Monday, January 18, 2016

Thoughts on Feeding the Baby

I feed the baby a lot these days.  Eight times a day, whether it's nursing or solids.  My goal is to help Phoebe love to eat to nourish her body, a balance between pleasure and practical fueling.  There are so many ways to be confused and crazy about food choices these days, so my goal clarifies my food decisions for myself and my family.

To that end, here are my thoughts and observations on feeding Phoebe.

1. We introduce her to every flavor we are eating, with the exception of honey and really hot-spicy food.  My casual research indicates that her digestive system can probably handle any possible botulism spores in honey by now, but I'm going to wait until the recommended 1 year old.  We do not skimp on strongly flavored foods for Phoebe, but we introduce truly picante dishes very slowly, in the way of babies the world over.  Phoebe has eaten vegetable sushi, hot and sour soup, injera, dhal, you name it - whatever we are eating and most of it is food my mom would not touch.

working on eating a vegetable sushi roll

2.  If she spits out a food, we preserve a neutral face without comment and keep offering it again at that meal or next time it comes to the table.  Back in my really evangelical days, I heard a preacher say that people usually need to hear the gospel seven times before they accept it.  I use that as a joke for food, too.  Granted, my big kids have some real food likes and dislikes, but around here, we try to treat dislikes as "preferences," instead of absolutes.  So when squash comes to the table, Ben is still required to eat some, but he will never choose it for his birthday meal or from a restaurant menu.

the rejected pickled beets

In Phoebe's case, she spit out pickled red beets with vigor the first lunchtime I gave them to her. I don't think she chewed a single one. A week or so later, I served pickled red beets with chicken and dumplings.  I simply put a bit in her mouth without comment (she opens her mouth like a bird for anything from my fork) and she ate it.  And ate more throughout the meal!  I was pleased, but I did not praise her because. . .

3. I try very hard not to make my kids' eating about pleasing me.  I focus on nourishing bodies and respecting the people who made or grew the food and honoring the preciousness of enough food when there are people in our world who are hungry.  I never allow them to throw food away unless it's manufactured junk.  If they are truly full and there is food on their plate, possibly another family member will eat it or they can put it in the compost bucket; however, they absolutely cannot have more food at that sitting because I don't want them to be "too full" for a vegetable in favor of dessert.  We don't use dessert as a reward - it is part of the meal, although unlike the savory part of the meal, they are not required to have some because dessert is by definition sugary and I see no reason to encourage sugar consumption.
Well, I got off track there talking about the baby's meals, because she's not old enough to grasp the concept of wasting food.  It's relevant, though, because this is the long-term goal, so I don't praise her for eating, but just agree with her that the food is delicious or observe that she's done eating.

4. I trust her appetite, while guiding her into the pattern of family eating.  A healthy child will eat the food she needs - it's important for people to recognize real hunger and I've seen that children can do that but adults can confuse hunger with boredom, sadness, or habit.  However, it's still easiest to manage family meals if we all eat about the same time, so I gently nudge Phoebe towards our family mealtimes, making sure we eat supper on the early side to accommodate her needs.  Of course she has more snacks throughout the day than the rest of us because her stomach is smaller, but I steer my big kids away from snacks as much as possible and direct their hunger to mealtimes.

5. And we enjoy food!  We sometimes ditch the normal approach and just (wheeee!) eat fries from a drive-through, or get bakery cupcakes after school, or have a bedtime snack, or eat junk food on vacation.  Because for me, personally, it's good to bend the rules I make for myself and be a little mischievous. I don't want to take myself too seriously.

I discussed children's eating in this post as well: Thoughts on French Kids Eat Everything

I'd be grateful for your thoughts and comments.  This post is in response to a Sunday school discussion a bunch of parents are having right now.  The young parents invited the more experienced parents to come and share with us - it's life-giving, encouraging, and wonderful.


Lisa said...

Since I've never had children, I don't have much to say, but - it's very impressive to me that you don't want her to eat just to please you. That seems very good, and not just as a food-related idea.

Tammy said...

Love this post!

I hadn't ever heard of "baby led weaning" when my daughter was small, but she actually led me in that direction! She wouldn't eat purees at all! Her pediatrician said to give her what we were eating and so I did. She ate little bits of most everything we ate. The spicy foods no, but like you, everything else.

I've actually read that it takes babies 20 tries of new foods to like them (sometimes, obviously not all the time). So I kept that in mind.

My daughter didn't really see food as a source of getting full until she was about 13 months. I didn't push food on her, just followed her lead. She did so love her milk and I loved that time with her. :) Since she's our only child I'm glad I didn't rush to wean her, because I really enjoyed nursing.

