It always surprises me – the same advice which is so easy to give is SO difficult to follow. I’m also amazed at how simple it is to identify problematic situations in others but how often we fail to recognise personal situations which need fixing SOS.I’m a clinical nutritionist. I regularly chat to mothers about their kids eating habits and give them pointers on how to improve their children’s’ eating behaviour. I had heard their terrifying “bad eating” stories but I was confident that this would never happen to me.Oh really?!For a while, my son, Ryder was a great eater. I’d been serving him up all types of vegetables and proteins, utilising my nutritional knowledge to make sure he was getting every nutrient possible. Then, at around 11 months of age, Ryder began refusing to be fed.Evidently, it was predestined that Ryder would begin developing his independence early. His grandmother (my mother) had often told me (with much glee I might add) that I was just the same at this age.
However, Ryder’s refusal only stoked the fires of my stubborn creative nature. I would not be beaten. After all, I was a clinical nutritionist, wasn’t I?
Dinner time quickly became a nightmare. As mealtime would near, I began to get nervous, taking deep breaths to beat the shakes. I started by talking to Ryder, buttering him up with loads of hugs and kisses, reassuring him that “I love you but my next hour will not be my finest and will probably end with both of us in tears”. Then, as they say, “Let the games begin”. I could write a book on how many distracting theatrics my husband and I used to get him to open his mouth.
There were many panicked afternoons where I’d call my husband to come home from work because our child hadn’t had a single mouthful of dinner after trying for an hour. You have to understand. My husband comes from an Italian family of big eaters. Therefore, sending our son to bed hungry “as a lesson” was deeply out of the question. So, my husband swerved through traffic to be my “master distractor”. Dinner time started to became a two-man job – one to sing “open, shut them” and one to resurrect the spoon at just the right moment (when we saw Ryder open his little mouth).
I’d never been a fan of raising a child on TV. Who hasn’t heard the many stories of how TV causes unsociable, vocabulary-delayed children? I was adamant that my son would be raised without viewing TV (well, at least until the age of 2). What do they say about never saying never? TV, too, became a habit. Since positive feeding times were the priority, the magic, flat screen became my liberator, for a short spell anyway. I would time Ryder’s favourite shows with his most nutrient-filled mouthfuls, pointing at the TV, then sneaking one in.
There was almost no limit as to what I’d do to get Ryder to eat. One afternoon, I was caught by a neighbour feeding my son in the driver’s seat of my car. My neighbour asked, “Are you feeding your son?” I explained that Ryder loved driving cars and all things with wheels. Since he wasn’t interested in eating that day, I was using the best distraction I knew. We both laughed when she said, ”Well, I have a tree over here that will be awesome to climb with your bowl of food when the car antics get old.” To be honest, I seriously considered the offer. However, I settled for threatening my 1-year-old with “your dad will be home soon, so eat your dinner”.
Did I see the car’s hazard lights metaphorically flashing? Of course, not.
The breaking point was a BBQ with friends. All conversation, interaction, entertaining and social skills were put aside. My husband and I were consumed with feeding our son. The spectacle that we displayed for this group of friends was quite something.
My husband took the seat to the side of my son, and I kneeled down in front to put on a puppet show that stretched on for over an hour. We gave him toys to play with, jumped up from below his high chair to say peek-a-boo, gave him pens to draw with and I sang every nursery rhyme I knew. Whether or not we entertained Ryder, we certainly entertained our guests!
Of course, Ryder showed his mastery at being independent. His poor little head was almost shaking off his shoulders while I turned my face inside out trying to be as entertaining as possible as a distraction. My friend turned to me and said, “I’ll have to remember these tricks for when Abbie gets to this age”.
Suddenly, the proverbial light bulb went on inside my head. I realised that this was no example of how to feed a child. I saw the very steep slope I was heading down at a rapid speed and I was completely to blame.
Fortunately, I have a dependable and adaptable child. He very quickly welcomed the new eating changes I implemented. Within a very short time, we were both much happier at meal-times. Since I “woke up” when Ryder was still at a pliable age, he was soon eating one different food per week, even some foods that I thought he would never eat.
My nutritional studies, the books I’ve read, and my personal “food journey” with my son have made one thing crystal clear – the time to begin planning your child’s eating program is while they are still being bottle-fed.
Food is a quintessence of life. Eating should be fun. Early planning means you and your child can enjoy more and be hassled less.
Do you need help getting your child to sustain a healthy diet? are mealtimes a battle or have you given up the fight? Our online therapy courses will be launched to the public on the 1st of August. There’s a course for all ages and types of Little Fusspots. Click here to watch a sneak peak of the course, also fill in your details in the enrolment section to receive updates and early-bird discount codes.