Mstr Energiser Bunny (EB) is not a foodie – where some live to eat, he simply eats to live. As a young toddler, one of the most effective ways to get him to leave me alone was to offer him food, ha ha. Mealtimes usually involved cajoling, entertaining, and harassing, unless what was on offer was on his “favourites” list, and then he could not be kept away until his little belly protruded like a preggie’s.
My challenge is that this “favourites” list keeps on changing, and sometimes has next to nothing on it. We recently had a phase of this almost-nothing list, and Mama Bear tried all sorts of experiments, from introducing new foods – some of which were not exactly healthy, to getting creative with food presentation – heart-shaped waffles and colourful food faces, and then administering Vitamin B complex syrup – the supposedly tried and tested appetite booster (I drew the line at offering him sugary drinks and fruit juices – the only liquid I offer him, apart from cocoa drink, is water, which he drinks a lot of). None of these worked. Yet, his energy remained boundless, he was outgrowing his clothes length-wise (width-wise, we still needed safety pins to keep his shorts and trousers from falling off his skinny waist :-)), and he was learning and perfecting verbal, motor (gross and fine), and cognitive skills at a hectic pace!
I should have been happy with these positive fundamental developments, but no, I had to focus on his “poor appetite” and skinny frame, and that his position on the weight scale did not seem to have moved in yonkers! Also, comments from well-meaning folks did not help with the anxiety that the boy’s skin would soon fall of his bones. His pediatrician and other parents tried to allay my fears, saying it is all a phase that would soon pass, but how come the kid next door wolfs down everything placed in front of him??
After almost worrying myself to a frenetic state, I went into hard-core research mode and came across My Child Won’t Eat!: How to Enjoy Mealtimes Without Worry by Carlos González. As I read the pages, it seemed like the Spanish pediatrician had been in our house and listened in on our conversations / battles! Here are some of the notes I took:
- Children are experts at determining when they need to eat and what they need to eat.
- If children consistently eat more than they need at any given point in time, they:
- either lose the ability to sensor and stop eating when they have consumed what they need – which could lead to obesity; or
- become dangerously ill.
- Children have three reflex defence mechanisms against taking in excess food:
- close their mouth and turn their head;
- if forced, open their mouth and refuse to swallow (this is what EB does);
- if forced further, swallow the food and then throw up.
- Sometimes children reject certain foods because it causes a reaction they don’t like, especially if there are proven food allergies.
- It is the parents’ responsibility to offer healthy foods; it is the child’s responsibility to choose which foods to eat and in what quantity.
- Appetite stimulants could be dangerous, their effect is temporary, and they have rebound effects.
- Children eat to match their growth and developmental needs; growth is only affected in cases of true malnutrition.
- Genetic disposition affects a child’s physical growth from infancy.
- It is not unusual for a child not to gain any weight for a period of time, as long as the child is not ill, is active, and is otherwise developing at a healthy pace.
- The general advice from the experts is “do not force a child to eat”:
- if the child is sick, offer favourite foods frequently, but without forcing him to eat or he’ll end up throwing up.
- if the child is healthy, he has eaten what he needs.
- the more a child is forced to eat, the less likely the child will eat, and the more likely an aversion to the particular food being forced will develop.
I now realise that the biggest problem was my expectation of how much and how frequently EB should be eating! Now that I am more knowledgeable and have adjusted my expectations accordingly, I ensure the kids have healthy options to choose from whenever they are ready to eat and I have promised myself that we shall no more have food-related quarrels. The apple does not fall far from the tree – I remember my mum telling me stories about how she had to resort to using garri to entice me to finish up my meal, hee hee.
The Tiger Mum in me refuses to be a short-order cook though – I still prepare a single dish for the household at every meal. I do try to take his preferences into consideration, and if he decides that he does not like what is on offer, that’s fine – he will not starve before the next meal, and there’s always a cocoa drink if the skipped meal is dinner so he does not wake up to disturb me because he is hungry!
Interestingly, since this new mode was adopted about three weeks ago, I am seeing improvements in his physical appearance, and his “favourites” list is slowly expanding… slowly but surely :-).
So, are you dealing / have you dealt with a similar situation? How are you handling / did you handle it?