I don’t know if it’s genetics, personality, or something I did wrong with baby-led weaning, but Gray isn’t “in” to food the way I hoped he would be. Indeed, some of his favorite foods are very healthy (lentils, eggs, any fruit, spinach, raw carrots and bell peppers are his current favorites), but to me his palate seems limited, and he is reluctant to eat anything “assembled”–sandwiches, casseroles, soup; he prefers finger foods. Some days he eats so little that I really do not know how he has such boundless energy.
So last month I set out to learn more about how I can help him become a “good” eater. I put quotes around good because it’s a pretty subjective term. My hopes for him are pretty simple in theory: to enjoy eating a variety of healthy foods, and to retain his inborn ability to regulate his intake. At this age, table manners are not a top priority, though I would like for him to be able to sit in his high chair for the duration of dinner (some nights this is a struggle).
As is my style, I went on a bit of a reading bender.
Enter: five books promising to teach me how to get my kid to eat well. You can read about each book on Daily Mom, but here are some of the decisions I made after my crash course:
- Each author has a slightly different approach, but BY FAR, the overarching theme is: do not get into a power struggle. Do not negotiate. Do not cajole. Do not bribe. This is SO. DIFFICULT. Though I have never negotiated at the table, I have often encouraged (err, begged), and found that the more I want G to eat, the less he eats. I am working very hard to reduce this behavior in myself. Though I hate to disrupt family dinners, I sometimes have to leave the table in order to do this. Matthew is much better at letting G eat uninterrupted.
- Have set meal and snack times and discourage eating outside of those times. This can be difficult for us when we go to the gym or a play date where they give out snacks, but I am learning to incorporate those into his eating schedule. Nowadays, we offer meals/snacks to G four times a day: when he wakes up, before nap, after nap, and at dinner time. His morning meal is the most relaxed, as he wakes up early, so he starts eating with Matthew and usually continues to nibble with me later in the morning. I cut him off at 9am.
- Offer foods I know he likes mixed with those he is learning to like. Because I hate seeing him reject food, I fell into only offering him his favorite foods for a while. This obviously wasn’t helping him expand his palate. Now I include at least one food that will encourage him to get out of his comfort zone. It helps when I silently don’t expect him to eat it. He’s been surprising me lately with what he will eat!
- Give him some choices during mealtime (or at least the appearance of them). This is the time when toddlers are trying to establish their autonomy, so I try to offer options all day, but especially around meals, to make the whole experience more positive. Little things like letting him choose his own fork, his own plate, fill his water cup (with close supervision!), and climb into his high chair himself have all helped mealtimes go more smoothly. Sometimes we will also let him choose one of his foods, usually which fruit he wants for dessert, from two options.
- If I’m serving it, he can have as much or as little of it as he wants. Yes, this means he can have more bread even if he hasn’t had much broccoli (see: no negotiation). But it also means he doesn’t get to ask for crackers if I’m not serving them; the food at the table are his only options. Oh, and he gets dessert regardless of what or how much he ate at dinner. This is all part of the “Division of Responsibility” outlined in Child of Mine.
Not meddling while Gray eats is a constant challenge. I often repeat a concept from Child of Mine as a mantra, “Your job is done once you serve the meal.” I think this is the change that is making the biggest difference.
Please share any tips you have to encourage good eating habits in children!