Apr 13, 2012

Teaching Children to Eat

I hear many moms....MANY moms saying, "But my child will only eat mac and cheese." or "But my child will only eat anything that has the consistency of chicken nuggets." For two years I was a toddler teacher and for those two years I served children from the ages of 15 months to 3 years a warm organic based lunch. The variety of food was endless....creamed spinach, cubed sweet potatoes, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, rice (I hated rice days because I was usually the one trying to sweep it up off the floor....STICKY!), mango salsa an abundance of fruits and of course a different main dish, including falafel, every day. It was no surprise to see many, if not most, children eating the fruit since the natural sugar is such a lure. Then comes the main dish - again, how can you go wrong with a hamburger and ketchup or grilled cheese? When the veggies hit the table, well, that was a different story. Why? Don't most Gerber Brand or even organic brands of baby food make jar baby food out of these "healthy" delights and as a society start feeding them to our children anywhere between 3-6 months of age? These are baby's "first foods" and with that comes this certainty that "my child will continue to love veggies as much as he/she does now". Then around age 2 or 3 or maybe 4 it all comes to a hault and you sit there scratching your head thinking, "How did this happen?" Well, I have a hunch as to why this has happened.

After my daughter was born, my pediatrician gave me an 11-page handout that he had personally written called, "How to Feed Baby". I thought to myself, "Get a spoon, jar, highchair and bib." Hmm...that didn't look like 6 pages. When I got home and read it over I thought to myself, "This man is CRAZY!" I knew feeding my baby his way was going to be more work than I wanted for myself. So I tossed it aside and moved on. During another visit, I was in the waiting area with 2 other moms. Well, you know how it goes if you're a mom. You start talking about your kids and asking questions, blah, blah, blah. Suddenly we were on the topic of eating. Both women told me how much they loved this doctor's handout on "How to Feed Baby" and how every kid in their family now eats everything and anything because of this system. Well, I guess if you have 5 kids and it's worked for all of them, you'd better listen up, right? I went home convinced that yes, my doctor is crazy, but he also knows a thing or two at the age of 70 something. My daughter is 4 weeks away from turning 4 and she still eats almost anything! I can only say "thank you" to Dr. Rosi for writing such a piece.

Now you are probably wondering what his formula is, right. Well, basically baby's should only eat whole foods in the state they are in....never pureed. What? Doesn't this go against everything you read in magazines, hear from doctors and see in grocery stores? Yes, it sure does. Baby's need to eat food, not for consumption, but for experiment. When you put food in baby's mouth, they are trying to figure out what this feels like on their tongue for the first time and how to manage it in their mouth, which also includes chewing it and swallowing it. If we are giving baby pureed foods, it's a no-brainer for them. Secondly, who is doing the feeding when we give pureed foods? Uh-huh! WE are feeding the children. WE control portion size, timing, etc. When a baby feeds themselves they are able to control this, which in turn gives them independence. This is why baby's should start eating foods at 6 months because that's when they can start picking up food with their fingers off the table and bringing it to their mouths. My daughter had no problems with this. My son at 6 months was still slapping the table and his food, so I had to makes some adjustments to the plan, but now he is able to do it.

Obviously the first texture is mushy food such as avocado, banana (easy on these....they constipated both of my children) and boiled sweet potatoes. You can also give a large boiled carrot and have them chew on it. Will baby's gag? Yes! This is how they learn! It's okay. :)

There are four other textures to go through and each of them take 3 weeks at a time for baby to master. These textures include well-cooked ground meats and fish (but be careful of bones), well-cooked unground meat, foods with shells such as peas, corn or grapes as well as raw apple and finally breadsticks, carrot sticks, crackers, etc.

All the pieces mentioned above are cut into 1/4 inch cubes and placed on the table for the baby to take. First start with 3 pieces, then move to 6, etc. Most pieces will be on the floor, in the hair, in your hair, on the lampshades, etc. ;) There are more aspects to Dr. Peter Rosi's writings which include how to teach manners, eating with utensils and nursing your baby.

Now, I could sit here and write the entire 11-page hand-out, but I won't. If you are interested in knowing more, I am more than happy to send you a copy to have at your fingertips through snail mail. Yes, I would do that. Why? Because I really believe that this works. Do I think nothing else works? Not saying that. I'm just saying that this worked for me and many other mothers...I should say, it worked for Vivian and many other children.

If your children are older now and you're wondering how to incorporate or get them to eat their veggies (without having to hide it), experience has shown me that you just need to keep introducing it - over and over and over again. Don't give up! I once had a student who never ate a vegetable in his life! Everyday I would put veggies on his plate....just a few and everyday he would put it up to his mouth and refuse it. One day, 8 months later, he tried a green bean. He spit it out, but he TRIED IT! In my opinion, that's progress. Now this is coming from a child who NEVER ate vegetables. Not one single veggie - EVER! I have no idea if he eats any vegetables today, but he's young enough to keep trying.

And btw...this post is not to judge any parent for choices they make on what they feed their children. It's merely a post to support mothers and open minds to ways outside what we may consider part of our culture.

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