Let me begin by saying I am not naive to think we are in the clear of all eating problems with our nearly two year old. The information that follows is also not based on any scientific study but merely my experiences with the adventure in eating. And finally, I concede that my little epicutie does posses a certain personality type which, given the right environment, helps her to obey in general which includes the realm of eating.
To start I would like to share what I define as a "good" eater so that we are all on the same page. A good eater to me is a child/baby that:
- Is willing to try new foods
- Is willing to sample at least of a few bites of every food offered at the table
- Eats enough at meals to generally be satisfied to the next meal (i.e. not consistently asking for a snack 30 minutes later; snacks are fine but should not substitute the meal)
- Eats balanced meals (enjoys eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy and sweets--YES sweets).
There are several key factors which I feel like contributed to our eating success:
- Set Meal Times
- The Table
- Homemade Baby Foods/Purees (spice it up)
- Realistic Expectations
- Realizing The Inevitable Conflict
- Limit Sweet Especially at First
- No Options
I have read that when breastfeeding, our little ones get a little bit of flavor variation in the milk. I breastfed Little Joy until about 13/14 months when we were finally weaned completely to cow's milk in a cup. I believe this played a role in preparing Little Joy to have a healthy appetite. If you opted not to breastfed, do not despair this is clearly not the only contributing factor.
Set Meal Times
We believe this begins early. From the time Little Joy was born she had set times to eat and during those times it was a full meal. The times fluctuated as needed to compensate for growth spurts and the ability to go longer between feedings but the key is no snacking. When it was time to nurse, she nursed. When baby food came into the picture around 6 months, she still ate at set times and these times stayed virtually the same until about 13 months when she used a sippy cup of milk and I did not have to worry about my supply anymore. She still eats at virtually the same times every day: 8:30ish breakfast, 12:30ish lunch and 5:30-6:00ish dinner. Occasionally she will have a snack at 10:30 or at 4:15 but thats very rare. The set times helped her understand THIS is the time to eat and it build confidence up in her that she can always expect the meals at certain times of the day. She never wonders when the next meal will be.
It is simple--Little Joy is expected to sit at the table until meal time is over for everyone. She is not allowed to come back and forth to the table and eat, then go off and play, then eat, the play. I believe this fosters an environment where eating is not negotiable or a game. Meal time should be an enjoyable experience for the entire family overall, so we encouraged her to talk and giggle and sing as well enjoyed our meal, but when we are at the table its time to eat. In fact one of the topics at dinner time is talking about our food; the color, the texture, what food is it, etc. She is not allowed to come back and forth to the table and graze. We sit at the table and eat. Period.
Homemade Baby Food/Purees
Clearly making baby food is important hence the existence of this blog. Through making purees and other baby foods, I feel like Little Joy was able to experience the full pure taste of foods that were made fresh. If you make baby food you can probably SMELL the difference in your foods and store bought foods. Also, since homemade foods will never be as smooth as commercial made purees, Little Joy experienced textures in her pallet from the very beginning. I hear that textures are a huge reason for food rejection for other moms. And finally, making our foods meant we were able to add spices and make up fun combinations with our foods very early on. So pure taste, variety of textures and spices I feel all contributed to the foundation for good eating habits.
Expect your little one to simply try each item rather eat a large serving of what maybe your favorite food. If Little Joy samples two bites of a food I consider it a success. There are certainly days I do not feel like eating a particular item and so I am sure Little Joy has days like that too. It IS realistic for our little ones to sample each item but unrealistic to expect them to always love every food every time and lick their plate clean every time. The only time I will offer little Joy alternative foods is if the entire meal is filled with brand new items. Even then, I only offer alternatives after everything has been sampled.
I am only recently learning that offering a variety of foods at each meal encourages good eating. Offer your little one lots of different foods at each meal, particularly dinner. Instead of offering one vegetable a protein and a grain--offer 3 different vegetables (mixed veggies!) cottage cheese AND a meat for protein and one grain. The variety keeps them enticed and interested!! Be careful of portion sizes when offering variety. When offering variety there is the temptation to overwhelm your epicutie with large portions---keep the portions the same just offer variety within them!
Limit Sweet, Especially at First
Limit the amount of sweets and desserts you give your little one until you have established good eating habits. They are SO cute eating sweets, but there will be plenty of time for that later; focus on building a foundation of good eating at first, then you can offer sweets knowing that it is literally icing on the cake. Sweets and desserts should be the exception not the rule which makes indulging more enjoyable!
Little Joy does not (at this point) get any choices in her meals or its components. I do not want to encourage the behavior where any portion of her meal is viewed as optional because as I discussed above, she is expected to sample every item. We stretch her decision making skills in ways other than mealtime--ways where her choice is not as meaningful because who wouldn't chose grapes over broccoli? Mealtime itself is not optional either. It is simple. When meal time comes, she sits at the table with us for the duration of the meal.
A child's personality does have a lot to do with the ease and difficulty in this area. Little Joy tends to have a "pleaser" and "ruler follower" personality so I believe we have probably had a slightly less bumps along the road. We have not been without challenges; Little Joy has tested us with food strikes and requesting items not offered at a meal, screaming matches, etc. Since Little Joy tends to want to please mommy, she is generally amiable to trying new foods and eating at least a couple bites of everything. Little ones with a limit testing personality or a strong personality may face the challenges earlier or with more protesting, but it is still possible to raise a good eater--I know many strong personality babies who were still raised to eat well!
I would love to hear your stories and feedback!!