Friday, September 3, 2010

Being creative when feeding a toddler

Tristan is 21 months old and he is picky about what he eats. He is generally a good eater but every now and then, he gives us a hard time. When he was young, he ate everything. Eating was a favorite activity for him until he was around 16 or 17 months old. We have been very careful to feed him only healthy balanced foods but it seems like toddler pickiness is unavoidable.

We have learned that what he will eat and how much he will eat depends on several things:
  • The appearance of it
  • The consistency of it (mushy versus hard to chew)
  • The mood he is in
  • Whether or not he knows what it is and likes it
  • Whether or not he is hungry
  • Whether or not he is bored of it
  • How it is being served to him (i.e. in a plate, bowl, cup, with spoon, on your lap, in his chair etc.)
  • Whether or not he receives praise for eating it
With all these variables, you wonder how he it is possible to even feed him, right? Well, he has been with us since day one and we mostly know how he is programmed. Mostly :) We generally know what he loves to eat. Regardless of some of the things that may turn him off in the list above, there are a few foods he will almost always eat.

Seldom does he refuse the following foods:
  • Egg (I swear this is his favorite in the whole world)
  • Fish (his favorite is black cod!)
  • Tofu
  • Plain rice
  • Plain pasta
  • Pear
  • Banana
  • Milk
When he is under the weather or teething really bad, he is more difficult and won't eat very much of anything. He has a nasty cough right now and doesn't seem to want to eat much of anything. When times are rough, we have to be extra creative but sometimes it's so exhausting!

Typically, we feed him in the highchair with a bowl and spoon and allow him to take as long as he wants. If it's something new and he is hungry, he'll eat fast and ask for more. If he doesn't want to eat, we'll know right away. From here, there are various things we will try.

Here is a scenario that may occur. When he won't even try it, we will sometimes force a bit in his mouth so that he tastes it. This often works for us :) Our rule is that he is not allow to reject something until he has tried it. If he still refuses, we will eat it ourselves with his spoon and make "mmm" noises. Yeah, this doesn't work too well. We feed him what we eat so he already sees us eating the same thing. Next up, we switch utensils on him or present the food in a different container. Sometimes, he will eat it from one of our spoons but we need to supervise him more. Still no? We feed him ourselves with our spoon and from our bowl of food, instead of his. This has worked a few times. Still shaking his head? We use distractions like music, we ask him about something like "where was daddy today?" or we tell him to blow his food because it is hot. Distractions can work quite well on him. I know when we are out of the house and pack his lunch, he tends to eat more of it because we feed him in an environment that is new and he likes to look at things and observe people when they walk by. Most of the time we wouldn't have to throw everything at him but during very difficult times, we do. If nothing works, we move on to the next course :(

He almost never rejects his dessert, which is fruit. However, we only give him what we would normally give him because we don't want him to get full on just fruit. We also don't want him to think that if he refuses his main dish that he can have more fruit. Depending on the situation, we may not even give him any fruit at all.

Some times we have backup food but making backup food kind of sucks. When Tristan doesn't eat much and hasn't been eating much for awhile, I will make backup food for him just so he will eat something. Backup food will usually consist of a dish we know he will eat such as a vegetable omelet or grilled sandwich. I remember our doctor telling us that "quantity is better than quality" when they are sick. However, we often do find that when he doesn't eat much and becomes quite hungry, he will eat almost anything you give him. We have skipped meals before when he was being too difficult with us :(

It's hard to keep baby food posts short because I always have too much to say. Heck, I could probably write a whole book on this :) Sometimes it's actually fun to experiment to see what works with him. Getting a toddler to eat something he won't is challenging so it often feels like such a victory when you succeed! I don't think there is anything we haven't tried by now. We usually tackle the problem over 20 minutes or so and if all fails, then we declare defeat.

Here are some examples of how we were able to get our toddler to eat:
  1. He normally loves noodles but he must not be feeling too well. This happened last night actually. I took a noodle, held it long and strung it up high and into my mouth. He was amused and when I tried it on him, he ate it. We tried a few things first but none of them worked until we tried this. Even so, he only ate a few strands.
  2. If he has been eating the same meal for a few sittings, he may be bored and refuse to eat it. Here is where we will add a new fresh ingredient or make an omelet out of it. He loves eggs! Add an egg to anything and he will at least try it!
  3. Sick of the same cereal in the morning? I take each piece of cereal and form images or geometric shapes with them on his tray. He cheers. The distraction and amusement gets him to eat more.
  4. We barbecued some cauliflower and zucchini and then I made a salad out of it. He didn't like it much after trying it. We offered it to him a few times and he refused to have any. We don't like to puree food for him anymore because he should be eating more firm foods but some times we have to in order to get him to eat more vegetables. I made a soup out of the vegetables, added a carrot to it, and that added another vegetable and gave it a nice orange color. I then cooked plain pasta and used the soup as a sauce. He ate lots of it! He loves pasta and he liked the color of the sauce. Honestly, it was very good and we all ate some :)
Toddler moods are strange. One day he may like something and another day he won't want anything to do with it. The exception is the list of his favorite foods above. Lately, he absolutely loves blueberries. He asks for them after every main course. It's hard to believe he once hated them. The same thing with strawberries, blackberries, corn etc. It really depends on his mood I think. Knowing this, we like to take advantage of his good moods. When he ate corn on the cob the other week, we decided to give him as much as he wanted. The next few days, we bought more corn and he would still eat them. Then all of a sudden, he stopped. We weren't feeding it to him at every meal so he was not bored of it. He just wasn't interested anymore. Similarly, one morning he was hungry for blackberries so I gave him tons, then when dinner came along and again the following morning, he wanted nothing to do with them. Blueberries on the other hand, he can eat that three times a day for several days straight!

Feeding a toddler can be challenging and we find ourselves improvising a lot in the kitchen. There's frustration but there is also the great feeling that you get when you see your toddler eating lots of food that you know is good for his health. Whether or not he will eat what we eat, we still offer it to him every time. We're hoping that one day, he will eventually eat and enjoy everything that we eat.


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