My son is a picky eater, but I am not worried!
Two weeks back, I was on a verge of a nervous breakdown as feeding my picky eater toddler was a nightmare. But something changed.
Up until last week, I was sure I was either going to go bald or mad with worry. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to either of the options. The funny thing is, the reason was quite commonplace - my toddler was being a picky eater.
My son, the picky eater
My son has always been a small baby. When he was born, a few weeks ahead of the due date, he was barely 2.6 kilos. If you plot it on the chart, he is less than 5 percentile for his weight. And that is all fine considering his early arrival. He never had a voracious appetite but would finish his quota of food. Weaning him was also not an issue - he liked the solid food and the different tastes that he got to explore.
And in a few months, we started giving him an assorted meal instead of just one thing for a meal. I guess that is when it got more challenging!
The challenge of raising a picky eater!
The little dude is quite active. When he started crawling, about 6 months of his age, he suddenly became aware of the world around him. In 3 months, he became an Olympics grade crawler - he could overtake me while I walked! All his milestones were achieved on time. However, he did not gain enough weight.
He would eat something with gusto one day, and would totally refuse it the next day. On some days, he would eat only his comfort foods - avocados and strawberries, and completely spit out any starchy carbs. As a stay-at-home dad, it was a nightmare! He would eat well while his mum was home, but would stubbornly refuse to eat stuff while she was at work! At one point in time, he had more choice of food than an Asian Buffet Dinner!
To be fair, he was getting taller by the day - something that kept us reassured at that time. But we were quite worried about his weight. He looked (and still looks) quite skinny, something that makes us irrationally ashamed of ourselves.
The glass shatters!
Well, shame is not really a rational emotion. One night, after the kiddo slept, I sat sulking, totally dejected over my failure as a parent to effectively feed my baby. My wife was toiling hard for both of us. She was upholding her end of the bargain. I was utterly failing on my end.
She saw me in that state and I broke down. I could not digest failing at such an important task. She reassured me that I was not failing. And appealing to my reason, she decided to give me a proof about that.
She took a notebook and wrote down what my son ate the entire day.
As I narrated his food intake, I realised one thing - my son was a picky eater. However, he was not a poor eater!
We calculated the calorie deficit, and it was non-existent. It was just that we expected him to eat sitting down at one place, and this was something he did not want to do. And that is when we decided to try out a new thing - let him eat when he was seriously hungry, and on his own terms.
The new plan to feed my picky eater toddler!
The next day, we decided to let him indicate how he would like to eat. Most of the children, if they are not in their chair and eating, prefer to be on your lap to do so. So that was the next logical step. He was fine with it, but within 5 minutes and after finishing half the food, he wanted to be back on the floor, crawling around. So we let him do that.
And then an amazing thing happened! He started crawling to me for every morsel. he would take a bite, and crawl away. And then, he would come back for the next. When he would stop, we would offer him a sip or two of water. At times, he would continue to eat after that. At times, he wouldn't. That would just mean that he was full.
Why this is a good plan
Well, my son is not going to be the most well-mannered toddler when it comes to food. But that is okay. By doing this, we are preserving an important thing - his hunger filter.
A hunger filter is a concept I derived from French children don't throw food, an excellent book praising the French way of raising kids. Studies indicate that children have a sense of when to stop when they are full. And this filter is existent till they turn 3. If we force-feed them, this ability is lost. This can lead to obesity in later life. So it is extremely important that you do not force-feed the child unless indicated.
So, what can you do if your child is a picky eater? Here is what I can suggest.
- Keep a food journal. Document what the child eats every day, and tally it with the recommended calorie intake and portion requirements.
- Make food look, smell, and taste good! Babies become more receptive to colourful foods as they grow up. So mix and match the carrots and the greens.
- Document favourite foods. Your child must relish some foods while absolutely loathe others. Have you tried giving him adult food? Many times, they just love the grown up food as it is seasoned. His sense of taste is improving, so expose him to some basic seasonings like salt, garlic, some herbs. You might just be surprised!
- Switch to chunky food early. Many babies love purees. But if you continue giving him blended food, it will be difficult for you to transition him to adult food. It is recommended that he has some by the time he turns 1. The best way to transition is to start with your child's favourite food diced into small bite-sized pieces. Ensure that it is not a choking hazard.
- Narrow down on a seasoning. My son loves garlic. So he will eat anything as long as it is seasoned with garlic in some form. Toddlers have a keen sense of taste. They might just like a particular seasoning and you can use that to make food more appealing to the baby.
- Offer adequate water. Sometimes, the baby refuses to eat when it is thirsty. But the water requirement is different for different ages. So research how much your baby needs and offer sips of water in case he stops eating.
Mums and dads, a toddler will never starve himself. So do not be alarmed if your child is otherwise fine, enjoys his activities and interacts with others. But, if you are unsure, talk to your doctor about his eating habits.
Also, read: Understanding picky eating in Singaporean kids