Food for Thought

Charlotte, always our good little eater, has recently asserted some of her toddler will to not eat certain foods.

This is fine. We knew that she might decide not to eat something that she had previously loved, and we knew not to react to it, not to cajole her to eat (I believe it’s Ellyn Satter who says “A toddler can smell an agenda from a mile away”), and certainly not to FORCE her to eat.

Still, it was startling to see her outright reject the ravioli she used to snarf up. Or the Cheerios she used to adore. Usually (but not always), she likes vegetables, and for this we are grateful.

In light of her newfound (albeit minimal) pickiness, I decided to refresh my knowledge of kid feeding. Honestly, I think what irks me most when Charlotte refuses to eat something is that I’ve planned, prepared, and possibly defrosted food—food usually made from scratch—and I’ve also probably messed up a dish or two just getting it to her. Perhaps it was put through the food processor (more dirty dishes!), carefully labeled and dated (time consuming and annoying, but necessary if it’s entering the abyss of our freezer), and deliberately selected to balance out what she had earlier in the day or week.

So when my darling child kicks her feet and shakes her head NO, it takes every bit of restraint I have not to say, “Are you sure? Are you SURE you don’t want it?” Sometimes I fail, and I slip the rejected food into Charlotte’s mouth when she’s not expecting it, thinking that she’ll discover that it’s lip-smackin’ yummy and want more.

That never happens. Instead, she’s peeved that I ignored her head-shaking. After that, she resolutely refuses to try ANYTHING new.

Silly Mommy. Duh.

So I’ve been trying to get off my overly controlling high horse and let Charlotte drive the feeding bus (how many cliched metaphors can I jam into a single sentence?). The golden rules are that she determines whether and how much to eat; I determine when and what.

Easy enough, but we have a bit of trouble with our schedule. We don’t get home from work early enough for us to have a well-balanced, made-from-scratch, FAMILY meal at 6:00. Instead, we feed Charlotte leftovers from the night before or something made just for her or something yummy that we froze in advance, and then we launch into getting her ready for bed. Then Chris and I make our dinner.

Short of me quitting my job, or Chris quitting his job, and one of us having dinner and a martini ready at 6:00 every night, I don’t see a good way around this little pickle. But surely we could improve, right?

So, as we drove home the other night, I told Chris how we needed to do better—somehow—on the classic family dinner.

The man had a clever idea. “When we get home, why don’t you make Charlotte’s dinner while I make a salad, and we’ll all eat together as a family? Then we’ll make our grown-up dinner later.” Sure, we weren’t all eating the exact same thing, but Charlotte got to be part of the action at the table. She ate her chicken nuggets (they’re whole grain, all white-meat chicken—don’t freak out, ye food purists!), tested the grapefruit (but ate only one piece), and merely played with her avocado. So yes, her pickiness continued, but I know that she actually loves citrus and avocado. So what if she wasn’t in the mood for them yesterday? Also, with me at my spot at the table, I wasn’t hovering so obnoxiously around my kid, excessively monitoring her. I could be reading too much into our family mealtime, but I felt that she enjoyed the freedom to eat her dinner in peace, selecting or rejecting as she pleased.

Overall, we feel confident in Charlotte’s diet. Chris is a fabulous cook, so Charlotte has the advantage of eating really healthy foods that taste really good. I mean, the child ate curried beef as an (older) infant—and loved it. She eats a wide range of foods, usually (but not always) made from scratch, and her growth has happily continued along the same curve trajectory (between the 80th and 90th percentiles for weight, if you’re curious), so she’s certainly eating enough. (She was born in the 21st percentile for weight, a smidge under 7 pounds, then skyrocketed to percentiles in the 80s by 8 weeks old--and stayed there. You can see why I had milk supply issues.)

One thing I love about feeding Charlotte is that she’s so SURE about what she wants or doesn’t want. The child does not vacillate; she immediately decides and moves on. About a month ago, I felt like I could not fill her up. She’d eat her entire dinner, and I’d scurry around the kitchen, concocting more food until she’d FINALLY shake her head “no”—and, usually, begin dropping her food on the floor, with a sly grin.

And then what did she do? She grew. She grew and grew. All of a sudden, she was too long for the changing table. All of a sudden, her footed jammies—which had previously been quite roomy—were way too small. That explained the week of the bottomless pit.

I’m amazed that she knows exactly what her body needs. Adults over-think food and mealtimes; kids just listen to their little bodies and comply with biology. (How I dread the day that our oh-ew!-fat!-fearing culture worms its way into my daughter’s brain and tells her to THINK about fat, to THINK about calories. Until then, Chris has made it his goal to cook so well that Charlotte will never pass on a meal that her tummy tells her to eat, and I’ve made it my goal to murder anybody who suggests otherwise.)

Although we feel that Charlotte receives high-quality, wholesome foods, I felt some improvements could be made. So, despite swearing I’d never be one of THOSE mothers who give excessive instructions to teachers, or who only let their kid eat organic food, or who balk at the idea of their child eating a cupcake on a classmate’s birthday (I ALWAYS sign the release—yes, I have to sign a release form—that says Charlotte can have a cupcake or cake on a friend’s birthday), I took my copy of the class snack schedule and crossed out items I didn’t want her to eat. Applesauce? Nope, only the stuff we send with her because it’s organic, and Chris is convinced normal apples will kill you. I've gone along with it, in case he's right. Fruit from a can? Not anymore. Chicken nuggets? No, because nugget production gives me the willies (yes, we feed her chicken nuggets at home, but that’s because the ingredient list on ours are flour, oil, and white-meat chicken—and that’s it). The rest of her school-provided snacks are fine—whole wheat crackers, melon, corn, blueberries, yogurt. Oh, and the occasional "ethnic" (their non-PC word, not mine) fare: Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's day, matzo ball soup for Passover, and so on.

So while it’s embarrassing to have her snack schedule posted in the weirdo section of the classroom, and while I had to answer a concerned call from her teacher and explain that no, Charlotte isn't trying to keep kosher--I'm just neurotic, and while I know she’s probably exposed to more pesticides or whatever other contaminants out in our agricultural area than appear in her food, and while I know she’ll just go off to college some day and eat Corn Pops for dinner and Taco Bell for breakfast, at least Charlotte is getting a solid nutritional foundation AND learning to love a wide variety of foods now

If you have yourself a young’un, I highly recommend Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, which our pediatrician recommended as THE best feeding book.

It’s a remarkably sensible book.


Popular Posts