Some kids are picky eaters. And then there’s my kid. For the first three years of his life, my youngest took it to the next level. He was flat-out against eating.
I tried everything. I coaxed, I cajoled, I did the “airplane spoon.” I consulted books, magazines, websites and blogs for advice. Do I take a hard line and make him stay there until he eats? Avoid the battle by letting him take the lead? Bribe? Yell? Coerce? I had no idea.
When he was 11 months old, in an effort to get a grip on the situation, I started making notes in a journal. I felt nauseous as I itemized what I had witnessed his little peers eating. A kid at a birthday party ate chunks of oranges as a finger food, while another nibbled contentedly on a cracker. Our neighbour’s daughter of the same age loved Cheerios and yogurt. It seemed like every one-year-old we knew was progressing normally and eating real food, while ours was sucking back formula every three hours. In his high chair, he would cry, turn his head and clamp his mouth shut.
I tried to roll with it, believe me. I wished I could laugh it off, and imagined myself using this as hilarious material in some sort of stand-up mom-edy routine:
“What’s the deal with introducing solid foods? All that screaming, gritting of teeth, and throwing stuff – and the kid was upset, too.”
I tried taking deep breaths and reassuring myself that this stage would pass, like any other. My husband kept telling me that when he’s a teenager eating us out of house and home, I’ll look back on these times and shake my head in disbelief. I wasn’t buying it.
There’s something deeply ingrained about motherhood and being able to feed your child. It’s probably a primal instinct connected to breastfeeding – the fact that you can provide your infant’s survival needs and nourishment directly from your body. It also explains why moms always cook their kids’ favourite meals when they come home on university break.
The flip side, though, is the horrible feeling when you’re unsuccessful at feeding your child. Maybe breastfeeding doesn’t go well (I’ve been there) or your baby won’t accept a bottle (we suffered through that, too). Well into my son’s second year, I was still struggling to get him to eat something as simple as pureed pears. On the days when I was functioning with very little sleep and even less patience, I felt a crippling sense of inadequacy. I couldn’t even feed my child. What good was I?
One night at bedtime, I didn’t have the energy to sing the rowdy song from Robert Munsch’s Mortimer, so I grabbed a random storybook from the shelf – Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I’d read it before, but this time was different. I felt like it was speaking directly to me.
Sam-I-Am offered the plate of food; the guy said no. Sam-I-Am didn’t bat an eye. He didn’t bargain or beg; he was relentlessly cheerful and creative. The entrée stayed the same, but he kept adding different twists. Not in a box? How about with a fox? Not in the rain? How ‘bout on a train? The self-assured smile never left his face. At no point did he run to his bedroom and cry about his failure as a food provider. (Which I definitely did at least once).
It was an “a-ha” moment for me. I would be like Sam-I-Am. I would keep trying, and I would be upbeat and unflappable. Most importantly, I would remember the book’s happy ending and the fact that the guy eventually – on his own – decides to try the new food.
After my son turned two, the entries in my food journal progressed from things like:
“Tonight we had a half-hour standoff at the kitchen table over the last few spoonfuls of his pureed blueberries and oatmeal”
to comments like this:
“Of course, when this kid decides to eat, and love something completely, he chooses the messiest possible food: spaghetti and meatballs. His bibs are permanently orange now.”
Looking back, my personal favourite entry is:
“Tonight, he ate chicken. Actually chewed, swallowed, and ingested it. Unbelievable.”
These days, the kid who wouldn’t eat is a healthy six-year-old who happily chews and swallows foods from all the major food groups. It took persistence and endurance, but he came around on his own.
Thanks to Dr. Seuss, I took a positive approach and started believing that things would work out in the end. I stopped beating myself up and became more confident in my instincts.
Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom of two sports-loving boys. She is a regular contributor to ParentsCanada magazine, Running Room magazine, and the ParticipACTION website. She leads a fairly low-tech life but is on Twitter @KristiYork19.