Sometimes I feel as if my whole day revolves around mealtimes. When I’m home all day, especially, it’s like everything that is happening is just the precursor to the next meal. And anyone with kids can tell you that mealtimes are definitely the worst. I have quite a few memories of myself crying at dinner because I didn’t like what my mom made. And the option was, eat it or go to bed hungry. I wasn’t a deprived child. I ate plenty. But I was a very very fussy eater.
When I was pregnant with Evelyn my specialist pulled me out of work at thirty-six weeks. There was no huge issue. Her worry (and mine) were that my headaches had become constant and she preferred me to just lie on the couch all day and stay hydrated (and without medication) than be at school and avoid drinking water because I rarely had the chance to leave the room to use the restroom. At that point in the pregnancy, everything was ready. I had finished nesting, the nursery was done, the bags were packed and I had already attended the full-day birthing class. Anyways, with all my spare time, I did what a lot of first time mommies do, spent all my time on blogs and message boards. This is when I came across the concept of baby-led weaning. After reading a bit about it I prime-ordered myself a book (hey, labor could have happened before the book came!) and devoured it. It really made sense to me. And my husband, at this point, was really game for anything I said (because he’s a very smart man).
Basically baby-led weaning is the feeding concept where you let your child choose what to and how to feed him or herself. I’ll admit, that explanation sounds really stupid. But let’s compare. The ‘rules’ were that babies are breastfed or fed formula exclusively for about six months. Then the parents will introduce puréed baby food (spoon-fed homemade or jar food), one type every three days (to look out for adverse reactions). That’s all well and good. That’s what the pins said, and that’s how most people I knew with kids had done it. But at some point in my pregnancy I had heard a news story on NPR about the Gerber company. And they basically created that rule. Before they existed, there was no ‘baby food.’ And they only came around in the 1930s. What hooked me was the idea that spoon feeding doesn’t promote the idea that food needs to be chewed before it’s swallowed. It’s teaching a baby that food goes in and they swallow. So introducing solid/hard foods after purees is like trying to teach your child a whole new way to eat than what he/she just learned. So baby-led weaning is basically putting food in front of your child and letting him out her explore, pick up, taste, and learn to chew and swallow all on his or her own. This idea made sense to me. And when Evelyn started reaching for food on my plate, we let her go for it. She chewed, spit and ate what she wanted while I ate, and still had her normal bottle feedings. When she started wanting food more than her bottle around 7-8 months we then introduced fruit and veggie purées as a supplement. With just one it was easy to just give her a spoon, a pouch and a portion of what we were eating and let her go to town. She ate when we ate, and sat with us at the table. She was always included in mealtimes. And I found myself cooking a lot more balanced meals, with ingredients that I hadn’t cooked before.
When the twins came along, things got a lot more complicated. As newborns though it was easy. They would usually be asleep at mealtimes so we continued with the way things had been. As they got older and more awake, we would have them in a rocker or their table for two in the dining room with us. And then we were eating when they weren’t. The twins took a lot longer to show interest in food. And with them we actually started with jarred baby food and oatmeal. They were closing in on seven months but didn’t have the fine motor skills that Evie did. Plus we didn’t eat with them that often (way too complicated) and so they never had the chance to become interested in our food. It was the opposite of what I had wanted to do (and what I did with their sister) but it made sense for them. They were able to become accustomed to a lot of new flavors which I think then sparked an interest in what their sister was eating. It was an expensive half a year buying baby food though.
A few months ago. Things just went from complicated to worse. Evelyn had been a great eater from 4 months to about age one and a half. And then it just spiraled downhill. At her 18 month checkup she had gone from the 50th percentile for weight to the 44th. At her 2 year, she was down to the 34th. By contrast, she’s at the 69th percentile for height. It was a few weeks ago when my bubble really burst and I realized that I was partly to blame. I had stopped eating with the girls months before (except at restaurants which isn’t too often) and would sit opposite her sisters’ high chairs. She sat behind them. And I basically ignored her because I was so focused on the twins eating. My husband and I discussed ways to help and we decided that the best thing to do was to make it a point to always eat together as a family rather than feeding them and then eating. We pulled the trays from the twins high chairs (IKEA Antilop which are amazing and cheap) and found they tucked right under the dining room table. And we pulled the seat and tray off of Evie’s so we could roll her right up to the table.
I make it a point to try and prepare one main meal that we all eat. For lunch it’s not always the standard – meat, veggie, carb, sometimes it’s as simple as oatmeal and peanut butter toast. And then I add veggies and fruit (sliced cucumber, banana, etc) and a sweet for them. And we all sit at the table. It’s a fricken project, let me tell you. But I can still reach the twins if I need to, and can easily see/reach Evie. I bring a small bag to the table to gather the trash so I can gather trash while they are still finishing. This makes clean up super easy and it means I don’t have to leave them unattended in the other room while I cleanup. The main thing that has changed is that I’m not cooking for them. I’m cooking for us. And that means I’m no longer relying pouch food as a go to (although I always pack it when I run errands in case I need to give them lunch on the go!). I’m planning the meals and making sure that there are at least two items on their plates that I know they like (apple sauce, yogurt raisins, pretzels, etc). I’m giving them new things to try and even Evie has been making an attempt. As it turns out, the twins are pretty good eaters. Ella is a fantastic eater. They devoured salsa chicken (beans, peppers, tomatoes, corns, chicken and rice) and absolutely loved the zucchini fritters I made the other day. The other HUGE change we are making (still a work in progress) is to not force them to eat something or to finish something. We try to not even comment on Evie sometimes still eating nothing or smearing her peanut butter and Nutella in the cracks of the table. And they will all get their tiny sweet (like one mini chips ahoy) no matter how much they ate or didn’t eat. And now, I don’t dread mealtimes anymore. They take a little longer as I’m not doing any spoon feeding and let them do all the work.
Thankfully, the twins, at 13-months, eat enough food (and from all the food groups) to not need jarred food. I still worry when Evie isn’t eating but it’s not stressing me out. She gets her toddler step-up formula in her sippy cup in the morning and has snacks mid morning and mid afternoon. She even gets juice in the afternoon for the extra calories. And I’ve found that if I put enough variety on her plate and not keep harping on her to eat it, she’ll do fairly well. Her doc didn’t seem overly worried as she is still following her growth curve. I don’t want to be the type of mom that comments on what her kids are eating, but instead presents enough healthy things and models enough healthy behaviors so that they make their own good choices. Now that is definitely a work in progress.