My son Hunter was five months old when he was introduced to his first solid foods. I was beyond excited he was now at the age where he could experience fun new tastes and textures other than plain old milk. As a mom, it was a thrill to witness his reaction to each flavor. The tastes were so foreign and unfamiliar, yet stimulating to his sensitive little taste buds. I can still remember his face when he tried his first food-bananas. The look in his eye seemed to scream “more, more!”, while he smacked his tiny lips. In the following months, he would literally eat everything; from green bean casserole to the hearty vegetable stew medley, and everything in between. I can remember thinking to myself, “this is fantastic! He’s not a picky eater!”, and thanking my lucky stars above.
I neglected to knock on wood, however, because eleven months later, all of that changed.
I woke up one day and all of a sudden my baby turned into a toddler. A picky toddler at that. Oatmeal? No way. Green beans?
Forget about it. I began to dread mealtime. Everything I would place in front of him would end up on our carpet-yes, we have carpet in our dining room. But that’s a whole different story! Pasta, potatoes and hot dogs would all end up on the floor. I didn’t know what to think; he wouldn’t even try it. Just one look and he would wrinkle his little nose, look at me and start swiping it away on his high chair tray.
What was going on? I had to find out, and find out fast. Hunter was barely eating, and on top of that he was extremely picky, which eliminated healthy foods from his diet. He was actually losing weight.
So I made an appointment one cold December morning for the following Monday with Hunter’s pediatrician, Dr. Gardener. Once we were ushered in, I explained to him my worries. How in the past he would eat everything in sight, and now he never seemed interested-even in his former favorite, bananas! I went on to explain how I thought he was losing weight. I just wanted my little boy to be healthy. If there was a problem, I wanted to know how to fix it-and fast.
After I finished my tirade, he turned around and flashed a little grin. I thought to myself, “that’s a little strange. Why does it look like he’s smiling?”
Two seconds later, he enlightened me. Dr. Gardener patted my arm and told me what I was experiencing with Hunter was completely normal. Normal? How so, I wanted to know.
He gently explained to me that this is the phase where a toddler typically slows in terms of growth, as opposed to the quick growing and gaining state of an infant. He also elaborated how it was typical for a child to become picky around this age because they are becoming more aware of their surroundings-that even a specific food color may turn them off.
Well, that was music to my ears. Good news in that my son was ok, that he was still growing and developing, and that this wasn’t out of the ordinary. But now I knew I would have to start thinking outside the box in terms of mealtimes.
It was time for this mommy to get creative.
Hunter is 19 months now, and is just as picky as ever. He still won’t eat his carrots, and he turns his head at pasta. But he does eat, and he is thriving and developing just the way he should be. I’m no longer stressing over his appetite (or lack thereof).
Below are some tips and tricks I use with my son, which seem to be working out really well for him. Hopefully they might work for you, too.
Taking the sippy cup away one hour before meals-I have found this to work wonders for us. In the past, I would hand over a sippy whenever he asked. Now, however, I wait until he is finished eating. He comes to the table hungry (no belly full of milk or juice) and tends to eat more.
Organic catsup is our new best friend- Hunter would rarely eat vegetables if they were served by themselves. Now, we serve a side of organic catsup on the side for him to dip his veggies into. He loves, it, and I love knowing that it’s healthy. You can use pretty much anything as a dipper-yogurt, cottage cheese, guacamole or peanut butter. Giving them something to dip their food into is not only fun for them, but may also assist them into getting more into their mouth.
Pull the wool over their eyes-I often add chopped broccoli to mashed potatoes and spaghetti sauce, or grated zucchini and carrots into our weekly casseroles. Pretty much whenever I cook, I choose one vegetable to “sneak” into the dish. Hunter has no idea, and I can get my piece of mind that he’s getting at least some veggies.
Let them graze during the day- I firmly believe a child with a full belly (or at least a belly that isn’t growling with hunger)=a better behaved child. I let my son graze throughout the day, and set him up with an ice cube tray, and put little healthy snacks such as raisons, cheerios, apple slices, and cheese blocks in the little compartments for Hunter to grab when he wants. This has worked wonders because he isn’t constantly tugging on my legs asking me for “nacks”.
Appearances are EVERYTHING-we use cookie cutters for pretty much anything that a cookie cutter can go through-pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, pizza or hamburger. I bought a huge container of cookie cutters for $5, and I have to say its money well spent. Hunter is delighted by the different shapes, letters and numbers, and it gives him something different visually to look at during mealtime, as well an added element of learning.
And last but not least, RELAX! This can be a very stressful and trying time, especially if you are a new mom or dad. It obviously was for me. Just remember that your child will get all the nutrients he needs-and if he doesn’t eat very much for a few days, he will surely make up for it the next. By maintaining consistency and promoting healthy eating, you are setting your child up for a lifetime of healthy eating. And that, in my opinion, is the best gift of all.