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Archive for the ‘Feeding Toddlers’ Category

We receive complements on The Child’s eating habits all the time.  I am still uncomfortable answering the inevitable inquiries.  The vast majority of children we come in contact with are extremely picky eaters.

We are the exception and not the rule.  A few years back, I caught myself responding to positive comments with a compensatory list of The Child’s faults, and it brought me up short.  I started investigating what was really going on with us so I could better express myself.  Writing helps me understand our family’s relationship to food.

I am learning to answer questions and accept compliments without undermining The Child’s well-deserved spotlight.

There are so many different facets to it:  eating together, cooking together, shopping together, and talking frankly about ingredients, farming, science, and the complexities of the natural world.  Some of her success may be just the way she is wired – thus the blog tagline:  parenting or luck?

I began to break it down one thing at a time.  But there are a fair number of ideas which  spawned half-written blog entries.  Entries which start out helpful and end with me shaking my head, hitting the delete key, and wondering how to convey our course of action without a perceived sense of judgement thrown at those who have chosen other parenting paths.

So let’s just call a spade a spade.

*Deep Breath*

The answer to all those folks out there who have asked with genuine sincerity how we did it…  “Part of the reason my kid eats and yours doesn’t is because I am mean and selfish, and you’re not.”

*Big Exhale*

Because I’m Selfish

I am not a short order cook.  I have no problem letting my child go a little hungry if a meal is not to her liking.

I discipline over trying food because I think an unwillingness to try or taste something new is rude.  And since the sense of taste is always changing as we age, and cooking methods and seasonings are never quite the same, for our family this means tasting every part of a meal every time.

We do not take vitamins or supplements.  Unless directed by a doctor for a particular condition or deficit, there is no double-blind controlled proof that supplements do anything but potential harm.  Especially multivitamins.   So my kid’s nutrition comes from the same place every other kid’s does.  Her food.  In this case as much variety as possible.  Accepting that there is no safety-net multivitamin or fortified food puts the onus squarely on me as the parent to ensure The Child eats a wide range of ingredients.

Food will touch other food.  Sometimes it is *gasp* intentionally all mixed together.  When multiple solids were offered as a toddler, they were always crowded together on the plate.

I hate to waste food to a compulsive degree.  So we will figure out a way to choke down something meh rather than throw it away.

We enforce basic table manners.  We all make being home for a family meal a priority, often at great effort and inconvenience, so it is hugely disrespectful to have a meal hijacked by theatrics and chaos.

Positive Consequences

It is not quite a bleak life of controlling discipline around here… *wink* There are ways to build choice into her relationship with what fuels her body.  And we revel in meal times being about communication and time together.

After the initial taste, The Child decides how much she eats.  She is consulted on ingredient or menu preferences, and routinely directly involved in preparation.  She shops with us and has useful input.  And we are big fans of condiments and additions to the plate to help make the best of a not-favorite meal.

Eating is as unavoidable as emotions.

A dear friend once asked if I was concerned about attaching emotions to food for my kid.

I don’t see how anyone can ever separate emotions from food.  Parents worry with good reason about eating disorders, body image, and obesity.  I do not know enough to speak to what causes one kid to have detrimental food issues while another does not.  But is there a culture anywhere which does not connect food to emotion?  When we’re happy and sharing time with friends and family, welcoming newcomers into a community, or consoling each other over loss…  there is, and will always be, food.

Only Time Will Tell

There is no way for me to know if the parenting choices we have made will have ill effects on The Child’s psyche.  Perhaps her genetic make up predisposes her to have a particular body type and disposition well beyond any influence we attempt.

But learning to communicate with each other is something we can control.  By fostering an environment where genuine curiosity is rewarded, questions are encouraged, and science matters – perhaps the inevitable will be better dealt with when it inevitably arrives.

In the meantime, we have chosen a path that works for all of us.  And that is exactly what every family should do.  Together.  Decide what is the best match of choices for your family.  Maybe you don’t mind limiting your family menu options to a very short list.  Or perhaps it makes you happy to prepare individual meals for your loved ones.  Perhaps you find it less stressful and easier to cart around food to play dates and vacations just to be sure your kid is eating what they want.  These are all very legitimate points of view.

