Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Food fight

We are at war with our son. We want him to eat. He doesn't want what we give him. Fighting ensues. Most times he wins.

(Above: Kyle is done, whether we like it or not.)

Kyle used to be a good eater. Back when we first started giving him pureed solid food, he would take practically anything we gave him (carrots, green beans, deep-fried Oreos), and he'd often smile and laugh while we did it. We'd smile and laugh, too, completely giving in to the false impression that feedings would be nice and easy from then on. Such is often the case with naive new parents. We didn't read the "feeding the monster" chapter in the manual that comes with every new baby purchase. Because of that, we were woefully unprepared.

For starters, we probably should have started feeding him real food earlier, as most parents do (we're realizing that now). When the little guy was nine months old and very agreeable, the doc said we could give him chewable meals, as long as the food was chopped into bite-sized pieces. I thought he meant a little snack "here and there" so we occasionally gave Kyle a bit of toast or some Cheerios. He was still swallowing down the pureed stuff, so I didn't think anything of it. Kyle was happy. Jennifer was happy. I was happy. The doc was not. At the appointment shortly after Kyle's first birthday, we had a conversation that went a little like this:

Kyle's Doc: "So what kind of food is he eating these days?"
Me: "Oh, the basic things - Cheerios, puffs, toast..."
Kyle's Doc (looking down at me, even though I'm standing and he's sitting): "No, I asked what kind of FOOD is he eating?"
Me (red-faced and slowly backing into a corner): "Ummmmm... does Honey Nut Cheerios count?"

So began our mad feeding frenzy. We bought all kinds of things for Kyle to try, thinking he'd love the new variety of choices. Instead he treated the different foods as if they were toys, except for the fact that he puts toys in his mouth. Peas and carrots were played with and then thrown onto the floor, eggs were dumped into his seat, and the bits of cheese he accidentally put into his mouth were immediately removed and handed to his dad in the most grotesque fashion, as if to say "this is what I think of your attempts to get me to try something new." We did have some success with cookies, blueberry muffins, and doughnuts, but for some reason I doubt Kyle's doc would be impressed with that.

Now after each meal, the floor of our dining room is covered with the carcasses of foods that had hoped to be the delight of our young boy, but were instead cast off, doomed to spend eternity in the fires of our trashcan. As you can see from the picture, Kyle's not just tossing out the new things; even the Cheerios now face his wrath. As we've been trying to get Kyle to eat more during the past two and a half months, he's actually trying to eat less. So much for our plan. Kyle is resisting the pureed food, too. We've talked with some friends who have kids of their own, and they say that at some point many children suddenly decide they don't want to be fed anymore. They just want to eat food on their own. I fear that our kid will starve because he has two clashing desires: he doesn't want us to feed him, but he doesn't want to eat anything outside of foods that must be fed to him. Logic is apparently not a strong suit of a 14 month old.

However, there is some hope. We have discovered that there are ways around Kyle's resistance. Generally he will eat if he tastes the food and realizes he actually likes it. Yet putting the food close enough so he could taste it requires some skill. Kyle has the arms of a Karate black belt: he can anticipate my moves and has the power to block them. With his left hand he deflects my attempts to bring the spoon to his mouth, and with his right he's swatting the jar in my other hand, trying to get me to dump it off the side of his tray. Usually, after splashing food on his eye, nose, forehead, ear, and sometimes hair, I manage to get some on his lips. I pause, wait for him to taste it, and then I move in with the rest. Suddenly Kyle is a changed man, eating the food right up. However, it's important to not recognize the change. If Kyle feels that I actually enjoy feeding him, his defenses will go back up, and the battle will begin anew.

(Above: The scars of battle)

Emerging victorious in the pureed-food battle with Kyle is like finishing a crossword puzzle or winning solitaire: it's a small feat in the grand scheme of things, but it's immensely satisfying. Yet we still have the problem of convincing him to try new foods before his next doctor's appointment, which is in two weeks. I guess I should be more concerned with my son's nutritional development than some pediatrician's opinion of me as a parent, but coming to him with nothing to show for these past three months is like flunking a class at school. Maybe I should buy him a fruit basket or something to make him forget the whole thing.

As for Kyle, he may keep fighting, but I believe he will ultimately lose the war. It's not a prediction I make with absolute certainty, but I do get the feeling he'll want to try some real foods before he starts dating. Then again, who knows what will happen in the future? Maybe pureed foods for everyone will become trendy. Kyle can only hope.

1 comment:

erica said...

I remember the food wars you're talking about! I'm not sure how much reading time you have, but I read a book called _How to Get Your Kid to Eat... But Not Too Much_ by Ellyn Satter that completely changed my outlook on Kent's eating in a very positive way. I was pretty anxious about what and how little he was eating, and since this author is both a nutritionist and a family therapist, her perspective helped me a lot. Her basic advice is that you put a variety of foods in front of your child, some he likes and some that are new, and he has to take it from there. She also asserts that kids will get enough to eat if the food is offered, even if it seems to us that they're eating two goldfish crackers and half a banana in an entire day. Also, toddlers may have to see a new food presented to them 7 to 10 times before they'll actually try it on their own, so just keep offering different things and he'll eventually eat something. It drove me crazy for a little while, but it really worked for me to ease off and let Kent take charge of his own eating.

Someday, Kyle will practically give you a heart attack by eating something you never thought he'd eat, like a few days ago, when Kent ate lettuce and I looked him and thought, "Who ARE you??" Good luck in the interim. I wish I had some suggestions about the food throwing, but for some reason, Kent never did much of that. We were very lucky. =)

I love reading your blog-- you have such a gift for putting the challenges of parenthood in a light that's simultaneously hilarious and thought-provoking. So thanks for that.