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Making Time: Negotiating Over Nuggets
When mealtime becomes a battle of wills

“I don’t want to grow big and strong right now Daddy – you can.”

That was the response I got when I told my son we need to eat our chicken nuggets to grow big and strong. Once again, we were at a standoff. I truly never thought that one of my biggest daily accomplishments would be getting my toddler to eat a full meal, but life is funny that way.

What may seem like a simple request, to “eat so you won’t be hungry,” often turns into a complicated journey replete with questions, stalling, countdowns, meltdowns, distractions and excuses. A toddler’s mood changes so fast they could give you whiplash, and one of the best displays of this in our family is at mealtime.

We are not novices at trying to convince people to undertake something they’re reluctant to do on their own. My wife went to law school and is a licensed (but not practicing) attorney, and I have advised professionals for over 20 years. But neither of us could have ever imagined that some of our toughest negotiations would be with a 3-year-old over the need for him to eat a meal. And we aren’t even presenting him with exotic items like spiced meats, fish, or new textures or flavors. No, our toddler argues over whether he will eat his chicken nuggets or mac & cheese. Forget the turkey meatballs and veggie patties he ate after he turned a year old. Once he turned 2, it was as though he had never eaten anything more exotic than pizza. And now that he’s 3, if his noodles are the same flavor but a different shape, then they are wrong.

To be fair, we probably have it better than other parents because our son does enjoy fruits and vegetables. He would be perfectly happy having meals consisting solely of grapes, broccoli, strawberries, carrots, or cauliflower, with a side of a cheese stick and a clementine without a main protein course. Maybe we should just be thankful for that, but alas we continue the daily uphill battle to try to get him to eat more.

Back at our dinner battle for the night, the chicken nuggets started off too hot, so we needed to wait for them to cool down. We then got sidetracked by a request for more milk, even though we are trying to get him to drink less at night to avoid bed wetting (which is becoming its own issue as we potty train).

Next, Brandon said he wanted something else, as though we are short-order cooks operating an open kitchen. But I humored him and asked what else he wanted, to which he responded “dessert.” Then came shifting our actual physical eating location from his smaller table to the larger kitchen table so he could join my wife and me for dinner, be a “big boy” and hopefully act like one too. This line of negotiation failed as well.

So, after about 45 minutes of stalling, whining, and coming up with numerous reasons why he couldn’t eat his chicken nuggets as they got colder, we reached the stage of the meal where I got the response of “Daddy, it is too cold,” to which I responded, “it was warm when we started this meal…which is also when Daddy had less grey hair.”

Never one to miss an opportunity, Brandon quipped, “Your hair is getting white, not grey, Daddy.”

Approximately an hour after the meal started Brandon had finally finished 2 dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets (the cauliflower and cherry tomatoes were long gone). And despite all the hysterics, he was now all smiles and ready for dessert. He looked at my wife deadpan and she asked, “Do you think you ate enough and in a way that you should get dessert?

“No,” he replied

“Then why should you have one,” she responded.

“Because I want it and my tummy is hungry for dessert now. Not dinner, Mommy, just dessert.”

Well, since you put it that way.


Read more Making Time here

July 2020
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