Some days just feel like parenting failures when it comes to feeding my three-year old. Take today, for example.
Breakfast: toast with butter and cinnamon sugar, 1/2 bagel with cream cheese, milk (Why didn’t I give her fruit or peanut butter? I don’t know.)
Lunch: noodles, yogurt and broccoli. She also had on her plate asparagus and chick peas, both of which she likes, but she decided to forgo them.
Snack: applesauce, cheese stick, milk
Supper: most of 2 corn muffins, 2 bites of chili, the top of a chocolate chip blondie.
Yes, Sweet Potato had an all-carb day. I suppose my carb-aholic tendencies are rubbing off, but I always hope she’ll eat more of what is on offer. I also need to do a better job offering her high protein foods at breakfast in particular, as well as throughout the day. Well, tomorrow is another day…onward and upward!
Nothing has changed my perspectives on parenting like becoming a parent. Before I had children, I always used to scorn the “kids menu” at restaurants. They are almost entirely composed of things like chicken nuggets, burgers, fries and macaroni and cheese, no matter what type of restaurant you are visiting. I still do not like kids menus, but I have come to have a more nuanced feeling about them.
Somehow, Sweet Potato has gotten it into her head that she doesn’t like meat, but for some reason, she likes to eat chicken nuggets and fries. I have learned that any time you sit down to eat with a three-year-old, it’s basically a crap shoot on what they’ll eat, or even if they’ll eat anything. So when we go to restaurants, I am often persuaded to get her nuggets and fries since these are foods that she’ll eat somewhat reliably.
There is nothing that makes me scratch my head as a parent like seeing my child turn down home cooked chicken or pot roast, but ask for fast-food chicken nuggets. Or why when I give her a “loaded” potato (everything is separate) with extra broccoli because I know she loves broccoli, the only thing she eats is the bacon. Why will she not eat fresh meat, but she will eat processed meat? I’m pretty sure she does it to drive me crazy, or just to remind me that she’s in control of what goes into her stomach.
This whole area of eating/not eating is just one more example of issues on which we as parents and especially non-parents need to stop judging other parents.
Is she even taking a bite?
Well, it’s been over a year since I posted anything (whoops!) and since Sweet Potato is going through new phases in her eating life, I thought it was time to start again.
When I last wrote, SP ate just about anything I put in front of her most of the time. These days she has a few favorite foods (peanut butter, cookies, broccoli, and almost anything her dad is eating), and won’t try anything else. For example, yesterday we had steamed broccoli and leftover tuna-rice casserole. She has yet to even try tuna- rice or tuna-noodle casserole, but she ate all her broccoli. Today we had spinach salads and manicotti. She ate a couple spinach leaves dipped in salad dressing, and refused to eat a bite of manicotti until her dad told her she couldn’t have anything that he might later eat unless she at least ate all the noodles. She then had a couple small bites.
Her neophobia is expressing itself not just in her refusal of mixed foods, but of plain foods that she used to like. I used to give SP plain soy milk on a regular basis, and she liked it, even calling it chocolate milk. But then the cost got to me and I quit buying soy milk for quite a while. Now she won’t drink it. I even tried giving her mostly dairy milk with a little soy milk mixed in, and she wouldn’t have that, either.
From what I read, neophobia is a phase we just have to get through. I will continue (or re-start) cooking healthy foods, and remind myself that just looking at the food on her plate and watching Mom and Dad eat them counts as a “food exposure,” and it may take 20 of these for her to like a food. I also need to remember that toddlers generally like non-mixed foods better than casseroles. And when I make casseroles, I need to provide a plain food like bread or rice for her to fill up on if she chooses not to eat the main dish. No one likes to put a kid to bed hungry, and she’ll get over this phase eventually and start liking foods again.
Since Sweet Potato’s unexpected acceptance of cheese and eggs, she has continued to (usually) turn up her nose at these foods. She even occasionally refuses pancakes and raisins. I had been wondering how a child who normally loves pancakes will all of a sudden decide she doesn’t want one, and then it struck me. Who of us doesn’t go through a phase of liking a food, and then a phase when we’re not in the mood for it? Especially if we’ve eaten that food every day for 3 or 4 days? Of course Sweet Potato is sick of pancakes by the fourth day; so am I! And a child learning to talk can’t tell me “Mama, I like pancakes, but I’m just not in the mood today.” I suspect most toddlers can’t put that concept into words either, hence my friends’ comments that their child who liked macaroni and cheese yesterday is today saying that it’s “yucky.”
In a book I read recently (I can’t remember whether it was French Kids Eat Everything or Bringing up Bebe), the author stated that adults will encourage kids to try a food, and if the child says that they “don’t like it,” the adult says “Oh well- you just haven’t tasted it enough times yet.” Instead of getting riled up, they accept the statement, but don’t expect it to define their child’s taste for the rest of his life. How freeing!
So, as I continue to feed Sweet Potato, and introduce new foods to her, I’m going to take these attitudes. If she refuses food that she has previously liked, she’s just not in the mood today. If she tries something once and dislikes it, she just hasn’t tasted it enough times yet. I’ll keep offering new foods. One day she’ll come around.
Sweet Potato is really learning to talk now. She knows several letters and numbers, the names of a few of her friends, several animals, and of course foods! She had never been a fan of cheese, but one night she was sitting in her high chair waiting for dinner with shredded cheese also waiting for dinner in front of her. I was finishing getting the chili and cornbread together when I heard Sweet Potato say “cheese!”, and thought What the heck? Just because she hasn’t eaten it before doesn’t mean she won’t eat it tonight. So I walked over, put a small amount of cheese on her plate and proceded to be surprised by how much cheese she ate that night.
Yesterday she did it again. I gave her a fried egg at breakfast, and she ate it saying “egg! Num-ee!” even though she hasn’t deigned to eat eggs in months.
I think part of both of these food acceptance experiences can be attributed to language. Sweet Potato is so excited about knowing the words for things and being able to say them and communicate, that she was excited to eat the foods she was talking about. I hope she continues to try and like more foods as she learns to say the words for them.
They say that if you keep offering your child a food, she’ll eventually eat it. I can testify that this is true! Sweet Potato has never been much of one for broccoli- at least not the florets. She’d nibble on the stems, but that was about it. But I make a point to serve her florets along with the stems, and she has started eating them! She even went for them first when I made her a quick lunch of broccoli, chick peas and mini penne.
Another food that she wouldn’t eat (inexplicably) was raspberries. She’d eat blackberries, and loves strawberries, but consistently turned up her nose at raspberries. But one day when I was eating them in the kitchen, she was grumpy/ hungry, so I gave her one. She ate it and wanted another. She ate as many as I would give her. How about that? Maybe the trick is not only to offer the food multiple times, but to eat it yourself, while not offering your child anything. Let your child’s covetous nature work in her favor.