Sunday, January 22, 2012

Picky Eaters

I wanted to write a post about a recent stage of toddlerhood that we went through as a family: the Picky Eater.  I never saw it coming but we came up with a plan all on our own and it worked, so I thought I'd share.  To outline:

1. Figure out what your toddler WILL eat.
2. Give him/her only those food items to avoid arguments, frustrations and most importantly to avoid making a big deal out of food and meal time.
3. Offer pieces of what you are eating but allow them to refuse while staying calm (no matter how hard)
4. Start making family meals easily accessible to your toddler with foods like quesadillas, pierogis, chicken fingers, sweet potato fries.
5. Serve meals on platters and leave them close by to your toddlers high chair so that, when ready, they might take it upon themselves to grab a piece.

When O was young, he ate every single thing I put in front of him.  I made all his baby food and he ate things like escarole, red cabbage, quinoa, lentils, salmon, etc...  Then out of the blue at 14 months he was refusing EVERY thing.  Well, almost everything.  He ate pasta with red sauce (only the swirly shaped pasta), yogurt, hummus, bagels & cream cheese, pineapple, and oatmeal.  That was it.  Everything else we offered him may as well have been poison.

I was distraught to have lost my amazing eater but I knew this was typical of toddlers.  After about a week or two of 'fighting' with him we came up with a plan.  I knew he was trying to assert his independence so I figured that if I didn't let food become an issue, he would have nothing to assert.  Following that thought and discussion with my husband, we decided to only serve him the pre-approved foods.  He ate oatmeal for breakfast, hummus and yogurt for lunch, and pasta or a bagel for dinner.  This lasted at least three week if not a month.  We'd always offer him what we were eating but he never took it and we were fine with that.

This is what happened when we offered him turkey on Thanksgiving...

One night, while O was having pasta, we were eating quesadillas and he leaned over and grabbed a piece off the serving dish which happened to be close to high chair.  We just looked at each other with big eyes and tried not to pay attention to what had just happened.  He ate the whole thing.  After that, my very smart husband, who is an amazing Daddy, suggested that we serve dinner like that every night - where he can grab something for himself.  It made perfect sense, O would be able to have control over what is on his plate so he feels proud and part of the decision making.

So, after that, everything was served on a platter and placed in front of O's highchair.  He would take something most nights and he'd always try what he pulled onto his plate but not always eat everything.  It was fine with us, it was progress!  I started doing this routine at lunch time as well on the days that I stay home with him and it worked then too.

At this point, close to two months after that first bite of quesadilla, I'm comfortable saying that O is a good eater, once again.  At dinner I hand him his plate and he walks to his highchair, waiting to see what I put on the table.  If it's something new that I want him to try I place it on the table first and leave the dish that I know he'll love on the stove, for our 'second course.'  He always grabs what is put down in front of him and usually eats a good amount.  He's also learned how to plate himself a portion of something like rice that is being served in a bowl, which he loves doing.

This is just the way that we came up with to guide our *picky* eater but I would suggest giving it a shot if your issues are similar to the ones we encountered.  Some of the main points that I feel are most important are eating together as a family, not getting frustrated, providing consistency, and providing your child with opportunities to succeed.

It's so helpful for children to have their parents to look to, to model appropriate behaviors such as eating off a plate and using utensils, and serving yourselves family style.  Remaining calm was something that took some practice for me because I was so upset that he wasn't eating the way he always had.  Once I stopped being frustrated by it and stopped trying to get him to eat something he didn't want, things turned around.  Just like with anything that has to do with teaching your kid something new, consistency is so important.  And in this case, thinking and being creative when it comes to your family's menu and making sure you are always serving food on platters and that it's cut up into pieces that they can handle is how to stay on top of it.  By doing those things consistently you can help your child be successful in his attempts.   For example, if we were having sausage, I'd cut it up into spears or small slices so that they were easy for O to pick up and I made lots of foods into 'french fry' shape so that he could easily grab one.

