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.