Friday, April 25, 2014

The Toddler War on Food

As a fairly new mom I’ve heard of the different obstacles parents face in raising little human beings. From transitioning a baby to a crib, breaking from the paci, potty-training, and the list goes on and on.

The one obstacle I had never heard of before is the battle over food. I was quite surprised, after 18 months of smooth sailing with Parker Bear, to be squarely on the battleground of a full on food war with our little boy.
 
The last six months have been quite a journey through the world of toddler eating for all of us! Today we are no where near where we want to be but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve learned so much and have found acceptance in the most unlikely of places.

It all started this past fall. Parker suddenly began refusing food that he had enjoyed just a day or two before. This came as a shock to me because had been Parker eating like a champ! In the summer he was nursing four times a day and eating anything we placed in front of him. Dinners were wonderful because Parker would have his own smaller plate of whatever we were eating. As we moved into fall, Parker weaned easily from nursing shortly after he turned eighteen months.
 
His sudden pickiness was so surprising! I quickly learned through several sources that children often go through a “picky phase” around 18-months. We chalked it up to that and just let Parker eat whatever he wanted which was about three foods. The same three foods at every meal. After all, I didn’t want him to go hungry.

Over the course of a few months, Parker went from not eating much to eating next to nothing. He would not even try a food he was not familiar with. This was so unlike the boy from a few months prior! I began to get concerned about the nutrients he was missing as well as frustrated in not being able to properly feed my child. What was wrong with me?

I knew where I wanted us to be as far as toddler eating is concerned: I didn't want a picky child; I didn't want to cook two meals, one for him and one for us; and I wanted meal times to be a happy time for our family. I was also concerned that I might find out years from now that I created a picky eater by catering to this phase. 
I appreciated the support and advice I got from friends. Many people suggested specific toddler recipes. I wasn’t interested in going that route for two reasons: one, I wasn’t going to make two meals for our family, and two, since Parker would not try anything new that would be a waste of time and money for us.

On more than one occasion a meal would end with me or Parker or both of us in tears. We were having such a difficult time! After watching him eat nothing but “puffs” meal after meal, we headed to the pediatrician. Parker’s doctor was not too concerned. He scheduled an appointmet for us to see a peditracic nutritionist  and ordered a blood test just to make sure Parker was not anemic.
 
Around this same time I talked to Parker’s therapists and checked out what was available online. Through these different sources I learned so much:

*I should not get in the habit of making a separate meal for Parker
*Children are not going to starve themselves, no matter how little food they appear to eat
*Mealtimes should be fun not frustrating for the family
*And most importantly, to remove (negative) emotion

While I was completely on board with these guidelines, I needed to know how I was supposed to get Parker to eat. Here is what I learned about that part:

*At each meal offer one food that the child likes – this is a win for everyone
*Continue to offer foods even after refusal for several days – it can take up to ten “no’s” before getting one “yes”
*If a food is refused, wrap it up and serve it again at the next meal time
*When possible give the child choices about what they are going to eat next

Something else that works with Parker is to keep a food available at mealtime even if he says he doesn’t want it. Sometimes he doesn’t want a certain food right then but a few minutes later he does.
 
So where are we now? I am following all of these guidelines.  Parker still gets “puffs” but only every few days, only at one meal, and only one serving as according to the package directions. Sometimes his meals are very small if he doesn’t want what I’m serving. And that’s fine with both Parker and me. Since I’ve removed negative emotion, I just talk to Parker or let him play with a toy in his highchair while Honey and I finish dinner. That way dinner is still fun and we are all together. And that’s the ultimate goal.

I hope that someday soon Parker will eat a small plate of what we are eating. I hope he one day will try macaroni and cheese, strawberries and blueberries, and homemade chicken fingers. Until then we will keep doing the best we can with what we have. 


I hope this will help any other mommies going through a similar food battle. And this mommy is open to advice and ideas from those who have been there before as we continue through this phase.

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