When our baby boy started eating solid foods, I made it a point to always serve him healthy and natural foods. Fortunately, he loved everything I served him, including ampalaya (bitter melon) and monggo (mung bean). From 6 months to about 13 months, he gladly ate everything that I put in his mouth. Our pediatrician advised that we train his taste buds by letting him eat the same thing for 3-4 days before we introduce a different kind of food. The advice worked well for me because it was more convenient and practical prep-wise. I would cook his food in advance, portion and store them in glass lock containers, keep them in the freezer and just thaw and reheat for his lunch or dinner. When we dine out with him, I pack his lunch so he will get used to eating healthy home-cooked food. I was a happy and proud mom. I could not relate to friends who share about their baby feeding problems. I was always proud to say, “My baby eats anything!” But even though I was happy to have a hearty eater, I was a little bit anxious about the possibility that he may one day trade fruits and veggies for hotdogs and fried chicken.
When Caleb turned 14 months, not only did he become choosy with food, he also refused to be fed. He wanted to hold his own spoon and fork and tried to feed himself as if he could. Of course, this meant more mess and more clean-up time for mommy and less food for him (since most of his food gets on the floor instead of his mouth). The three of us used to have smooth dinners together, until he started throwing tantrums and refused to eat. When he did not like the food that was served to him, he would throw up a fit and cry for milk. Alas, quality time dinners became episodes of power struggle. Good thing, my husband Randy and I agreed that we will not give-in to this tiny creature who learning to assert himself. Every time he would fly into a rage, Randy would put him in his crib and let him cry for a few minutes. When he calms down a bit, he would talk to him and tell him that he should eat what is on the table. More often, this would go on a cycle that would test our patience. His cry may tend to get louder which meant longer time out for him. At each episode, we make every effort to hear him out and then try to explain why we’re asking him to eat his food. We learned that we always had a choice whether to put a quick end to our misery and just hand over what he wants or to be firm and make him understand the value of obeying us. I would explain to him in a calm manner why mommy and daddy wanted him to eat his food. I’d say something like, “ Caleb, mommy and daddy want you to eat your food because we want you to become a strong and healthy boy. You want to play with your toys, right? You need all the energy that’s why you should eat the food we are serving you. That’s what mommy has prepared for you today and I will be disappointed if you don’t eat what I have prepared.” 99% of the time, he would be convinced and will try to finish the food on his plate. And every time he does so, we make sure he gets a lot of kisses and appreciation.
It has been a couple of months and I’m happy to say that his appetite seemed to have gone back. I also took note of what he wanted to eat, like how I noticed he liked to eat soupy or saucy dishes. I would also ask him what he likes to eat. “Do you like fish or chicken? Chicken? Sounds yummy! His vegetable picture book was also a big help. By trying to describe different veggies to him in the most appetizing way, he will look forward to having an enjoyable meal. I think it also helps that he goes with me to the grocery where he gets to see the ingredients. When I cook, he would nudge me and insist on observing how I stir up the wok. As he grows older and learns to make his own choices, it is still more likely that we will have similar episodes as before. I’ve learned that to instill discipline, patience and consistency are important. We also do not want to deprive him of the not so healthy options because we do not want him to crave for it. From time to time, we let him have a taste of French fries, pizza and ice cream. We also let him enjoy his food - let him spill a little, hold his own spoon, use his hands, pick up and eat what fell off his bib. Allowing some freedom on the table also helped him have a more enjoyable experience and better appreciation of food. Besides, I'd rather clean up a 'lil mess than see good food go to waste.