Self-fulfilling prophecies

I’ve noticed that Sweet Potato rarely eats meat. I try to give her a little piece every time we eat meat, but I can’t remember the last time I saw her eat chicken, beef or sausage. Last week we had talapia, and she was brave enough to try it, but promptly spit it out. (I told her “you just haven’t tried it enough times yet,” and felt good about remembering that line.) Now I’m beginning to wonder how much I’ve talked about her distaste for meat in front of her. And how much of this talk is she internalizing and then acting out? Is her little brain thinking “Mama says I don’t like meat, so I’m not going to eat that chicken.”?  Do we, as American parents, sabatoge our own efforts to get our children to eat good food by reminding them that they “don’t like” something?

Just in case, I’ve decided to stop talking about Sweet Potatoe’s dislikes in front of her. If I’m going to talk about her food preferences, it’s going to be to brag about what she does eat, and how she is adventurous and brave about new foods, even if that stretches the truth a bit.  If Sweet Potato is going to fulfill one of my prophecies, I want it to be a good one.

Now for some gratuitous photos.

Baker in Training

Chip off the Old Block


I love Brussels sprouts!!

What I ate at our meal. I had to take a picture because it was really pretty, and particularly healthy.


What Sweet Potato started with (except that she had already eaten her strawberries)

What Sweet Potato started with (except that she had already eaten her strawberries)


Isn't Mama proud?

At meal’s end. When comparing these photos, it becomes clear that healthy food brings joy.

This was the first time she had eaten her entire slice of quiche in several months.  I was elated! I also discovered that she’ll eat Brussels sprouts if they’re quartered, but not if they’re halved. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the difference.


Interpreting food refusal

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.

Ten things I wish I had known

aka “Words of wisdom for weaning”

1. Take a deep breath. Relax. Nothing you do out of love regarding food/feeding at this point is going to scar your baby for life. It’s okay!

2. If you decide to make your own baby food, do so with the knowledge that much if not most of it is going to be thrown away rather than consumed, and with the attitude that that’s okay. If you can’t take that attitude, you may want to rethink making the food.

3. If you “cave” and buy baby food, even the non-organic Gerber food, that’s okay, too. It’s actually rather liberating. There are good options for pre-made baby food out there, and you can still teach your child to like good wholesome food. It’s also very convenient, and you need a little convenience once in a while.

4. Save some effort and use a food mill to puree some of what the family is eating. Why spend extra time making something for baby if you don’t have to?

5. If baby refuses a food, try again later. Later could mean tomorrow, in a few days or even a few weeks.  If you forget to introduce the food again for a few months, that’s okay too. It may even work better than giving it again right away.

6. Don’t feed your baby rice cereal unless it is very thin. And if you’re waiting until your baby is 6 months before trying it, she probably doesn’t need it to be very thin, so you may want to just use a different cereal. Believe me, you do not want a painfully constipated baby.

7. Work on introducing a cup or bottle. This is especially for breast-fed babies. I don’t think it matters much whether you pick a bottle, sippy or open cup, but your child will need extra fluid as she nurses less. Make acceptance of your chosen vessel a priority to avoid a dehydrated, constipated child.

8. Children acquire new skills at different rates. Just because your friend’s son can hold and appropriately use a spoon at one year doesn’t mean yours will. It’s okay.

9. Plan on sleeves and shirts getting dirty. If you don’t think you can mentally handle this, strip the kid down before meal times, and hose her off after she eats. Or just think of messy meals as an opportunity to change your kiddo into a different, but equally cute outfit.

10. As American women, we tend to over-analyze everything. Just remember that women have been having babies with no idea how exactly to do any of this stuff for thousands of years, and yet the human race has managed to survive and thrive. Also, your child will have no recollection of any of this anyway. I think God knew we were going to make some stupid mistakes, and this way our kids won’t be able to bring them up ad nauseam for the rest of our lives. Relax and enjoy this phase. It’s going to be okay!

What about you other moms? What do you wish you had known when you were starting your child on his or her food journey?

Small victories

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.

Book review: French Kids Eat Everything

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters

I put French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon on hold at the library when a friend recommended it to me after my sippy cup musings. I was a little skeptical that I’d actually read and finish it (I’m not much of one for non-fiction), but I’ve had a hard time putting it down!  There are so many good snippets of wisdom, that I wanted to mark at least every other page, but had to stop myself because it’s a library book.  Shucks! That makes remembering where the good parts are difficult, which in turns makes writing a review a little tricky.

In FKEE, Le Billon writes about her time spent in France as a Canadian mom (kids ages: 6 and “toddler”) with her French husband.  They moved to Brittany, a rural area in northern France where his family lives.  She spends quite a bit of time throughout the book describing French food culture because it has such a tremendous bearing on the way French kids eat.  When she said that the topic of what’s for lunch comes up at the breakfast table, and more often than not what’s for supper comes up at lunch, I thought to myself  “a nation of people just like me! and so many of the other dietitians I know!”

Near the beginning of the book (p 51), she quotes Ellyn Satter’s “division of responsibility” (without actually citing it, maybe because she doesn’t know how right on she stated it or where she actually got it): “Kids get to decide whether, what, and how much to eat.” Unfortunately, in context, she makes this sound like a ludicrous idea, mostly because of the way she was putting it into practice: letting her kids dictate what she cooked for them for meals and letting them eat snacks at any time, anywhere.

The rest of the book goes on to describe her discovery of the French food “rules”- more like habits, as culture is wont to be, and her implementation of them in her own family.  These rules are printed conveniently on the back cover of the book.  Anyway, in her description of how the rules play out in the lives of the French people she observed (friends, inlaws, strangers), she pretty much describes a whole society whose eating culture is a grand example of Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, as well as all the “mindful eating” stuff that dietitians like to talk about.

In France, parents and schools set meal times. There is no snacking, except for the after school snack.  Wouldn’t you know, Ellyn Satter (ES) says that it’s the parent’s job to set the times of meals and snacks!

In France, kids eat what the adults eat. One meal is prepared, and everyone partakes of it. ES also recommends no “short-order” cooking.

In France, parents tell their kids to try a food, and expect that it may take as many as 10 or more trials before a child likes the food.  ES tells parents to expose a child to food at least many times before throwing in the towel.

In France, when a child doesn’t like a food after tasting it, the adults say “you just haven’t tasted it enough times yet. Maybe next time!” and move on- no stressing and agonizing about what the child will eat.  ES says to keep meal times stress free.  The main difference between what ES says and what French culture dictate is that the French, apparently, do strongly encourage a child to taste a food, whereas ES doesn’t recommend this.

I could go on and on about how what the French are doing (according to Le Billon) is almost exactly what Ellyn Satter recommends after all her hours of research and working with kids and families on eating. Funny that someone could spend a lifetime in America discovering that the French cultural way of eating and teaching children to eat is the best way to get kids to eat a healthy, varied diet, and to enjoy eating for what it is rather than emotionalising it. Huh.

I’ll just end by giving you the rules for school lunches set out by the french National Ministry of Education, which I think are some of the best I’ve heard.

“Vegetables had to be served at every meal: raw one day, cooked the next.  Fried food could be served no more than once per week. Real fish had to be served at least once per week. Fruit was served for dessert every second meal, at a minimum; sugary desserts were allowed- but only once per week.” (p 42)

I have found this book very inspiring, and I recommend you read it- especially if you have kids or are just interested in the food culture of another nation.

Le Billon, Karen. French Kids Eat Everything. 2012, Harper Collins, New York.