My husband and I have had weight problems and I didn't want to train my daughter into bad habits. I've read that children ages 5 and under do not generally overeat, so I followed her cues and didn't make her "belong in the clean plate club". Now, sometimes she will say she's "full" just to be done with dinner but I know that she's eaten a pickle and a bite of green beans, She gets to eat dinner. :-) But I still don't make her eat everything. And sometimes if she is "finished" I will tell her, "fine, but when you get hungry next, this is what you're eating" because we don't need to throw out dinner and then have me make a full on meal later on.

My daughter is not picky at all! She says she is "picky about crusts" and will usually pick off the crust of bread. I figure if that is about the only thing she won't eat, we've done good. :-) She begs for things like Brussels sprouts and broccoli in the grocery store, which is kind of hilarious. Also, sometimes she will beg, "Please, can't we just get something that's not healthy????" Haha.

I feel good about my daughter's eating so far. I'm not sure if it is just the way she would be anyhow, but I'm happy with how well she eats! She knows what is healthy and knows that things that aren't healthy are tasty but not good for us! She was super excited to get a pop tart for breakfast one morning (when we were at a friend's house) and on the way home she happily chattered about how unhealthy it was, it was the most unhealthy breakfast she'd ever eaten, etc. LOL

MDiskin said...

Feeding babies is so much fun when you make their food yourself! My 3 were great and very diverse eaters as babies and toddlers.... But somewhere around age 5 they suddenly got super averse to... everything. It's really depressing me this year. They don't even like macaroni and cheese!

I tell them they don't have to like it or eat more than a bite of a loathed new food to be excused, but if they eat it all (i.e., all of a reasonably smallish portion of each protein and vegetable) they get dessert (this gets them dessert about twice a week, so it's not so terrible). I think my oldest has sensory issues that underly some of this stuff, which complicates it a bit. I can't figure out if I need to go full-out draconian or take a more gentle approach to Just Eat the Dang Food.

What's funny is that I taught on Native American foods on Friday -- and all the kids in the class gobbled up acorn squash and simple corn cakes we made ourselves. Funny!

Sara McD said...

I used to be so proud of my oldest child because he ate almost everything. In hindsight, I think it was because I was overly rigid and strict and took too much pride in something I shouldn't have. And now that he is eleven, he is much more resistant to unfamiliar foods than even my sensitive second child.

My middle child is much more naturally fussy, but can be persuaded (not begged or bargained with) by having him assist with the growing and preparing of food, reading recipes together, letting him handle ingredients before they're made part of a dish and by generally treating him as a reasonable person. He's the kid who's suspicious of food that touches, of weird textures, etc. and HE'S EMOTIONAL ABOUT IT. But he's also the most honestly discerning about whether flavor combinations work, or if something can be improved. A great asset to my kitchen if I'm in the right frame of mind.

I made the least fuss about food with my youngest, now six. He's his own person and just eats. If he likes it he eats more than if he doesn't but he always eats enough to abate his hunger.

I do praise my children if I think they have cheerfully done something that they perceive as difficult - trying something new, passing plates politely. Usually just a quick "good job."

I still am unsure of what to do if a child can't seem to finish what's on his plate but still wants dessert. Isn't withholding dessert a form of bribery? Is allowing him to eat dessert without finishing his meal just as bad? I don't worry about it too often because at this time of year we rarely have dessert anyway.

Janelle Thomas said...

I should've let you raise my kids. Sigh. I have one phobic little eater who really will allow herself to become malnourished if given the chance. I wish I could go back and start over with her and be more intentional.

e said...

What a great post! I wish I had had as much insight into childhood food practices when my daughter was little. The good thing that I can say is that she tried everything, and wasn't forced to eat more than enough to nourish her physical body. Also, since she is now in her early thirties, she is a bit more adventurous in her selections than she was as a kid. Maybe we didn't fail too badly...

Lana said...

I think you are doing a great job. We did pretty much the same as you. With our five I found that they became the pickiest when they were in college. Go figure. Our daughter gives dessert to her 1 and 3 year olds based on how much they ate, not what they ate and I think it is working well. We did dessert more as a reward for eating and ended up with some real sugarholics.

sillygirl said...

I just finished reading the book, First Bite - very interesting book about food habits and what works and when - highly recommend it!!!

Margo said...

sillygirl, thanks for the book recommendation!

Sara McD, I usually tell my kids if they are hungry, they will eat the food in front of them on their plates. If they are full, they don't need to finish their food but they can't have the next course (usually dessert). They decide either way, so I trust their judgment.

jenny_o said...

