Feeding a toddler: I refuse to be beaten

Occupation 3: Fireman!
How can this face be such a troublemaker?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should be doing with this blog. (Obviously more than nothing, which has been the status for far too long.) Honestly, this pregnancy has been much harder than the first–chasing a very active toddler is incredibly draining, and I’ve been much sicker than I was the first time around. Still, right now I am feeling positive and excited about food, namely food for Tuck. Bear with me while I explain:

As I mentioned in my last post (ahem), months ago, I got fed up with catering to Tuck’s increasing pickiness, and started doing a bit of research. I quickly got to Ellyn Satter, whose dense-but-seminal “Child of Mine” is a classic “good sense” approach to feeding children of all ages. She basically says that parents are responsible for what, when, and where children eat, and the child is responsible for how much (or whether) they eat. Full stop. Family meals, one set of options, control of snacks, no catering, bribing, food as an emotional reward or punishment, etc., also play into it, but all of that fits into those zones of responsibility. According to Satter, if a child refuses what you give them (as long as it’s a reasonable selection; ie. things they can physically eat), they’ll be hungry enough to eat the next meal. No jumping up four times to make a new meal or present a quesadilla because the mac and cheese didn’t pass muster. She recommends having bread and milk on the table at every meal, and otherwise letting the child eat whatever the family is eating.

The prettiest greens, from our CSA
Greens from our spring CSA

Now. Obviously family meals are a wonderful thing, something we’d all love to do, but modern life dictates that timing can be a bit tricky. So for a couple months I got stricter with sticking to one set of offerings at each meal (he even went to bed without dinner a couple times), but since I was still cooking a meal for Tuck separate from our own dinner, we kept falling back on quesadillas, grilled cheese, or bread with hummus, always with some vegetables offered first but never with much success. He wouldn’t eat pasta. No rice. NO BREAD, except sometimes toast. He stopped eating meat at around 14 months (maybe earlier?), so his protein came from hummus, peanut butter and cheese, and his iron came from the fortified oatmeal we stir into his breakfast yogurt with applesauce.

Occupation 2: Competitive pie-eater (the layered bibs were his idea)
He does like pie.

After a few spurts of obsession with fruit, he wouldn’t even eat that, aside from applesauce or Plum Organics packets. I hated that his diet was comprised of carbs, cheese and snacks like raisins and Annie’s Cheddar bunnies. This was not what I envisioned; I’d always sworn to myself that I wouldn’t fall into the trap and allow my child to live on “kid” food.

Before our recent trip to the West Coast (about which, much more in a minute) I read that “Bringing up Bébé,” and then “French Kids Eat Everything.” I much preferred the latter, which is basically a memoir version of Satter’s wisdom (though she’s only mentioned by name once) with a few variations to fit French society (only an afternoon snack, kids *are* required to taste things, though not to finish them). It reminded me of how much I wanted to beat this thing, and the approach of our trip, combined with the increasingly obvious need to push Tuck’s bedtime a bit later, made me think it might be time to start sitting down together at the table.

Well.

We started in San Francisco for four nights, where we rented an apartment and Tuck ate hummus. But he did grab a few mandarin oranges in the grocery store, and try to eat them whole.

SF at sunset #nofilter
View from the roof of our friends’ building. I mean, honestly.

We went on to Carmel for a couple nights. Tuck ate grilled cheese (made with gruyère, on one occasion) and french fries. He refused plain pizza. I knew better than to try buttered pasta.

Carmel
Carmel

Enjoying the view. (oh dear.)
Distracted by the view (um) at dinner in Carmel.

Then we landed in Eugene for six nights with my parents. My mom and I had been discussing this for ages, and she was strongly in favor of a shock-therapy approach, letting the sudden influx of new foods and timing be part of being at Nama and Poppa’s house. I mostly cut his morning snack, so he was hungry for lunch. The afternoon snack was small but a real treat, like toast with the all-natural version of nutella. Every night we all sat down at 6:30 and ate appetizers–crudités, cheese and crackers, olives–while Tuck ate dinner. On night two he wanted the goat cheese, and then decimated it.

Goat cheese
Goat cheese is an excellent facial toner, you know. (I don’t know that. I made that up.)

On night three he grabbed for the carrot sticks and gnawed on them a bit before using them to scoop up more goat cheese. He picked out and tried a bell pepper, though he didn’t like it. One night I gave him some pieces of mandarin and he mushed them around for a while; the next night he ate the whole thing so fast I couldn’t get the peel off quickly enough. He wanted apples, and ate them. He ate almost an entire mango over two days. He ate gruyère, manchego and cheddar in slices and chunks (he’d previously refused any cheese that wasn’t grated, of all things).

Perhaps my favorite photo ever

He ate THAI FOOD.

