto the table and they serve themselves. The boy prefers to eat his food in stages (just like me), eating the meat first, followed by each vegetable individually. The only real ‘rule’ is that their dinner has to be colourful, they can’t just eat food of one colour otherwise they would both fight over eating the pumpkin or the broccoli! I find that by doing the self serve dinner, we all eat well and we don’t waste much. It also makes it easy that I can cook too many vegies and have left overs ready to accompany dinner the following day. It works for us and as a family we generally eat really well (that doesn’t count tonight when we had fish and chips!)
Anyway, now that I have set the scene for what is normal for around here, let me explain my concerns. Girl-child has lost her appetite and hasn’t been eating as much as she normally would. School lunches come home barely touched and not wanting to eat much after school. She is constantly ‘not hungry’ and in fact makes excuses for why she doesn’t eat. This morning she actually lied about eating breakfast before we were out of bed to avoid eating. Over this last week, words like “but I’m not hungry”, or “I am full” (when a meal was barely started) have become normal. Even “Mummy, I’ve got a tummy ache” seems to be heard around meal time as an excuse for her to be excused from meals. I don’t want to make a big deal of it just yet but it is scaring me. As a family we are conscious of what we eat. We talk about eating food that gives us the energy that we need to do all the fun things that we love to do. We talk about eating a variety of food and generally meal times are a breeze. We have been lucky to not have fussy eaters and love trying different cuisines with family favourites being Yemeni, Malaysian and Ethiopian. Now that it has all changed, I am struggling to know what to do. Admittedly my eating habits leave a lot to be desired. Sure I blame getting sick last year and the medical complications I have dealt with since then but it is really hard to set a positive example when I physically can’t. She watched me sit at the table not eating and listened to me explain why I couldn’t eat in the lead up to my procedures. She saw me struggling with having to fast and drink the horrible pre-procedure preparations. I have even explained that it was my lack of appetite that led to me having to go to hospital to have cameras put into my stomach to make sure it was OK. She seems to have understood this but it hasn’t made a difference.
Adding to all of this, we have many friends who are fasting for Ramadan so she is also aware of the concept of fasting for religious reasons as well as for medical reasons. She has asked if it is OK for her to fast even if she isn’t Muslim, knowing that I fast at least once during Ramadan when I am going to celebrate Iftar with colleagues. It is difficult to explain that by fasting I am trying to learn the patience and humility and live my life, if only for one day, in someone else’s shoes.
I really don’t know what has brought on this change in her. There hasn’t been any size related issues that we are aware of, she is fit, healthy and generally very happy. She really doesn’t want to talk about it and when we try to talk she gets all defensive and angry, at times even crying. It really isn’t normal behaviour for her at all and I don’t know just how to deal with it. We already eat most meals as a family and I don’t want to make a huge deal of her lack of appetite for fear it makes her retreat further.
I really thought we would get at least close to teen years before this became an issue. Any suggestions on what to do to promote healthy happy eating?