The Mealtime Blues

Each stage with a kid comes with its own challenges. When they are immobile, you have a constant bad back from dragging them everywhere; when they start moving, you cant keep them out of your cupboards. When they cant talk, you are filled with frustration that they cant tell you what they want; once they start chattering, they can shout and tantrum oh so much more effectively.

I would say that right now, at about 18 months, is a great stage for me and my son. He is walking confidently, which makes going out and about so much easier, and as the walking is still a novelty, it is almost a form of entertainment for him in itself. While he is still to say any real words, (this weeks addition is “Uhbul” -prizes for those who correctly guess the meaning) his understanding has sky-rocketed, and he can now fetch a large number of items, and understands enough of my tone to stop before he does himself any injury. Basically he now has the comprehension of a well trained Labrador.

But as we approach the aptly named “terrible twos” I feel my son testing me in new areas that we’ve never really  encountered problems with before. Lately, it has been food. Since about 8 months, my baby has always been a great eater, and like so many mums who opt for BLW (Baby led weaning) I am proud to say he has always had a varied palate and a great appetite. But lately, it is one trial after another. Being quite a baby led parent in general, I try to listen to what he is telling me, after all, babies are just tiny adults (gasp) and normally what they want is quite sensible.

When he was 8 months, I realised he wasnt interested in being spoonfed, and started the BLW process, giving him regular food for him to hold and try, and he took to it immediately. About 2 months ago, he stopped eating in his highchair, struggling against the straps and arching his body in anger. We duly stored the highchair in the loft, and spent an afternoon perusing table and chair sets, misting over at the idea that our little boy was old enough to sit in a big person little chair. Success, he loved it, playing merrily at the table with playdough, lego, books and toys galore. Eating? Another story altogether.

Thus begun the I enjoy walking around with my food stage. Sigh. This one was more my fault than his, as I never should have let it begin. But like most bad eating habits, it started with me being so happy he was eating, that why should it matter him wandering around the house with his bowl of chicken and potatoes?

After a week of looking the other way, I started enforcing the table rule for mealtimes, and we had moderate success. He now understands that we sit at the table if we want to eat. Great. Only thing is, he now decides he doesn’t actually want to eat.

In summary, we now have no highchair, but a table and chair which he loves, but wont eat at. And thus begins the current stage we are in now, which I affectionately dub living hell mealtimes. For those of you that remember those old Loreal adverts, Here comes the science. 20% of mealtimes are a pleasure. My son eats nicely, often feeds himself neatly and happily, and is a treat to be with throughout. The other 80% of mealtimes begin with ten minutes of rigorous shaking head and crying, and refusal to try the food, all of which I know he likes. Of that 80%, in around 50% of those cases, we have some foolproof tricks of the trade to encourage eating, which result in the entire plate being wiped clean. These are (in no particular order):

  • The Teddy Ruse. Grabbing a nearby cuddly toy, I proceed to feed the teddy with the spoon/fork while making delicious yum yum noises in uncanny impersonation of the character in question. R has a go himself, feeding the ted, and then proceeds to feed himself. Well, if teddy likes it, it cant be that bad.
    Pros: Easy, and lets face it, quite cute.
    Cons: Not one for when youre out and about, or in front of people you dont want to look like a complete muppet in front of.
  • The Gruffalo Adventure. An old favourite, simply reading this story out loud is sometimes enough of a distraction to get the mouth opening and closing and swallowing.
    Pros: As our entire family knows this one by heart, it is a pretty easy on the go solution.
    Cons: I’m not sure he knows he is eating, so it’s not exactly teaching him anything. Plus I now hate that book which I once loved.
  • The Brave Explorer. This food is horrible with that spoon, but not bad if I shove my fist in it, is the logic behind this technique. I agree that kids shouldn’t be expected to just open their mouths to food when the whole experience is quite new and unusual for them. So I’m quite liberal with the whole using fingers part of mealtime. And it does happen quite regularly that the meal is scarfed down happily with hands, when it was refused point blank with cutlery.
    Just a shame when that meal is weetabix.
    Pros: er.. they eat something.
    Cons: Not for public, and as all BLW mums know, invest in a good splash mat.
  • The Noise Attack. Just. Dont. Stop. Talking.
    Sing, dance, chat, praise.. Try not to even stop for breath. If they are opening and chewing, thats all you need to focus on. Doesn’t matter if what you’re saying makes sense or not, just let them concentrate on the drivel you’re spouting out, and not on the protein you’re spooning in.
    Pros: Public friendly, needs no props.
    Cons: A sore throat.

These mealtimes, while exhausting, are at least a success. However, whateverIhaveleft%  of meals are spent doing all these things and more, but to no avail. They are still a huge disaster and no food at all is eaten, no matter what we try. In the worst cases, the food ends up on the floor or in my lap, and I have to go scream into a pillow. (Sound familiar parents?)

The general consensus is that “Its just a phase” and that he will revert back to his happy eating, and that he wont starve himself. But it is beyond tiring having to do a song and dance 3 times a day for a coin toss of a chance of him eating a meal. So if anyone has any ideas of how to break the tantrum cycle, I am all ears and open to suggestions!

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