#mommyproblems: Toddler mealtimes are making me crazy. Literally.

I had such trouble with Ava’s feeding when she was nursing then on formula that I welcomed the end of bottles and the start of a table foods. I remember dreading bottle feedings because it would be a toss up in whether she would eat and when she did I was lucky if she had a couple of ounces. Luckily, things improved greatly after starting medication for silent reflex. But she still wasn’t much of a bottle feeder and I was still constantly stressed about how much she ate. We started solids at 5.5 months and she took to them like a champ. Then we started table foods around 8 months and she also took to those well. By 11 months, I joked about her being a garbage disposal, the kid would literally eat anything I gave her. Before 12 months, she had weaned herself from all her bottles and formula. I thanked my lucky stars that it hadn’t been a painful process and that she was such a good eater.

Fast forward to 13 months and apparently my luck had changed. Ava started examining her food, squishing it between her fingers, rejecting things she formerly loved (what kid doesn’t like bread?!), and worst of all-chewing food halfway only to spit it out. And sometimes pick it up and eat it again (gross I know, sorry!). Mealtimes were becoming a battleground, sometimes she would eat fine, sometimes very little. A food she liked a day before suddenly was awful the next day. And me feeding her from a spoon was a limited option, she no longer appreciated me shoveling food into her mouth. My anxiety was so high at times that I’d hold my breath while she put something in her mouth until she swallowed it. I thought my mealtime struggles ended with bottles, but I was wrong.

I ended up doing what every other neurotic, over anxious parent (just me?) would do-I went on the Internet. Apparently this is a pretty common issue and I heard about Ellyn Satter’s book How To Get Your Kid To Eat…But Not Too Much. The book actually spans from infancy to the teen years, but I just focused on the toddler section (I already have enough to deal with). What I learned was actually quite helpful and I’ll briefly sum up the main points here.

As parents, our job is to provide a variety of nutritious foods and it’s our child’s responsibility to decide what to eat and how much. When Ava started rejecting foods and eating less than her norm, I’d hover with a spoon by her mouth or just sneak a piece in when she happened to have her mouth open. That did nothing to help my cause as she realized she could just spit it out. It just made her not want it even more. I started just letting her eat what she wants, as much as she wants and I have to say it’s been refreshing. Toddlers at this age are starting to exert their independence and food is no exception. I mean, how would I feel if someone was trying to stuff food in my mouth non-stop? She’s a person too. It really has made a difference, she tries new things easily and most of the time she likes it, but if not, oh well. There’s always next time. I always try to offer foods I know she likes with new things or not so favorite things so I know that she’ll at least eat something.

Offer meals and snacks at scheduled times and don’t give in if the kid refuses a meal and comes begging for food as soon as you decide mealtime is over. If Ava doesn’t eat much at a meal (she’s never totally refused one), I don’t proceed to end the meal, then immediately give her something else because I’m convinced she’s starving. She gets whiny when she’s hungry and I just say, “you have to wait til snack time”. It makes sense, if you set the precedent that if they refuse food in the highchair they’ll get something anyway while they play or watch TV, then you’re not setting a precedent for mealtimes. The expectation is that when she’s in her highchair it’s time to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If she opts out, she has to wait til snack time. I think she’s come to realize that she better eat enough to be satisfied otherwise the wait between the next chance to eat isn’t so pleasant.

Kids don’t eat that much. I think because Ava seemed to have such a hearty appetite before turning one, I just assumed she’d continue to eat more. But after the first year, growth slows and they just don’t need as much food. And it’s better to look at a kid’s eating as a whole instead of just what they ate that day. There are definite days when Ava eats a ton and the next much less. It all evens out in the end.

Make meal time a no pressure, happy time. When Ava started to be pickier and eat less and throw food on the ground, I have to admit I lost my temper a few times. It’s hard when you go through so much trouble to prepare food for your child only to have it end up in the ground. I always felt like crap afterwards and apologized, of course she doesn’t realize what she’s doing is wrong. Now, I just put the food on her tray and let her eat as she pleases, we chat and pretend to feed sippy cup shaped like a cat (so cute, one day she just started offering it food) and that’s that. I don’t praise her when she eats or scold her when she doesn’t. But I also don’t tolerate negative behaviors, if she continues after 3 warnings I just end the meal then so she knows it’s not going to fly. We still end up with food on the floor, but it’s not as bad as it was.

This isn’t a restaurant, there’s no menu of options. If Ava wouldn’t eat her toast, I used to immediately run to the pantry and grab the Cheerios. She loves them and I knew she’d eat them. I’m pretty sure that taught her that if she won’t eat a certain food, a more appealing option will magically appear. Since I stopped doing that I’ve noticed that when I give her toast, she still messes around with it , but will eventually eat some of it. She used to love zucchini and summer squash and now she’ll have nothing to do with it. I still offer it to her every few days and if she doesn’t eat it I don’t stress it. I just make sure that I offer a veggie I know she likes at the next meal so she at least got some in for the day.

It’s not perfect and I know we’ll only have more food battles to come, but mealtimes have become 100% better because I’m not worried anymore. I know that she’ll eat what she needs. Obviously, it’s important to consult your pediatrician for any major food concerns-I actually asked mine if I should give multivitamin and she said no. If you’re having similar troubles with your little one, I highly recommend this book. It helped so much to put my mind at ease and make mealtimes more pleasant for both of us!

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Couldn’t write this post without including a picture of Ava, post-spaghetti 🙂

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