My memory goes back to my early childhood when my grandma used to pamper me to bits especially during my summer vacations when I get bulk of time to spend with her. She would feed me, play with me, listen to my stories, take me out to market… Those are warm memories I cherish to date. I particularly remember how she used to consider food. According to her, food makes you strong and you need to treat it right. She says if I leave the food on the plate after it is served and go to play or do something else, I am disrespecting it. If we spill even grains on the floor, we pick it up immediately because food is God and we don’t want to step on it. Particularly when she fed me, she would put a small piece of it in her mouth, almost as a reflex action, and then start with me. I once told her if she was hungry, she could eat first and then feed me. She laughed and said, she was not hungry, but it had become a practice to check the food first, before offering to babies/ kids. She was checking for taste, ingredients and how hot/warm it was. It stuck to my memory and comes up every time I prepare to feed my baby. This simple action makes me understand if my baby has tough time with that feeding session, why he might be doing so.
I have seen some of my friends struggling with feeding their infants or toddlers. Kids these days need a distraction to eat. Mostly it is videos. It is sad to have the mind of the kid taken away from one of the most satisfying experiences of life, that is, having a tasty meal. Sometimes, there is a rush and the kid does not understand the concept of time. Sometimes, the kid is too tired to sit for a satisfying experience and would appreciate finishing off quicker than usual, so they can go to sleep early. Sometimes, the caregiver is unwell and needs to finish the task with minimal energy and time spent. These times, taking help of videos for distraction is fine. But they should enjoy the food experience in a normal daily basis.
What does not feel good being done to us, does not look good when we do it to another, however small that person may be. For example, we don’t like being force fed. We don’t like to eat something we don’t like the taste of. We don’t like to eat when we feel full, because we had lesser activity that day or due to temperature outside or we feel constipated etc. We don’t like to eat when we are thirsty and want to drink just plain water, even if it is meal time.
There are a few points we need to remember when feeding our kids.
- Satisfaction instead of completion: Our duty is to offer nutritious foods at right times and in adequate quantities. It is the choice of the kids to decide how much they want to eat. That bowl or plate need not get empty. Only that the tiny tummy needs to feel satisfied.
- Kids change as they grow: We need to know their taste, if they like a particular spice or ingredient more. This comes with trial and error. Sometimes they just need to grow up a bit more before they like what we are offering. My baby was not taking cow’s milk when I offered it soon after his first year. My doctor advised me to try different flavor, sweeten it and so on. I tried, but nothing helped. He was just not ready. Every few weeks I would try and give up. At 17 months, he was ready. Forcing them to gulp down what we think is important for them is the most violent thing a person can do to a tiny human that has not developed skills to communicate or defend themselves. This works the other way too. What the kid/baby eats well at a point, they may not like as their palette matures. The textures, tastes all change. We need to be flexible to this fact and celebrate the growth involved.
- Saving our energy and emotions: Taking so much effort and time to make a meal specifically for a baby and then throwing 99% of it to trash is heartbreaking! It’s emotionally and physically hard on the caregiver. So, instead of pushing ourselves to make another meal and then ending up in frustration, lets have backup plans like fruits, quick snacks, ready-made foods for emergencies. We have limited time and energies. Lets not waste it worrying about the past and save it for the next meal time.
- Forget the clock and let them feel hungry: Just leaving the kid to play some more until they get really hungry will make them eat well. Don’t go by the clock. Physical activity and outdoors help a lot.
- Handling Rejections: While eating, if after a few spoonfuls, the kid refuses and turns his/her head away, we have the urge to somehow make them eat what is in our hand. Just this one, we plead. I had caught myself doing that a few times. My feeling was one of being rejected or dejected. Why is it so hard to take a no from a child? Is it the “adult ego”? I don’t know. I consciously put the spoon down and back off a couple of steps to register that I am not in any pressure to get that food in. The baby is in charge.
- Give them space and time: Sometimes, my kid needs a few moments before he continues eating. Probably, he is overwhelmed at the speed at which he is eating and wants to take a leisurely pace. Or he just got interested in some play suddenly and couldn’t concentrate on food immediately. Sometimes, he is working on a tiny bit of nut or veggie that is stuck in his mouth and he can’t accept another spoonful. Sometimes, he has dry throat and needs water and not food that time. There are so many valid reasons that could be addressed or just waited over before continuing with the feed. Giving him space and time usually resolves it and he usually comes back on his own.
- Gentle but firm: Perseverance pays off. With kids there is a learning curve. We just need to stick to what we need to do firmly and not give in to junk foods or other short cuts/ bribes to get them to listen to us. We need to be cautious about being gentle but firm at the same time.
Babies and kids are more in tune with their bodies than us adults. Following their lead not just makes parenting more enjoyable and less of a war zone, it definitely produces better results and improves confidence in our kids as we respect their choices. Kids have very big hearts. With all the well-meaning mistakes we parents make, they shower us with so much unconditional love! I have my share of mistakes and learning during my journey and I’m so grateful for this love from my little ones!