I am a fairly picky eater, my husband is not, and we raised one picky eater and one less-picky eater. Seems to be in the genes in some ways. My picky eater would actually gag on foods; she seemed to have an acute sense of taste, and also of hearing, touch, and other sensory elements. She has branched out somewhat as an adult. My less-picky eater has developed two serious food allergies as an adult, one was milk, which he had every day as a growing child, the other was shellfish which wasn't something we had much - maybe once or twice - while he was growing up. That doesn't relate to your question, but I find it curious.

I read once that the reason we find some foods strong as children is that our taste buds are still young and not worn down. As they wear down with age we don't taste as well, so stronger foods (I'm thinking of broccoli or Brussels sprouts or turnip) taste milder to us. It's certainly how my tastes and my kids' tastes seem to have evolved.

I like your approach and it seems to be working, so I say good for you! Very sensible.

Becky said...

We got very lucky with our one and only - at the very young age of 9 months, she decided she was done with baby food and being fed by anyone else. She began insisting on feeding herself whatever it was we were eating. After consulting with the pediatrician, I just avoided serving what she couldn't eat (although she did eat some fairly spicy Palak Paneer one evening) and went with it. There have been a few periods in her life when she's tried to be a picky eater, but when I refused to cater to her, they seemed to go away quickly. She does have friends who are picky eaters, so when they are over, I try to not make anything too exotic, making them at least try what's for dinner before giving them an option like grilled cheese or pb&j. I've found almost all of them will end up eating whatever it is I've put in front of them. She had a crew over the other night and it was reported one of them had thirds on the squash butter pizza. (I find using Roasted Zucchini butter from Preserving by the Pint as a pizza sauce is quite tasty.)

A said...

I have always admired how you approach eating with your children, and while I have no interest in another child, if I DID have one, I would be happy for the chance to start this food attitude young, like you did/do.

I do NOT like the way I have handled eating with our one who has a very limited list of what she will eat. I need to develop discipline in myself to calmly give her what I know will help feed her body, instead snapping at her, tired after an evening of cooking only to have her refuse (politely) to eat most of it. It is a very push-pull and my annoyance and her fervent apologies I can see only as setting the stage for an eating disorder in her teens.

I must (commit now) to separate her ability to eat or not, from my emotional reactions to her. It's not helping, and it's hurting. I think a system of feeding her the range she will eat, so it meets my concern of getting her fed, and then having an agreed upon plan of also having a bite each night of something not on her list, will meet all of our needs.

Polly said...

First of all, thank you for all the messy baby eating pictures. Goodness, they are so cute. I really forgot how cute a messy baby can be!!

Love your perspective. I have never thought super-deeply about it in the way you have (in terms of having the end goal as it relates to food), but I like that approach--because I'm a big believer in having a vision and then ordering one's life to that end. Anyhow, my main thing has just been to avoid making food into a source of arguing or power struggle. My children do not have to eat the food I serve them, but I do expect them to at least try a little bite. There are foods they both simply do not like, and I am okay with that--I can empathize (don't ever, EVER give me okra). But that list is fairly short for both children. They are good about eating various proteins, grains, fruit, vegetables and nuts, so I trust that they are eating well enough and am not stressed about the fact that they don't eat salad at their current ages. I am confident that one day they will! I also don't stress about changing tastes. My son wanted rice and beans for lunch every day for years, and then suddenly hated rice and beans. I just shrugged. For a while we just had other lunches. Then one day I made rice and beans. "I LOVE THIS!" he enthused. Same thing happened to him with salmon burgers, and to Annie with raisins.....

You never know. But avoiding power struggles is my general goal! (And by "avoiding power struggles" I don't really mean.....letting the child have their way. ha! no way, Jose!)

Sarah Barry said...

So many great thoughts. I agree with everything!

Wish I would have known more of these things when my oldest was transitioning to table foods. I totally goofed, and started with sweeter foods, training him to have major bent towards sweet to this day.

AmyK said...

We approach food similarly. Susanna gets to eat what we eat, either mashed up or in small pieces she can handle, based on how well she can mash the food in her mouth (no teeth yet!). We also handle our older kids similarly. I grew up with the "clean your plate" mentality, but I don't think we should stuff ourselves, so we don't usually ask them to eat what's left if they are full. We do require them to eat what is on their plates if they want dessert, or if they want another serving of a particular dish. (they want more chicken, but haven't eaten their vegs, so we say they can have more chicken after finishing the veg, etc.) I have to be careful not to make their portions too large when I dish up their food, and they are now getting to be old enough to start learning to not dish up too much for themselves as well.

I also noticed your high chair! We have the same style. It was once orange, green and yellow flowered but I recovered it with red vinyl when Edwin was a baby. I love how small and durable it is. And cute. Very, very cute.

Thanks for sharing your food and mealtime ideas!