On eating (or not eating)

As a teacher B.C. (before Collin) the number one question I got from parents was regarding food. “Does he eat enough?”, “How do I get him to eat more vegetables?”, “She just won’t sit at the table at home, how do you get her to do it here?”
For many parents it seems to be a constant worry or at least a preoccupation. Well lets all just take a collective deep breath and relax. It’s not up to you. It is up to your child. As with many things now and in the future your child must develop his own likes, dislikes and I-will-eat-if-very-very-hungry-and-nothing-else-is-around’s.
For the most part there seem to be three camps of feeding styles:
1. The “they are small so as long as they’re eating I don’t care what goes into their body” camp
2. The “I know they like these three healthy things” so I feed them everyday…all day…a few times a day.
3. The “I know what is healthy and that is all I will fix my child regardless of their interests or developmental ability to chew such things”

When we had Collin I knew I wanted to find a healthy medium between all three. In the first few months of his life he suffered some major digestive issues (requiring surgery and hospitalization, more on that in another post).  Following this I had a heck of a time keeping up a decent supply of breastmilk and honestly by the time he was ready to eat I couldn’t wait to replace man-made-chemical-laden formula with whole, real, nutritious food.  I read a lot, basically ignored the advice of my doctor (start him on rice cereal at four months? ) and used my knowledge of development to structure his new world of food.

So just how did we build a toddler who will try anything, eats most things and prefers broccoli over pizza (most of the time anyway)?

In regards to what we fed Collin we decided early on we only wanted to feed him whole, real food.  We tried rice cereal once, he hated it, we never looked back.  His first foods were banana, avocado, and sweet potatoes.  I really loved the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. We basically followed her food introduction schedule when Collin was in infant.  I made all of his food and used this book as a guideline.  (I did this while working full time, it’s really easy and so much cheaper!)  Also helpful were the charts that showed vitamin contents of many fruits and veggies making it easy to combine for a well balanced diet.  We also started fairly early with plain, organic, whole milk yogurt.  Due to the trials his poor tummy had gone through so early, breastfeeding, not eating for two weeks, breastfeeding, switching to formula and loads and loads of antibiotics we felt the probiotics were important to repopulate his delicate system.

As far as the culture we are trying to build around food in our family we stuck to three basic rules and have remained (mostly) consistent from his first bite until now.
First, he will be invited to participate in cooking, mixing and making his meal.  During the process he can smoosh, chew, poke or otherwise investigate the food (as safety allows)
Second, we watched for “I’m done signals” we never pushed a last bite or even a first (even though it can be painfully difficult to throw away lovingly prepared food that you just know they’d like if they would only try! That was my issue not his) As he has grown we have encouraged self feeding.  On occasion he will take two bites and be done.  Oh well, there is another meal/snack around the bend right?
Third, What is on the table is the meal.  No bouncing from fridge to table trying to find things he will eat.  We offer a variety of choices at each meal and let him decide how much or even if he wants to eat.  Finally, we have always tried to make mealtimes fun, engaging and exploratory. Just as during cooking he make poke, chew, even spit out food.

Letting your child learn about and explore food the way they learn about everything else will help them come to be adventurous eaters.  Enjoyable low stress meal time with clear boundaries help keep kids clear about what we have control over and what they have control over.  Only a child has control of what they eat.  They are born with an intuitive understanding of what their body needs, all we need to do is step out of the way.  Trying too hard turns meals into a power struggle and can begin a lifetime of emotionally driven or otherwise out of balance eating.  Healthy eating for a baby