My son just recently had his 2nd birthday party. The first thing I thought of the morning of his party was, “At least I know he will eat the cake.” It was a guilty thought.
When my son started on baby food, he was eager to try new things. Eating food was a fun experience. But now, as we enter the infamous terrible twos, when I think of meal times, I cringe and worry, “Will he eat anything?” I know I’m not alone in facing this. One Mommy shared her thoughts, “Why didn’t anyone warn us about this? I had no clue that feeding a child could be so frustrating. I try to give him healthy things, carrots, peas and corn. Nothing. My son wouldn’t pick it up and wouldn’t allow me to feed him; he wouldn’t open his mouth. I don’t want to give up but I just feel so guilty now! Like maybe it is all my fault he doesn’t like anything.”
It’s the guilt I think most mommies go through and the reason nobody talks about it. Until I had a baby, the only stories I heard were how “easy it is to feed a child” and “how much fun it is” to feed a baby. A baby, yes, but feeding a toddler who has learned independence in feeding himself and now has the ability to say ‘no’ – not easy and not fun.
Look of disgust on his face when given new food.
A typical mealtime for us consist of Gregory shaking his head and saying “Ut Uh” (no) before the food even gets close to his mouth. If the food looks different to him, he won’t let it get near him. If he is curious, he might pick up the food and see if he can squish it between his fingers. Then he smells it, if it can past the sniff test… he takes the food… and just as you think he is going to eat it, he hands it to Mommy and Daddy… we have to prove that it taste good enough for us to eat before he will take a bite. And if none of those tests go well, it’s tears, fists in the air; all the while trying to get out of the chair.
The squish test on spaghetti
Who wants to cook a meal under those conditions? When is it okay to give a child something you know he will like (such as mac and cheese), just to make sure that he is eating? I spoke with mothers of older children (ranging from 4-6 years old) and received so many various answers, it made my mind spin. Answers such as, “I fed my child peanut butter and jelly for 2 years. Look at him; he survived. He’s perfectly healthy.” Another mommy explained, “I wouldn’t let my daughter off of the high chair until she had tried each of the items on her plate and now she’s not a picky eater.”
When I mentioned the idea of Pediasure as a supplement on the days my son refused to eat anything, it was another head spinning experience. Replies from, “I think it’s a good idea, because the child is definitely getting something healthy and liking it” to “The child doesn’t know it’s healthy. The child thinks he or she is getting a treat and not having to eat anything healthy. It still teaches bad eating habits that will later bite you in the rear.”
With so many variations of opinions, what is a Mommy to do? I’ve chosen to look for the solutions that bring harmony instead of headaches.
First, I’ll mention what seems to work the best for my son. My husband was listening to a show and the mother of a picky eater said, “Do not force the child to eat food. Do not hold the food up to a child’s mouth. Just put the food on the plate and ignore it. If your child has a very curious nature, he or she will try the food.” My husband swears by this. Sometimes it works and sometimes Gregory picks up the “new” food from the plate and puts it on the table away from him. But this practice has been the least stressful of all the other attempts we have made.
Practice what you preach. If you want your child to eat healthy, have healthy things in the house. My cousin shared this with me regarding her picky eater, “I made sure that I had fresh fruit and healthy snacks around the house. My son was more likely to eat small helpings throughout the day rather than three normal sized meals.” This way, if her son had a snack, he had healthy options to choose from.
When we spoke to our doctor about Gregory’s eating behavior, we were told, “Children eat more in the first year, because they are growing so quickly. The rapid growth rate slows down and the child doesn’t need as much. Remember that a child’s stomach is as big as a child’s fist. It doesn’t take much to fill. Don’t try to force a child to eat too much. Put a variety of foods and vegetables and meat on the plate in small portions.” This knowledge helped to relieve some of the guilt feelings.
Another Mommy of a picky eater said, “Break the habit as quickly as you can. My daughter was a picky eater and at 6 years old, she is only now starting to try new things. If you want to get healthy foods in, try different ways of introducing the foods. What about rice and a cream sauce but then add in the florets of a broccoli. It’s small broccoli pieces that the child might not see, but will eat. Find creative ways to add healthy into the meal planning.”
A good friend of mine said, “I don’t have picky eaters. If they didn’t eat something on their plate, the same food would appear on their plate the next day. And if they didn’t eat it that day, it would appear on the following day. It was on their plate each day until their tried it.” Repetition makes a child feel more secure and possibly more willing to try it when the child continues to see it on the plate.
Don’t become a short order cook. My cousin said, “The one thing I refused to do was to create separate meals to match my kids various eating preferences. Of course I kept their likes and dislikes in mind when cooking, but if one child opted out, I wouldn’t fix them something else.” As her children got older, they learned to prepare meals that they wanted without putting the burden on their mom to cater to their tastes. At the toddler age, my cousin “would be more likely to tailor the family meals to include an option I knew they would enjoy.” If the child didn’t eat the meal, she supplemented with multivitamins. “I never wanted to make meal time a battle. Food is meant to be enjoyed.”
One mother gave advise on what not to say, rather than things to do. She said, “Don’t tell a child they have to eat a particular food, such as a vegetable. It becomes a battle of wills, rather than the focus of food. Don’t make dessert a bribe. Don’t tell a child that if they eat this, then they get dessert. Children are smarter than you realize and the parent will get caught in the short end of the barter. Give a small dessert and make no big deal of it. Don’t praise a child for eating. They know how to eat, why are you praising them and making an issue of it?”
A friend and fellow Jefferson Parish Parent Blogger, Laurel, shared with me how she was able to change the ways of her picky eater son’s behavior. They started watching shows on eating strange and unique things. (Man Vs. Food and Cutthroat Kitchen) These shows are based on challenges. Suddenly food became a “fun challenge” for her son. She was able to spark her son’s creativity in the interest of food. This might be too young for my two year old, but it’s definitely an idea I want to keep in mind for when Gregory gets older.
During my son’s birthday party, he saw the various platters we served to our guests. He pointed to the strawberries. I thought, “Oh, he just wants to hold one, because it’s bright red.” I handed him the strawberry and he surprised me with eating it and then asking for more! I wanted to jump up and down. I might have in fact, because some of the adults who don’t have children gave me strange looks. But I saw nods of understanding coming from my fellow mommies.