Food Fights with a Baby

My little guy has been really tough to feed solid foods. He’s all about the boob. Which was fine until he lost weight and his pediatrician said, “He needs more calories. Milestones. Milestones. Milestones. Formula. Milestones. Calories,” or something like that…that’s what my spinning freaked out mom-brain could hear during the visit as my thoughts went to the extremes.

Getting him to eat was a struggle. He wouldn’t drink ANYTHING but water out of a bottle. He’d just spit it out, “What is this POISON?!”

I made him so much food that he wouldn’t touch and I was very frustrated. “He’s so PICKY”, I would vent to my husband. “This is your fault. You’re picky, so he’s picky.” I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first, so it’s definitely not my fault.

In addition to the calorie intake problem, he wasn’t pulling up to stand on his own and I was stressed out about that. I was trying to motivate him, putting toys in front of him, cheering him on – but he wouldn’t do it. He’d just cry and crawl away, finding another toy to play with. “Low muscle tone. Physiotherapy. Calories. Calories. Physiotherapy. Low Muscle Tone,” said the pediatrician. And I freaked out anew.

I try to keep DK away from screens as much as possible, but in a screen-filled world in Silicon Valley, that is a major challenge. DK is transfixed by screens. He loves them and is drawn to them like mosquitoes to a light. One day, I had to work on some things on my laptop. So I put the laptop on the coffee table, I sat on the floor, and I began typing away. Of course, DK wanted to see what I was up to, so I was encouraging him to pull up to stand to the coffee table to see. Again, cheering him on, “C’mon DK, you can do it! Pull up! Pull up!,” and he quickly began whining and lost interest. Oh well. Back to my typing.

I heard him babbling away behind me, I turned around to look – and he was STANDING against the couch, with no help or encouragement from anyone. In fact, he did it when I wasn’t even looking.

And then it dawned on me….DK does not like to be pressured. This should have been obvious to me, because I know someone else who hates pressure-cookers. Me. As soon as I know someone has expectations of me completing something, I lose all interest. If I tell friends about a project idea that I’m working on before I’ve actually finished it – I lose all interest in doing it. It’s like as soon as someone says, “Ooh good idea, I can’t wait to read it! I’m like…”Nahhh, I’d rather work on something else.”

Sure enough, as soon as I stopped encouraging him, pushing him, challenging him, he started standing up and cruising around on everything. So I took this newfound and pretty-obvious-to-probably-everyone-but-me wisdom and I applied it to mealtimes.

If DK thought I wasn’t looking and was busy with something else in the kitchen, he would pick up a tiny piece of chicken and he would eat it. This discovery floored me. Of course he didn’t want to eat when I was shoving food in his face going, “Eat it. Eat it. Eat it.” There’s no way I’d open my mouth either if someone did that to me.

Around this same time, I was reading, “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King. In it, there’s a chapter on eating (GREAT book by the way). They write,

“There’s actually a scientific explanation for picky eating. Little babies put everything in their mouths, but around age two they become cautious about new tastes. That caution protects the freely moving toddler from the danger of eating poisonous things. In fact, we’re a species of picky eaters, since historically the pickiest of toddlers survive to reproduce. Picky eating is in our DNA!”

I realized that I was pushing so many new tastes and textures on the poor kid, trying to find something that he would eat – that he was just shutting down all food into his mouth probably on instinct.

And so I had to change my attitude.

First, I started by deciding firmly that our son was not a picky eater. That was no longer a label I would give him. People tend to gravitate towards the labels that we give them so that they feel a sense of belonging. I did not want DK to find his identity among the label of picky eaters as he got older.

Second, I had to re-think what I thought of as “baby food”. I thought home-made was best and that I would fail if I gave my son a premade purchased pouch. And when I did give him a pouch once, he just squeezed it everywhere and made a huge mess, so I wasn’t looking forward to trying that again. But I also couldn’t get my son to eat anything off a spoon. He only has 4 teeth, so while he loved eating anything crunchy (crackers, cheerios, teething rice rusks), my husband and I worried at length that he would choke on the food we were eating. I was also concerned that the food I prepared for my husband and I at mealtimes was too sweet or too salty. I was stressing so much on the quality of what I was trying to give my kid that I wasn’t giving him much at all. I kept reverting to breastmilk as the only safe option. I had to change my attitude to accept that an exclusive breast-milk diet at 13 months old wasn’t going to be healthiest for him long-term and that any food that he will eat (within reason) is better than high-quality homemade food that he won’t eat.

Third, and on a similar vein, I had to accept that it’s okay that he sucks some of his food out of a pouch instead of eating it off a spoon. I had this ill-conceived notion that  my baby should eat purées with a spoon, because otherwise he’s learning to eat food the wrong way. But guess what? He loves sucking Apple Carrot purée out of those pouches while in his stroller. It’s the best way right now to get him to eat fruits and vegetables. I had to change my attitude to accept that first, he needs to get used to the flavours and the textures and then he will get used to a spoon. A few months later, and he eats his purées off of a spoon and even spoon feeds himself.

Fourth, I had to change my attitude and accept that mealtime with a one-year old will mean complete outfit changes for us both and a bath every night. It’s a messy disgusting stage, but he’s learning and I need to let my kid play with textures, and experiment with his food, make a mess and get some food into his mouth. I now accept that my best friend is a steam mop and I am not the only mother who loathes wiping down most of her kitchen three-times per day, but we do it because we love our babies and they need to experiment in order to learn.

Fifth, we had to make enough time for mealtimes. My husband and I are not the kind to lounge over meals. We eat and we move on to other things. But we’ve learned that our son can take an hour or more to eat enough. We thought him throwing food on the floor meant that he’s full…but it really doesn’t. It’s just play and exploring food and he will usually eat more of something else if it’s offered to him. Accepting that mealtime can include some playtime has made it a more enjoyable hour that I spend with my son and he actually eats until he’s full.

Sixth, I had to accept that he’s going to be wasteful while he’s learning textures and flavours and that’s okay. I hate wasting food. I feel so guilty throwing stuff down the garburator or swept off the dustpan into the garbage. But it happens, and I’ve put my energies into making sure that I waste less food when I eat/cook, so that my son can throw a quarter cup of cooked chicken on the ground and I’m no further behind. Soon our city will be delivering our new compost bins, so that will be wonderful in also dealing with the food-waste-guilt.

Last, I shared my worries and dislikes with my husband. I told him that I hated mealtimes. I told him that I dreaded them. Somehow, confessing that out loud to him made me realize that “hated” and “dreaded” were perhaps too strong as words. He sympathized with me and said he disliked it too, but he hadn’t realized that I equally disliked it. Once he realized we were both equal haters, he stepped up to feed DK more often and give me, my clothes and my hair a break so that we were both doing equal time on the front lines of the food fight.

Prior to these attitude changes on my part, mealtimes were a stressful, anxious, dreaded affair. But now, I actually find them to be a fun way to engage with my son over food. So what if I have egg in my hair at suppertime? So what if I had to change my pants three times today? It’s a phase and it too shall pass. And the great development is that my son is gaining weight and is eating a lot more both in quantity and variety without all the added pressure from me to eat enough, eat quickly, eat cleanly,  and eat it all.

When I think back to how I did things before I’m like…duhhhhhh of COURSE he wasn’t eating!!!

Good Judgment