But when someone asks me wistfully, “How do you get her to try so many different things?”

“I make her try things, because when all is said and done, it is easier for me.”

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When it came to successfully getting food into The Child as an infant and toddler, I benefited from nanny experience in my college years.  At 19 and feeding someone else’s kid, my priorities were very different than the exhausted thirty-something mom with my own kid.  In those years of experimenting on other people’s children, I learned a few things:

It’s best to go fast. Keep it coming and get the calories in them before they get distracted.  I’d shovel it in until the kid turned their head or waved off the incoming spoon.  Keep rags handy for the inevitable urpsies, but for the most part it will stay down.

Two choices are better than one. Once the first option was waved off, switching to another dish helped.  Getting into a rhythm and setting up subtle patterns (one of this, two of that) would catch a kid’s interest as well.

Don’t worry when it doesn’t work. Once the kid has waved off all the options, the meal is over.  Even if I had just sat down, I would get up and put it away.  Remember, at 19, I was less concerned about understanding if the little one had satisfied their hunger, if they were conveying a preference, or if it had been a simple exertion of will.  Curious, sure, but I certainly never lost sleep because someone else’s kid did not want to eat today.  I just got up and put it away, if they were hungry again they would let me know and not throw it on the floor this time.

No toys at the table. Sorry kid, but eating time is about eating.  You don’t get to draw, you don’t get to play, you don’t even get a freaking teething ring.  If you are hungry you will eat and when you are done we’ll clean you up and you can play, or chew on the teether, or have a cuddle.  Toys simply prolonged the process when my primary motive was to get lunch out of the way and be off to the park or the playroom to burn off some energy.

No playing with your food, and no you do not get the spoon. If the kid could not physically handle what I was giving them it just meant washing someone else’s kitchen floor…  again.  I was the kind of nanny the left the place far cleaner than when I arrived, but I wasn’t stupid enough to make more work for myself.  If the kid could not reliably manage utensils yet, I made finger food or I ran the spoon.

Either lower your expectations or don’t make it a big production. There are going to be special days when family is gathered round, there are paparazzi, there are fans cooing from the sidelines.  The kids wouldn’t eat as much those days.  They would melt down sooner than expected.  They would remind you there is a cost for being your performing monkey.

Basic Lifeguard and First Aid Training. ‘Annie Annie, are you okay?  Keep coughing, keep coughing.’  No matter your speed, kids are going to have near-miss choking incidents all the time.  I never walked away from the bathtub, because I knew what could happen.  And the same went for supervising infants and toddlers with their food.   My teenage first aid training always kicked in when something went down the wrong pipe, the calm keep coughing, keep coughing encouragement without hovering always seemed to reduce panic.  The basic concept is that if someone is coughing then they are breathing, so you calmly encourage coughing without commencing treatment until they cannot cough anymore.  In hindsight, reinforcing this habit helped me more than The Child – – because the first time a kid chokes for real, you are going to freak out and panic on the inside, but the reflexive habit of keep coughing, keep coughing will kick in and help the situation all around.

These are not guidelines, but rather a reflection in hindsight of why eating issues may have been less fraught for us than say sleep issues and the non-napping-child abyss we were in for years.  I never had any practice disengaging on the sleep frustrations.  I could have used someone else’s Raising a Napping Child blog back then…  but I digress.

My philosophical point here is that the kids I nannied for turned out just fine.  And in hindsight, many of the instinctive (and perhaps self-serving) judgments of my youth were reflected in the way I approached feeding The Child when she was wee, albeit with a little more context and caution. So when feeding The Child got hard, I’d attempt to channel my inner preoccupied, disengaged teenager and try again later.  At least, when my exhausted, worried brain remembered to disengage.

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Having previously written about pointless forks and perforated spoons, I received an inquiry regarding the effectiveness of suction cup bowls.  I doubt suction cup technology has advanced much since The Child moved beyond that phase.  We did have one.  And it did work for us, albeit with a few provisos.