Thai food

Here’s my theory (I always have theories):

Around 12-18 months, babies develop “neophobia,” or fear of the new. I think it’s probably a leftover self-preservation instinct from our hunter-gatherer days. They’re old enough to get around by themselves, which means that in the bush they’d have had the opportunity to pick berries or find mushrooms or whatever. The babies most successful at not being poisoned would probably stop eating anything they hadn’t eaten before, until they were old enough to do a bit more research (neophobia is usually gone by age 3, though of course by that point many children have been taught that being “picky” means “being catered to” and stick with the refusal to try). But what if the baby watches a trusted adult eat something? They might wait until they’ve seen it a few times, but then maybe it will seem like a safe idea to give it a little try–at least a poke or prod or lick. And after a few cautious attempts, that food will be added to the no-longer-new list and get into the regular rotation. [Note: I can’t wait to read my friend Stephanie’s book about REAL picky eaters (my brother was the pickiest ever until he was a teen, despite NO catering at all in our house), due out this July. Pre-order Suffering Succotash (hee!) now!]

Satter says it takes up to 20 exposures to a food for a child to accept it. She says to just keep putting it out, not forcing them to try, just letting them see it. As far as I can tell she’s right. We got home on Saturday morning, and he’s been eating everything from peaches to fig-almond cake with stinky cheese on the sample tray at Whole Foods. After never once getting him to eat eggs, he’s now a fan of “pancakes” made from leftover rice or pasta (it’s a frittata, honestly) and beaten egg. We haven’t figured this out completely, but I feel like his mind is open now, and he’s ready to try. It makes me excited to cook and share meals with him, and to have Ben at the table with him as well.

I just can’t believe it could work so quickly! Fingers crossed that we don’t backslide.

Spring treat share from the farm!!

So I hope to start recording our family meals here. Not every meal, but the ones I’m happy with. I already find myself thinking about dinner differently, knowing I need to try to get it on the table at 6:30 instead of after Tuck is in bed. And maybe we will find that it’s not feasible, that Ben can’t be home, that the compromise of vegetables and cheese while he eats is what we can handle right now. That was enough to make him fascinated by radishes while we were in Oregon! It’s fun to go grocery shopping and choose lots of different fruits for him to try for dessert (he fell in love with blackberries last night, but refused to taste raspberries). Our last Spring Treat CSA share is this week, and the weekly shares start the first week of June–I can’t wait to take Tuck to help pick out the vegetables. The new baby is due in early August, and hopefully by the time she comes along to rock the boat, we’ll have a decent routine figured out.

Will you come along for the ride? Do you have any questions? I feel like I poured out a lot there, and I’m not sure if it makes any sense!

Tuck’s food glossary, partial, May 2012:
Apple – Appoo
Pineapple – Appoo
Cheese – Chees
Grilled cheese – Chees
Pancake – Cake
Peach – Peachy
Blueberry – Blueboo
Milk – Mack
Crackers – Crackah
Pizza – Pizzie
Pasta – Pahttie
Yogurt – Yogi
Applesauce – Sauce
Water – Wahttie
Strawberries – Stawboo

By the way, food isn’t the only thing we’re up to! Look who was a cool customer helping assemble our new patio table after we got back this weekend:

Very, very helpful.

Ok, that’s still kind of food-related. More house stuff to come, though. The curtains have been made, the new doors are in, and I just need a curtain rod installed in the dining room!

5 thoughts on “Feeding a toddler: I refuse to be beaten”

  1. You are so wise (wiser than me) not to be giving him juice; empty calories and bad for the teeth.
    Xbox
    Moo

  2. YAY! It is great to read an update. I think this is the first time I am posting but I’ve been subscribed to your blog for a while. I am hoping to relocate to Boston next year and I’ve discovered your blog through Stone soup csa as I am hoping to subscribe to their share. I am looking forward to reading more about family meals. Best of luck with the last month 🙂

  3. So glad to see you back! Excellent post on a very exciting development. I need to teach Tuck breakfast foods next…

  4. YAY! i love checking in on your blog and am so excited at the idea of more toddler meal type posts! i am in the same spot with my 18 month old and am so frustrated with the pickiness, and not to mention…fending off flying banana bits every morning that he decides he no longer likes them! the drama! HA!

  5. Thanks, Mom and Ben! Your support is obviously about as crucial as the acquisition of food, here.

    Amina- You’ll love Stone Soup, which is now The Kitchen Garden after a merger, and seems better than ever so far this year. (You didn’t happen to live in the Portland area when you were really little, did you?)

    Allison- Read the books! I’ll post an update soon–so far, so good. In terms of throwing, what we did from the get-go was say calmly, but firmly, “If you’re done, put it back on your plate/back in your bowl, or give it to me.” And if he kept going we’d say “Ok, if you’re playing you must not be hungry!” and end the meal. It actually worked really well; Tuck is generally a very neat eater.

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