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Some Random Thoughts on Feeding a 13-month-old

Last week, I wrote about how to encourage a toddler to eat more vegetables. That article got some really wonderful comments from experienced parents and from professionals in the field of nutrition. If you haven’t read the comments on that article, I encourage you to go check them out. The comments are at least as interesting and informative as the article itself. I am really grateful for these comments. I love writing for such a smart and thoughtful audience, and I love when a post can start a good discussion.

I’ve been working on a post to compare the nutrient composition of common fruits vs. vegetables in response to one of those comments, but let’s face it – things get hectic this time of year. That post will be finished in the next couple of days – sometime after I’ve gotten the rest of my gifts mailed off and planned our meals for the next week. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about food a lot and thought I’d take a few minutes to jot down some of my random thoughts on the current mealtime state-of-affairs with my 13-month-old BabyC:

  • Despite spending so much time last week reading and writing about how to encourage a toddler to eat vegetables and healthy food in general, I find myself falling into the same traps that I warned others about. I know it is important to feed my kid the same food I eat, to expect her to eat it but accept it if she doesn’t. I get this in theory, but I find it surprisingly hard in practice. One example: the other day I fixed myself a grapefruit for breakfast. Without thinking, I ate the grapefruit without offering any to BabyC, while she and I also shared some toast and eggs. The next day, I ate  another grapefruit half, but this time BabyC started pointing at it and then pointing to her own mouth, signaling that she’d like to try some. I realized that I had already subconsciously decided that BabyC wouldn’t like grapefruit, I guess because I think of it as being a bit bitter and because I didn’t like it as a child. BabyC begged to differ. I gave her some grapefruit sections, and she LOVED it! She ate an entire half grapefruit herself and was sad when it was gone. Then we squeezed some juice into her cup, and she loved that, too! However, in true toddler form, when I offered BabyC grapefruit the following day, she took a little taste, made a face, and chucked the rest off of her tray. I wasn’t surprised, but I made a mental note to follow my own advice about continuing to expose BabyC to whatever foods we are eating. I’m eating lots of grapefruit these days, and I’ll keep putting tastes of it on her tray.
  • I have a hard time not jumping up and making BabyC something else to eat when she refuses to eat what we’re having. Usually that something else is whole wheat toast with peanut butter – an alternative that is healthy and that she rarely refuses. I am aware that I am falling into another trap – the trap of fixing separate meals for my kid. When she sees me get up to fix her a preferred food, I’m rewarding her for not eating whatever I’ve already put on her plate – something that might be new to her. I find it incredibly difficult to just say, “This is what we are having for dinner – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to have dinner.” As a first-time parent to a toddler, I’m having a hard time letting go of the attitude that I had about feeding an infant – that it was one of my primary jobs to get food in her stomach every few hours. My current compromise is to just go ahead and fix her the toast (or something else that she will reliably eat) and have it be part of the meal, even if we aren’t all eating it. I don’t know if this is a good strategy or not, but at least it prevents me from getting up mid-meal to fix something different. I realize that this is for my peace of mind more than anything else. I can be more relaxed about a meal when BabyC eats a little something right off the bat, and I think that is worth a lot. Plus, she seems to be more willing to try something new if she’s already had a few bites of something familiar.
  • I love peanut butter. Why? Because BabyC loves peanut butter and has shown no signs of a peanut allergy. It is a good source of protein and healthy fats, and it something I can feel good about feeding her.
  • BabyC’s use of sign language is very helpful with feeding these days. Signing keeps our mealtimes very civil. She calmly signs “more,” “water,” and “all done.” She points at foods on the table or my plate and then signs for “food,” letting me know what particular foods she’d like more of. I can tell that she gets a sense of satisfaction at being able to communicate so specifically and effectively with us, and I love that signs have replaced crying and grunting as her methods of communicating at the table.
  • BabyC is less tolerant of leftovers than I am. Leftovers are very common in our house, since I usually cook a full recipe for our 2.5 eaters. I love having leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day, but BabyC seems to prefer more variety than this. She doesn’t like having the same meal two times in a row, even if she loved it the first time around. I still try – but I’m prepared to serve peanut butter toast with leftovers.
  • Eggs and toast are one of our favorite breakfasts. I used to scramble two eggs and toast two slices of bread to share with BabyC. I recently realized that she is eating about 1.5 eggs and a slice of toast on her own, and this explains why I feel hungry again by 10 AM.
  • It is better to feed BabyC before we go out to a holiday party. We’ve gone to a few dinner parties this past week, and it just isn’t fun to try to feed a squirming toddler on one’s lap. I end up feeling resentful that I can’t fully enjoy a delicious meal that someone else thoughtfully prepared or carry on an interesting dinner table conversation. It is better to offer BabyC a few things from the table, but if she won’t sit still, just let her go play, even if it means that Husband and I have to take turns eating and running after her. And I’m still working on letting go of my attachment to intelligent adult conversations. At the same time, I’ve met some parents that seem to have become proficient at the art of juggling a conversation and an unruly toddler. I aspire to this level of skill.
  • As much as I appreciate having a dog to clean up around the high chair, BabyC was starting to get too much pleasure in directly feeding the dog. A few days ago, I realized that she was slipping every other bite to Yuba, and even worse, she had learned that I didn’t approve of this practice so was waiting until my back was turned to do it! Yuba, meanwhile was learning the bad habit of hovering closely whenever food was being consumed. And so we implemented a new rule: Yuba has to lay down on a special towel on the other side of the dining room if he wants to be in the room while we eat. After the humans are done eating, he can clean up whatever food has ended up on the floor. This has cut down on the food chucking tremendously. We’re working on getting BabyC to put food that she doesn’t want on the far corner of her tray instead of throwing it on the floor, and I think throwing it is much less satisfying if she can’t watch the dog lap it up.

What is your latest mealtime challenge or success story?

2 Comments
  1. Our food policy when my son was younger was that I wouldn’t short-order cook for him, but I always made sure dinner had a “safe” food in it: pasta, toast, whatever it was that we were guarantee he would eat those days. That way, I wasn’t making an extra meal, and he had a chance to try what we ate (it did mean we went several years without eating composite foods like stirfry or stew, though.)

    I like these two websites for parenting/feeding:
    http://www.ellynsatter.com/
    http://itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com/

    These days, dinner is what we serve or what you can make (starch, protein, 2 veg) yourself. He’s opting to make himself an english muffin with cream cheese, bell peppers and cucumbers instead of having leftover beef stew. I, on the other hand, am typing comments into the computer while my husband warms up our food!

    Like

    December 19, 2011
    • Hi Michelle,
      I like the “safe” food plan. In my limited experience so far, our meals go best if the first food presented to BabyC is something familiar and liked, followed by something that is either new or sometimes liked/sometimes not. She ate an entire kiwi this morning after tasting and then removing it from her mouth for months. I like the sites you listed, too. I’ve read bits and pieces of Ellyn Satter’s “Child of Mine.” I don’t agree with everything she says, but we are on the same page when it comes to the big picture issues. Also, I think your son’s dinner creation sounds delicious!

      Like

      December 21, 2011

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