The Child used the Baby Cie Suction Bowl

The suction cup bowl worked best for us on the seamless granite countertop.  So long as the suction cup and surface were both clean and a bit damp it worked on the wood kitchen table, but it stuck longer and better on the smooth stone countertop.  Our granite has few occlusions, and that contributed to an excellent seal where textured surfaces might have been problematic.

Most importantly, it worked for us because of what I didn’t use it for.  I did not relinquish the spoon to The Child unless she could manage honest and focused attempts to get the mush into her mouth.  Until this happened, she was not in control of the bowl full of mush either.  So our suction cup bowl was predominantly for finger foods.

We did not use the suction cup bowl, or any utensil, as a toy at mealtimes.  The suction cup provided a good defense against accidentally knocking niblettes off the counter, but if a kid wants to get the bowl unstuck to play with it, they will.  Probably quickly.  If The Child attempted to remove it, I would remove it for her.  I would pour the contents into a different bowl and dole out bits directly onto the counter.  So in that respect, it helped to calmly teach table manners very early while reducing mess and drama for all of us.  I never tested the bowl for unattended eating, since choking concerns kept me sitting with her anyway.

Overall, the suction cup bowl was a useful but unnecessary tool, and I see no reason to own more than one.  Being hand-wash only to keep the suction cup from warping in the dishwasher, I did not want more than one piling up on the counter anyway.  Once The Child learned to keep dishes in one place in front of her, she graduated to other bowls.  But she still asked for this particular bowl because of the cute animal print.  Plus, she thought the suction cup was cool.  I can’t argue with that.  Suction cups are cool.  Which is probably why I bought the thing in the first place.

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The implements you need to get the squishy stuff into the cooing thing need not be elaborate.  There is a lot of “specialized” stuff on the market, but little of it is useful.  Most of us have an army of sippy-cups amassing in the cabinet ready to made a break for it.   The extent to which I had been suckered became apparent when I found myself feeding The Child with a ridiculous perforated spoon.  Really?  I purchased a spoon with holes in it?  How exhausted was I when I bought that?

Quite by accident, we thankfully discovered the flatware we already owned made the perfect baby feeding spoons.  In 1957, Arne Jacobsen designed a line of flatware still in production today.  My in-laws gifted us the incomplete set they’d purchased on sale some 40 years ago, and it included the cutest little coffee and teaspoons. They are brushed stainless and have held up to decades of dishwashers. Machined beautifully, they have smooth, polished edges on them.  They are functional as pretty condiment spoons when baby feeding years are long gone, and apparently beautiful enough that guests of my in-laws pocketed several of them over the years.

It is impractical to upgrade your flatware for a single utensil, but George Jensen sells a set of two tiny espresso spoons packaged separately for $30.  The dessert fork and dessert spoon are packaged as a Child Set for $38.  There are also two excellent intermediate sizes, the coffee spoon and the teaspoon, available as an open stock purchase from any George Jensen store.  When I called the Southern California store to augment our set recently, their service was excellent even on a tiny order.

Be aware that the Child Set has a real fork with properly stab-enabled tines on it. The forks packaged in most tableware sets are just for show and are unable to stab food.  We owned the E-Z Grip spoon and fork set made by Sassy.  The spoon could not be purchased separately at the time, so the fork quickly became a teether when The Child’s molars erupted.

Come to think of it, the absurdly perforated spoon came from that set too.  Apparently sufficient numbers bought into the hype, so it is independently packaged now as the Sassy Baby Less Mess Toddler Spoon. The claim is surface tension of the food in the holes helps keep the food on the spoon longer than with a standard spoon.  Do I really need to state the obvious here?  It doesn’t.  Also, in order to accommodate the holes the spoon has to be impracticably wide.  By the time The Child’s mouth was big enough to comfortably use the spoon, she wanted what we used anyway.

The narrower E-Z Grip Spoon from Sassy was actually quite useful once we were in self-feeding toddler years.  But for a while it lived in the bathroom.  The temperature dependent color-changing feature was pointless in the kitchen as it only changed color when food was dangerously hot, and typically a quick taste test could determine that.  But floating in the bathwater while the tub filled, it was a useful indicator if the bathwater was too hot.

