As I sit here, my daughter is devouring a kumato tomato, one of her (and my) favorites. I couldn’t help wondering, based on some of her eating habits, if maybe it’s partly genetic… partly learned… who is to say? Babies seem to come with their own sleep agendas, and food agendas. RZ has never been a ‘great’ sleeper, but when it comes to eating – she’s remarkable. Although I have been warned that the terrible two’s bring terribly picky habits.
I guess it’s that whole autonomy thing. Once you know how to read a menu and ask for what you want, why settle for what’s served right? I wouldn’t trust a waiter who just brings me whatever he thinks I should eat… unless. …. he was a chef… who was hand-picking his special one-night-only choices…. You see what I’m getting at?
Perhaps… part of a child’s attitude toward food is based on how much they trust the restaurant? In any case, here are the habits of our a happy little eater (and for the time being, I have credibility!)
Just like the importance of night time ritual that so many parents rave about, we have a very distinct high chair ritual, and I believe that it has had a very positive and Pavlovian effect on RZ’s eating habits. Once she’s sitting in her chair, I put a dinner napkin on her lap (a dish towel. This evolved out of necessity, as a food catcher, not as a proper etiquette thing!), then a bib, then roll up her sleeves and put the high chair tray on. Then, if the plate’s ready, I’ll set it down with her spoon, or if it’s not and she starts whining, we say “patience…. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” and that sort of works, for a minute. ; )
She has breakfast at 7, lunch at noon, and dinner at 5. We have barely ever wavered from this for many, many months. It’s not always easy but who knows – maybe it’s helped.
The high chair is their sandbox. Anything goes.
I started giving RZ solids early, around 6 months (maybe sooner actually). This came with its challenges.
We still see a lot of mixing, sliding, spreading, emptying/pouring, sorting, mashing, spitting, splashing, relocating – and all is fair game. The only thing I’m strict with is dropping on the floor. Everything else is allowed… a complete mess, but allowed.
I hope this has perhaps encouraged her to associate food with fun… with freedom… with experimentation. All the things that we associate it with ourselves.
3. CONTROLLED VARIATION
Paediatricians advise parents to wait a few days before introducing new foods to infants. For some reason I was really uptight about that and kind of still am. So I’ll cook something on a Sunday, and she’ll have it for dinner and then lunch or dinner the next day. And maybe a third day if it’s something like pasta or something else that lasts.
All in all this ends up meaning that RZ will have the same meal 2 or three days in a row. And I think it’s helped in some ways, by giving her a sort of mastery over whatever is being served. She learned about the taste, the texture, the challenges, the best way to attack the plate, and by the third day (max) she’s probably super bored of it!
With parents that will eat anything and everything, and try to do just that, we’ve most definitely shared our enthusiasm for adventurous eating. I think that it’s led us to let her try things that might not be considered baby friendly. (Fois Gras at 7 months old…?!)
The thing is, I think she knows that the adventure is for all of us. When we all try something new together – it’s a shared experience, and she learns that we try new things just like she does. We say “ooh, ahh!” and our eyes light up – that’s behaviour she will likely mimic.
A few months ago, just before she turned one, RZ refused to eat much, for quite a few days. We thought she was hitting a picky phase, or just being difficult. Then one night that week she threw up. And within a few days….we ALL got the stomach flu.
Toddlers have reasons for not eating at certain times or certain foods. RZ has been through phases of liking just carbs, and other phases of liking just veggies.
Texture issues are valid. Preferences are valid. Accommodating them has brought us no trouble at all. I actually feel like her personal chef on most days.. but I’m kind of ok with that! (read: Dream job).
Respect for little tummies and little preferences is ok, I think.
Breakfast at 7, Lunch at 12, Dinner at 5. We have rarely wavered. I’m not suggesting that this is a pre-requisite to healthy eating habits, but it does take some of the guess work and strain out of meal time. She eats in her high chair, 98% of the time. Which means no chasing her around the house to eat or wondering if her belly is full. Sometimes meals are in the car or out at friend’s houses – and to be honest, it’s not as easy. Wondering if your baby has a full tummy is kind of no fun.
The consistency is not completely altruistic ; ) But it has definitely trained her to have an appetite at all the right times.
I don’t know where I get my enthusiasm about food, but my daughter definitely has it already – whether by nature or nurture.
Where did it come from? Probably from us, her crazy food fanatical parents. Or my grandmother who is religious about flavour and cooking times (overcooked chicken will get you thrown out of the family), or my mom who has a psychic connection with vegetables. Maybe from my aunt who barely needs to stock her fridge because she’s at the farmer’s markets so often. Or my cousin, who’s a veggie farmer. Maybe from my husband, whose eyes will almost roll back in his head from a good piece of meat.
We’re surrounded by passion for food and I try to put that love and passion into every recipe…sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (last week she hated my lasagna. I was crushed. She gobbled up brown rice that week instead… go figure.) Moral of the story is… our efforts have been in sharing our love of food. We don’t get offended when it’s not workin’ for her… but we do aim to please!
Happy cooking! Please let me know if you’ve found any great habits to your toddler’s happy eating! Maybe together we can win over the kids who still haven’t gotten the knack of loving all the world’s beautiful, tasty food : )