Most of all, remember that this was a slow process for us, from beginning of the pickiness to now it's been about 3 months.  I've certainly learned how to be a patient parent from waiting for O to sleep through the night to waiting out this food phase.  Good luck!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Exploring food with infants

A great way to expose your infant to cooking while allowing them to explore, is to let him touch and feel the foods you are working with.  On this day, I had been peeling carrots and when I had all the peels piled up, I placed them on O's tray for him to investigate.  He slowly grabbed handfuls of peels, feeling and making funny faces at the coldness, wetness and was certainly curious with this new texture.  He put one piece to his mouth but made a disgusted face and didn't do it again.  After a thorough exploration, he eventually picked up handful after handful and dumped them over the side of his chair.  While the gave me something to clean up, the process of clearing his tray was a first and seemed almost purposeful and methodical.

Other foods that are good for exploring are mashed potatoes, applesauce, peeled potatoes (whole or chunks), apple peels, raw broccoli heads and anything else you can think of with an interesting texture that is safe for baby to put in their mouth.  

O was about 6 months at this time.  He had just started solids, though I wasn't necessarily concerned with him eating a peel since I was standing with him the entire time.  But, I would be cautious when selecting a food to explore that it not have any known allergens such as nuts or ingredients that babies should not have before 1 such as honey.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making Salads

One day recently, I found myself with a long To Do List and a little boy who wanted to be by my side all day.  As previously posted, I often have him help me with chores so I went through my list and decided he could help me make individual salads for lunches to take to work.  Here's how it went.

I gave him bowls to lay out on the floor and big bowl of lettuce.

I showed him once how to pick some up and where to put it.  He got to work.

Once he was settled, I was able to step away and get some other things done in the kitchen.  
Then, I refilled the bowl when it was empty.

Next, some shredded cheese.

Finally, the croutons.

Quality control.

And there was minimal mess.  

He helped me close the lids and and stack the containers to go in the fridge and then was off to something else.  I find that when O is especially clingy, he's either not feeling well or just misses me.  If we do a job together he feels comforted by the time we spent but also accomplished and confident and ready to tackle something on his own.  

As I've said before, toddlers want to be you, they want to do the things you do and use the things you use.  Figuring out ways to let them help can make a world of difference in their mood and behavior but also their confidence, sense of pride, and independence.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Homemade Wrapping Paper

This Christmas both saving money and being kind to the earth were on my mind.  This activity did triple duty as it saved us money, reused paper and provided us with a number of days of fun.  

When packages started rolling in from online orders, so many of them were stuffed with brown or white packing paper which I typically would have just recycled but this year I folded it all and saved it.  One day when it was unseasonably warm, I laid some pieces out in our driveway and poured green and red paint all over them.  O finger and feet painted three huge pieces of paper.

Then with the smaller pieces, I spread them out on his table inside where he created beautiful masterpieces.   He painted almost every day for two weeks to have enough paper for all our presents.  

Here are some shots of only some of our stacks of gifts for friends and family.  

For the tags, I cut up cards from last years greetings.

Total cost of Christmas wrapping: 99 cents for the roll of twine.  
(Plus the cost of paints, but we already had those in stock)

My goal is never to buy wrapping paper again.  I will do this activity with O here and there and build a supply for birthday presents and such.  

Rock Sorting

In early childhood classrooms, egg cartons, muffin tins and the like are often used for sorting activities with materials like beads, items from nature or other small manipulatives.  The practice of sorting encourages cognitive development in areas such science and math including color and shape recognition, counting, greater then/less then, classification, grouping, observation, and more.  There is also a sensory component when sorting by things like texture or smell.

Below are pictures from an activity I introduced to O at about 12 months.  It is a pre-sorting activity that I came up with one morning.  I had a typical sorting activity on my mind but knew O wasn't developmentally ready for that yet.  So, I took out some corks that he liked to play with and put them in dish and showed him each cork fit into a space in the egg carton.  He loved it and laughed every time he got one in on his own.  

Since then, we have found that rocks work really well too, as is shown in the photos.  At this point, I can give him the rocks and the carton and he completes the activity on his own, including putting the rocks back into the original container.  

I truly believe in the idea of exposing young children to materials and concepts that might typically be geared for older children so that they become familiar and comfortable with them, gradually.  This activity is getting O ready for the day when he will be asked to sort materials into their own section or place based on color, shape, etc...  Next, we will add a second item to the mix and he will be able to see the comparison of the two items.  Following that, he will have to use the columns or rows of the carton to arrange like objects.  

In addition, this type of activity is building his stamina and level of concentration and focus, he is learning how to work through a task to completion.  He is certainly proud of his accomplishment and enjoys repeating the process a number of times.