Ok so, wait for another edition of Lindsay Talks About Parenting As She Lives It For The First Time And Acts Like An Expert.
Or at least that's what I assume people think when they read anything I write, ever. It's cool, though, I'm not trying to be an expert. I'm trying to share stories so that people get a version of parenting or living or cooking or toddlering, and then they can maybe use it for information later. A sort of "one person does things this way," if you will.
Beck, for her part, does things HER way when it comes to eating. In the picture above, for example, she is at our favorite taco place eating black beans and lime wedges while wearing goggles backwards because otherwise it's so hard to see. All three of those things were really important in that moment for the enjoyment of the meal, so fine.
I find toddler eating to be equal parts fascinating, disgusting, hilarious, adorable, and frustrating. Some days getting Beck to eat anything at all tests everything I know about patience, nutrition, and behavior management, three things that I do have some book-learnin' on. We are slowly and cautiously easing into "this is what we are eating tonight" territory, and it's HARD. I think one of the reasons parents have so much trouble with this is that when babies are born the utmost fixation is offered to how much the baby is eating and gaining, and then all of a sudden a year and a half later (for most kids) it somehow doesn't matter. Couple that with, you know, wanting your kid to be happy and satisfied in all things, and you see how quickly the "they'll eat vegetables first" mantra goes flying out the window.
In addition to not needing to worry about a baby's weight anymore, we are now also dealing with kids who are learning about manipulation, cause and effect, and just how strongly most people dislike tantrums (another thing that I 100% get giving into because OMG THE NOISE). Now, I am generally pretty stoic in the face of tantrums and hunger strikes, but it doesn't mean for one minute that I'm not dying on the inside and considering writing a blog post about why Ritz crackers are basically a balanced meal. It can be maddening, and also hilarious to look at how much we care, when we acknowledge the fact that these tiny humans have survival instincts and will not, in fact, starve.
In Beck's case, we have let her skip meals more often recently because after a last illness and teething we got suuuuuuper lax about what we eat when. I'm not all about food as punishment or anything like that because I want Beck to have a healthy relationship with food. I also want her to eat vegetables, and LOOK, if I knew nothing about nutrition I'd fully eat white carbs all the time doused in cheese and guzzled down with Diet Coke at lunch and wine at dinner. And I definitely do those things. But I also eat vegetables, prepared in ways that I enjoy, because I think it's important to balance the white carbs with, well, anything.
One thing that I know to be true (you know this too, don't worry), is that kids respond well to consistency, and they do not respond well to being yelled at. Duh. With that in mind, and a few other methods, here are some of our strategies for dealing with Beck's ever-fluctuating eating patterns.
- We do not beg. Beck is offered food at 3 main meal times and sometimes snacky periods in the middle of those times if she says she is hungry or it is a long stretch between meals. If she says no thank you we don't force her into a high chair (tried it, not cute, massive meltdown) and we don't pester her to eat. If she's skipped a meal we offer food often until she eats again.
- Breakfast is healthy. Every single day, no matter what, Beck is offered oatmeal, avocado, banana, black beans (who cares? she likes them), eggs, or something similarly nutritious for breakfast. AT LEAST then I know she's had one thing during the day that isn't plain pasta, and I do think we have better success with healthy foods in the morning because she is hungrier.
- Veggies come first. For the other meals of the day, I start with two choices, usually peas or corn because we almost always have those in the fridge for her. Cherry tomatoes are another favorite, but I start with produce (not fruit, see next item), and then move to protein and carbs, which is usually her order of preference. So, I know she's having a shot at veggies when she's the hungriest, and then she'll hopefully fill up on protein and some carbs, but she's not getting that when she's famished. This is a really wonderful theory, and works for maybe one meal per day, but I try it every single time.
- Fruit comes last. I'd obviously customize this per child, but Beck adores fruit. There are also some taste bud mechanisms that make other foods not taste as good right after sweet things, so fruit comes last, if at all.
- We believe Beck. She is mainly old enough to know when she is hungry and when she is done. She definitely doesn't get to choose all of her foods yet because she'd make shitty choices, but if she tells us she's hungry we offer her two choices of foods we WANT her to have, and when she says she's done we go with it even if she's had four bites of food. There are a few benefits to this that smarter people than me have studied and written about. One benefit is that this gives Beck some perceived control. At this age every adult around her is in charge of a LOT, and this gives her a choice to make that we respect, even if it is a pain for us later. It also teaches her a little bit of body awareness; knowing when she is hungry and not. Our responsibility is to fill her little body with good foods, and she can decide when and how much she wants to eat.
- We do not yell. It makes no sense, it doesn't work, and it can be damaging to our bond with our child. Plus, yelling makes everyone seem crappy. I definitely yell, more than I'd like to, but I honestly find it easier to let Beck refuse to eat, remove her from the situation, and give her food when she's ready/starving. She will definitely not die, and I have to remind myself that about a million times per day.
- We ask for help. This is hard, because not everyone agrees with our methods on eating. That is totally fine, but any parent knows that rules are so much easier to establish when all of the adults in the kid's life are generally on board. Now, this doesn't mean grandparents can't spoil or anything like that, not at all, but we do tell the people that care for Beck what we do in general, and then they have all the information they need to decide if it's a spoiling/treat day or a you've-been-ridiculous-here-are-some-peas day.
- We ignore all of these things. Maybe sometimes too much, who knows. I want food to nourish Beck, but I also want her to enjoy the process of sharing a meal with other people. So, if that means she tries one bite of a vegetable and then eats a ton of rice at a restaurant but is pleasant, then FINE. We've amped up our requirements for behavior little by little as she's gotten older, and we'll continue to do so in the coming years/forever. But, at just under two, I think the most important thing is to set vague but firm foundations for good eating habits, shower with praise when behaviors are correct, and leave it alone when things aren't perfect, because they never are.
Two things that we are battling with right now is high chair quitting and variety of foods that Beck eats. She's recently decided that the high chair is NOT for her, especially at restaurants, but I'm not quiiiiite sure we're ready to give that up yet, and I'd love your thoughts and stories on transitioning from a high chair to booster or whatever else. Variety of foods is all me, we have a pretty balanced arsenal of things that Beck will eat, so I make them over and over and am not great at sharing new foods with her because she throws it and I get annoyed at waste, which is not the best at all. I'm also working on a list of toddler-friendly non-recipes that I'll share soon, and I'd love any favorites you can pass on to add to the list!
In conclusion, Beck had bacon ONE time and then the next morning when we asked her if she wanted oatmeal or avocado for breakfast, she said, BACON! Thumbs up.
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