When it comes to what you need as you introduce solids, any narrow, smooth-edged small spoon should be fine.  It needs to fit well into little mouths and get every last bit of the expensive organic stuff out of the jar or bowl.  It doesn’t need to be coated with anything soft and rubbery.  It doesn’t need to change colors, and it certainly doesn’t need holes in it.

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Tuesday is veggie delivery day.  Empties go out in the morning, and later today I’ll be coming home to gloriously gorgeous groceries from spud!.  Weekly organic produce delivery is happily becoming a commonplace thing.  It’s a wonderful phenomenon, but it wasn’t so common nearly a decade ago when we first started.

I could wax poetic about altruistic intentions, but to be honest I was just cheap and lazy.  In Spring 2000, Webvan became my gateway drug.  They sold kitty litter – and they delivered at no extra charge.  That was all I needed to know.  They carted it into the labyrinth that was our apartment complex and up my three flights of stairs.  A business model destined to failure, we did our part to milk it dry.  Our apartment was buried so deep in Silicon Valley’s Cisco-zoned badlands, it was a 20-minute drive to civilization.  The deliveries let me get away with monthly trips to Trader Joe’s and Ranch 99 to round out the pantry. We moved, and Webvan finally went out of business, but my crack-like addiction to grocery delivery was firmly established.

The Child has never known a time without veggie delivery day.  It’s a mini harvest each week.  Unpacking and planning how to use things together feels like a chapter from The Little House in the Big Woods (minus the slaughtering and making my own lead shot, of course).  She asks questions and nibbles.  She watches us problem solve when confronted with unknown vegetation.  And consequently, variety is the norm at our table.

There are plenty of sources for fresh, locally grown, organic produce.  Farmer’s markets are now prevalent throughout the country.  Whole Foods and its ilk have spawned a market for organic and sustainable goods.  Basic grocery stores are continuing to stock a better selection, although they are still severely lacking and seem to be far more expensive than makes sense.

So why stick with a home delivery service with so many other sources available?

I don’t buy produce otherwise. I hate navigating grocery stores, and produce is the first part of my list to get axed on the fly if it’s crowded.  At a Farmer’s Market I wander pinball-style between stalls overwhelmed with choices.  When I finally buy something, my purchasing habits consist of picking something familiar, making one meal from scratch, and living the rest of the week off leftovers, eggs, and microwave quesadillas.

Cost savings. Some may hesitate to sign up for this sort of service because organic food costs more. Saving gas alone is one thing.  Opportunity cost is another. But I think customization of such a service is the key to affordability.  At the grocery store I go at off hours to avoid the rush which results in browsing, impulse buying, and purchasing items just because I’m not sure what’s in the pantry at home.  Now I sit in comfort at home, look up recipes on the laptop, and check the cabinet for anything else I may need.  If there are a few things they don’t offer, a targeted strike mission to a grocery store is more cost-effective.  Plus, with an online service I get a subtotal and can easily decide which things not to buy, despite shopping hungry.  When was the last time you took things out of your cart and put them back on the shelf just to save a few bucks?

Flakiness on my part builds variety. Of course there are days when I miss the customization deadline completely.  Early in the process, these were the weeks I had to learn how to cook things I otherwise would not buy:  beets, sweet potatoes, kale, collard greens, and squash varieties I’d never seen before.  I rediscovered that I like snacking on radishes or tiny zucchini rounds.  It’s not in my nature to let anything go to waste.  And my missing the ordering deadlines resulted in a broader variety of ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques than I would have initiated while attempting to feed my kid from the most well-stocked store.

That being said, specifically why do I use spud!?

Being organic isn’t enough these days…  or is it? It’s up to you with spud!.  They offer information on every item so the consumer can modify choices to suit their own personal food morality mix.  It’s not just organic.  There are profiles on producers with sustainability information.  Fair trade products are available.  (Huzzah for reduced-guilt bananas!)  Plus, every item you purchase has an associated mileage.  One person’s local is another person’s long-haul carbon footprint.

