Feeding time at the zoo – how to get your critters crunching and munching
It’s meal time. You’ve spent like eleventy billion hours (well, probably just 30 minutes, but it seems like hours) tenderly and lovingly preparing a beautiful feast for your cherub. Carefully selecting nutritious and delicious foods that you know will just hit the spot with the family. You are high-fiving yourself at your masterpiece, it smells divine, and you want to start eating it yourself RIGHT NOW. This one’s a winner for sure! Everyone is seated, you bring out your dish, making sure to serve it to your little darling on their favourite plate, with their favourite cup and special, wizz-bang kiddie cutlery that you spent like a million dollars on (well probably just $20, but goddamn that’s expensive cutlery for kids), and you wait, in eager anticipation. And you get….
YUCK! What is this?
I don’t like it
NO! I’m not eating it!
You can’t make me try it
I hate this plate. I wanted the YELLOW ONE Mum. YELLOW
I don’t like this spoon. I not a baby.
And the piece de resistance?
*throws food on the ground*
Cue Mama, slowly pulling her eyelashes out one-by-one. Because that seems less painful than feeding a child.
Feeding little ones can be tough. No one ever mentions in the parent handbook (where IS that handbook, anyways?), that children sometimes don’t like eating. And that they can get finicky and picky and have the most bizarre food ‘rules’. Things like ‘will only eat white food’, ‘won’t eat vegetables that are more than 1cm long’, ‘freaks out at mushy food consistency’. It can become a cycle of dread. Dreading mealtimes as they approach, dreading the time spent making all this food that never gets eaten, dreading the ensuing arguments about eating, dreading having to beg/bribe/cry/jump up and down attempting to have your child understand that they need to eat for their own wellbeing. Dreading the clean up. Ugggh.
If you have a little darling that is a tad difficult to feed, the first and most important thing to try and remember is breathe. It can be uber frustrating (I too had a very very fussy feeder. In fact she was on the Kate Moss diet of air for quite some time. Not good for Mama’s nerves), but just taking a step back, taking a calm breath and keeping it in perspective. They do and will eat eventually, it may not be exactly what you hoped, and it may not be as much as you’d like, but they will get there.
You can only do what you can do. And you’re doing a great job! Some tips to try are:
- Don’t force the issue. The harder you push, the more adamant they become. And before you know it, mealtimes have collapsed into a battle of wills.
- Ask yourself- what is the function of this behaviour for them? Is it an issue of control? Or is it a genuine fear of some foods? Is it a sensory issue? Sometimes knowing the ‘why’ behind it all can ease the pain.
- Have a regular mealtime routine. Try to have the same pattern- washing hands, sitting at the table all together. Consistency is key. They’ll soon see that this is how mealtimes are done
- So a lot of the experts will say no distractions- so turn the TV off, no music etc. But you know what? With my daughter we needed them. The only way she could relax enough to eat was to have the TV on. And when I think about it, I’m the same. I always need some background noise when I have something I need to do. So think about how you operate, what works for you? What do you think will work for your child? YOU are the expert of your cherub, don’t forget that.
- Set a maximum time limit for mealtime. Don’t let it drag out for 3 hours. That only serves to cause both you and your child more pain, and usually there’s zero gain in doing that. Sometimes it’s recommended to keep mealtimes to 30 minutes. I used to allow 45, just because my lass was a slower eater and that time worked for us.
- Offer one thing you know they will definitely eat, and then two to three new items, or things you’d like them to try.
- Try a platter in the middle of the table, with a range of food and tongs so that your child can make a selection of what they would like to eat. Because kids can be fanatical about having control. I think we’ve all dealt with that at some point, haven’t we?
- Try not to ‘smuggle’ veggies in dishes in place of offering them in their full state. By all means chop up veggies and pop them in your dishes (heck I do this allllll the time), but also offer veggies in their whole form so that the child gets used to what they look like, their texture etc.
- At the dinner table, keep chatter away from a food focus. I.e. reducing the ‘eat your dinner now’ ‘why aren’t you eating’, ‘c’mon please eat’ banter. Chat about random, fun things.
- Try making food fun where you can! Having little food ‘races’, touching and talking about foods, making stories up with foods. Taking any fear away from them.
- Start small. Rather than expecting your child to pick up a new food and eat it straight away, heap praise on them for even touching it, allowing it on their plate, then build up to licking it, nibbling it etc.
- Modelling good food eating yourself. Verbally explaining that you’re trying a new food, and what you enjoy about foods etc.
- Get your child involved. Have them set their placemat, cutlery etc out. If they haven’t eaten in the requisite time, get them to scrape their uneaten scraps in the bin.
- Once you’re (and they’re!) done, have a signal to mark the end of mealtime. Washing hands again. Pushing chairs in at the table. Putting placemats away.
I think ultimately it’s important to remember there’s no hard and fast rules here. Trial and error. Some things might work, and some things might not. Throwing a good children’s multivitamin in the mix for a bit until you feel confident they are eating a full range of foods can also ease parental stress. And if you’ve tried all and sundry and are still not getting any traction, it might be a good idea to chat to your GP or Child Health Nurse and they can point you in the right direction. There are some great feeding programs on offer to provide support.
So, keep your eyelashes in. Because the pain will ease. And you might look a bit odd without eyelashes. Try some of these things, and give yourself a high five for doing your best.