Ask Miriam | Breakfast Battle Becomes Bothersome

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yogurt topped with mango
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Dear Miriam,

My kindergartener has decided she hates breakfast. Every day is a major struggle to get her to eat something before school. She wants cookies and candy in the morning, sure, but nothing that will give her the energy she needs to get to lunchtime. I can’t force her to eat, but I know she needs something in her system to get her through the morning. Help.

Signed,


Breakfast Battle

Dear Battle,

Before we talk about food or school or nutrition, my primary advice to you is to take the “battle” part out of your mornings. By your own admission, you can’t force her to eat, and by engaging in this exercise in willpower, you are reinforcing the power dynamic which is, most likely, what’s causing her to boycott breakfast in the first place. This will be infuriating for you. (“Why won’t she just eat?) But your best option is to cool it on caring about this (or at least showing your daughter that you care) and then try some new strategies in a couple of weeks.

I agree with not letting her eat Twizzlers and Oreos for breakfast, not because it would probably cause any real long-term damage (she’ll outgrow this phase eventually) but because it’s a kind of giving in that won’t help your long-term parenting relationship. However, if you’re deeply invested in having her eat something and want to meet her halfway, then sugary cereal or toast with a sweet spread or oatmeal with a couple of chocolate chips sprinkled on top might satisfy both of you.

She also might legitimately dislike breakfast food. There’s nothing inherently better about eating toast for breakfast than, say, grilled cheese or pasta. If there’s something, anything, that she’ll agree to that meets your nutritional satisfaction, let her have it. While this is often challenging with young kids, bringing her with you to the grocery store to pick out a new cereal can help give her some control over the situation. Involving her in baking muffins or putting ingredients in the blender for a smoothie can also help her feel more in charge and less at your mercy around food.

Finally, I’d encourage you to check your assumptions about her needs at school. Ask her teacher is she’s starting to meltdown before lunchtime. If the teacher isn’t having any concerns about her behavior on days she doesn’t eat, use that data to calm yourself down about this. On the other hand, if the teacher is seeing issues, see if it’s possible to keep a few granola bars tucked away at school for times when she needs a boost before lunch.

Some kids just aren’t ready to eat before school starts, and not all kids (though, I agree, most do) need that fuel to get them through the morning. She may also have lunch quite early, so the time she needs to get through might not be that significant.

Kids do not starve themselves when food is available. Make sure that food you approve of is available for her. Continue enforcing that candy isn’t a breakfast option but you can help her choose some delicious foods and even help her make them herself. Act like it’s all the same to you whether she eats or not. Most importantly, like all things with parenting, this phase will pass.

Be well,

Miriam

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