Thursday, March 19, 2009

The chef recommends the green beans and carrots blend, sir.

I used to think when people said, "I just can't get my kid to eat anything," that they weren't trying hard enough.

And now God is laughing at me. 

Boy is not what you'd call a stellar eater. Though his noggin measures in the 80th percentile for his age, and his height is squarely in the 55th, his weight is only ever in the 20th percentile or so. If you don't have kids, you're like, "Sounds like one melon-headed skinny kid." Not exactly, though I DO think he walks like he's top-heavy. If you DO have kids, you know what I'm saying when I admit that I obsess about these numbers in ways that are probably far from healthy. Technically, I know he's not only FINE, but thriving. He's an active, inquisitive, happy and bright little boy, and I just tell people who comment on his lean physique that he's "built for speed." But sometimes those well-meaning people out there will use words like "I'm CONCERNED about his weight" or "Do you think he's getting ENOUGH to eat?" or "He's looking a little SCRAWNY." 

Argh, to say the least.

If you were able to map out my daily mental energy commitments, you'd see that the breakdown goes something like this:
  • Encouraging boy's healthy independent sleeping habits: 30%
  • Preparing healthy, delicious meals of decent variety and getting boy to eat them: 45%
  • Providing stimulating play opportunities for boy: 25%
  • Creating an environment that will nurture boy's spirituality and character: 50%
  • Taking care of the house: 20%
  • Taking care of husband: 25% (luckily for me he's extremely self-reliant and capable)
  • Taking care of myself: Whatever's left when everything else is done (but that's another post)
(And if you're puzzled by the math, remember that mothers grow additional brain capacity once their children arrive. So of COURSE it adds up to more than 100%.)

One of the reasons I'm reluctant to let anyone else feed boy is because the task is a lot like opening a combination lock -- you have to twist and turn everything JUST RIGHT to get it to work. A typical lunch looks like this:
  • I prepare a plate that contains 1) a sippy cup of cold, fresh water, 2) a moistened paper towel for clean-up, 3) a bowl containing boy's main entree, usually a mixture of two veggies and some meat, 4) two to three Gerber's baby food meat sticks, which he actually likes, 5) some other pre-approved food item for a change of texture (such as bits of string cheese, iron-fortified Cheerios, low sodium Goldfish crackers, chunks of ripe banana, etc.). I set this plate down near boy's high chair.
  • I then assemble a collection of food-safe (read: non-stainable) toys and place them within easy reach of the high chair. For me, not boy -- these will be doled out throughout the meal to keep and maintain his interest in the act of eating.
  • Only then do I pick up boy and maneuver him into the high chair. Fifty percent of the time, this is a struggle. He's buckled in and bibbed up. Both of us are, more than likely, already sweating.
  • I prepare for the first-bite blues. For some reason, boy always acts as if the first bite of whatever I offer him is terribly offensive to him. When he sees the spoon coming toward him, he begins not only shaking his head from side to side to keep his mouth in motion, he also starts waving his hands to provide obstacles for the spoon. If I can manage to touch the spoon to his cheek, he gives up. But it's not uncommon for the first food spill of the meal to occur BEFORE he's even eaten anything.
  • Having tasted the first bite (and having realized I am not, indeed, attempting to spoon-feed nuclear waste into his mouth), boy consents to accept a few bites of veggie mixture. 
  • Bite four or five: the first gag takes place. This calls for a change of texture. I pop in a bite of meat, a tiny button-sized morsel. This is chewed for approximately four minutes. If I'm lucky, he'll accept a bite of veggies to help wash it down. 
And so we proceed. Spoon, spoon, gag. Banana. Sip of water. Spoon, spoon, spoon, gag. Meat. Chew for ever. Spoon. Gag. Water. Toys are flung, Cheerios crushed with thumbs against the high chair tray, sippy cups hurled. In between bites, gags and redirects, I also provide puppet play to entertain boy, retrieve dropped toys, wipe up food bits from him, his face, his hands, and his toys, etc. 

The wiser among you are already filled with helpful suggestions. "He's not really hungry," you're thinking. "Don't let him snack between meals. Then he'll eat more readily." Huh. Tried that. The kid went all the way to dinner on just a few Goldfish crackers one day, and I still had to struggle to get him to eat. Others among you are thinking, "Of course he's not eating. Baby food is gross. Let him eat table food." Yep, good idea. Only my kid inherited my ability to gag on a chocolate chip, and without any molars, his tendency to gag is compounded by a real tactical difficulty in chewing food enough to swallow it. A handful of you think that if I made my own baby food, he'd be happy to eat it. You'd be wrong -- there's no difference in his reaction to home-made stuff versus the organic baby food I get at the store. Still others are wishing I'd stop making it a struggle and just go with the flow. And that's the path I've chosen now -- I give him plenty of variety of scenery to amuse him -- we eat not only in the high chair, but also in his Bumbo seat on the floor of the family room, surrounded by books, or we eat in his stroller while out at the mall or a restaurant or elsewhere, or I pull his high chair onto the back patio. It helps a little. I try to give him tasty new options from time to time, to vary his menu. And most of all, I try not to stress about it, or force him to eat if he's really indicating he's done or full. That's the hardest part -- dancing the fine line between encouraging a picky eater to have a necessary meal, and forcing a child to eat when it's not necessary to finish a serving, etc. 

Oh, well. Chalk it up to item number 478 to second-guess myself about. 

(Go hug your mother. Right now. Or call her, and tell her you love her.)



screamy mimi said...

1. I'm so glad I can see your blog normally again.

2. Thank goodness for you. Seriously, I can't tell you what a relief it is to read your stories and feel not so alone.

Evie doesn't really have the eating problem (save for chicken and all things green as you have seen) but I constantly worry that I'm doing it wrong. How much? When? Enough? Too much? All of the food issues I've dealt with in my life--I don't want to pass along...Sigh.

And I LOVE the "helpful" comments, like you mentioned about boy's weight. Seriously, I know they're not meant to throw me into a fit of panic, but sometimes, how else do people think a mother is suppose to respond to feedback like that??

Christy said...

Oh food...I just had NO idea either :) ps--I LOVE the new header pic---ADORABLE!!!!! just want to hug that little guy :)