Customer service. Originally we were customers of Organic Express (aka The Box) until they merged with spud!, and we’re so glad they did.  The website is fabulously easy to use.  The occasional refund for damaged or missing items is super easy.  Deliveries arrive in well-sealed, tough Rubbermaid tubs.  And their reusable icepack packaging is so effective our standing order of yogurt, sour cream, and milk every week has never spoiled.

And it’s a good thing too, because I’ve ordered some Straus Family Creamery Egg Nog for today’s delivery.  Happy Tuesday!  Cheers!!

** 12/22/09 update :: The folks at spud! have pointed out that by entering referral code #CRSFO-ONDJEN new customers can get $25 off over 4 orders.  That’s $5 off the first three and $10 off the fourth.  Thanks spud!  **

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Having previously written about our affordable alternative to the modern plastic high chair, what we transitioned into is on the other side of the cost spectrum.  When The Child outgrew her Easy Diner, we invested in the Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair, and it is pure awesome.  It’s not cheap, retailing at about $250, but it is functional, beautiful, and still in use long after we bought it. It comes in a zillion different stains and colors to either blend in or stand out.  The finish looks brand new after nearly 5 years of use, and it is customizable to have a kid at the optimum seated height at the table as they grow. It recently became The Child’s chosen desk chair for doing homework, and I foresee it being in use for years.  Since we did not use it with the baby high chair accoutrements, I cannot speak to their effectiveness. But the simple straps included with ours were sufficient to keep our wriggling kid seated, and they were easily removed when she was too big for them.

My guess is, learning to sit down and honor a relationship with your meal or snack is critical to building a long-term, healthy relationship with food.  In California-speak that might be called ‘building mindfulness.’  In the Midwestern-speak of my youth, it’s called being polite and respectful.  It’s why we included The Child in every family meal as soon as physically possible – not routinely relegating her to a kid’s table or a high chair an arm’s length away from the action.

On one hand it seems obvious, but when the nightly drama around food has become overwhelming, it’s a sanity protecting measure to plunk kids at the kids table, flip on the TV, and serve up some plain buttered noodles because you know that – for tonight anyway – they will eat without protest.  Often this is the only time of the day when parents get a free moment to talk, share their day, or have adult conversation.

I understand the reasons why these habits start.  But when The Child eats well and people ask, “How did you do it?” the shared table is part of the answer.  We eat the same things, and we eat them together.

No matter what sort of high chair and booster seat your budget and décor dictate, what is important is that your kid be seated securely at the table at the best seated-height you can manage.  So what if you all have buttered noodles tonight for dinner?  Have them at the same table.  It’s a start.

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We chose not to get a highchair.  I just could not commit the square footage in our dinky condo to a ginormous high chair.  Modern high chairs are like plunking your baby on an island in a sea of liability prevention. Remember the high chairs of our youth??  My parents still have the tiny rickety one we were in as kids.  Having watched it recently called into action for guests, the high chair of old did something modern chairs can’t.  Its small footprint let it scootch right up to the table.

The Child in the Easy Diner back in 2005.

Our family tried a seat that clamps directly to the table or counter.  We got the Easy Diner made by Regalo, but there are many other versions of the same principle.  It worked like a charm and we never got a real high chair.  The seat typically stayed clamped to the kitchen countertop, but it easily moved to the table when we chose to eat there.  The 5-point harness was sturdy enough to use as early as The Child could hold her head up on her own.  And sometime after her 2nd birthday she outgrew it amid tears because she loved it.

Any claims to the seat being machine washable are false – but it did unfasten in enough places to take a good soapy rag to it and let it dry in the sun.  And at $25 a pop, we easily replaced it once when the first one was beyond scrubbing clean.  I would recommend purchasing from a retailer with a good return policy, because there are a few table configurations that might not let you get it hooked on properly.  I also would not advise using this if your only table is a family heirloom.  There are some small circular dents on the underside of our kitchen table which no one but an appraiser would ever notice.  Our dining table is vintage IKEA so I don’t mind the dents.

We quickly realized having The Child right with us for both cooking and eating was a huge benefit, both to our ability to keep her contained, and to her development.  She has had a bird’s eye view of the full cycle of food preparation in our home, from watching it come out of the grocery bag to consuming it herself.

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