Today is the day my oldest son turns 5. I never thought I’d be one of those moms who gets all teary, saying “my little baby is growing up”. But I’m joining the club, so throw me a tissue!
As the days approached my son’s birthday, I’ve been pondering what lessons I’ve learned from my 5 years of feeding this amazing little kid. While not being a “perfect” eater (which I really don’t believe exists, nor should it), I feel so fortunate that he eats a wide variety of nutritious foods, has a good sense of when to keep eating and when he’s full, and best of all, seems to feel relaxed and (relatively!) calm around all foods, including sweets.
So what are 5 things I’d love to pass along to all of you moms and dads of little ones who maybe haven’t hit the 5-year-mark? Or perhaps you’ve only just begun feeding solids and are wondering how to help your child become a happy, healthy eater?
1) It’s NOT a race. Truly. I’ll never forget starting solids with James and being in awe of friends around me with babies of the same age who were downing purées like there was no tomorrow. James took his sweet time figuring out the whole solids thing (we did more of a Baby-Led Weaning style of feeding). And thankfully, I never pressured him to eat more food despite slightly panicking in my head thinking he was “behind” the other babies. He progressed at his own speed, and looking back, and I realize that worry was all for nothing.
2) Your kid’s food preferences will change 10,000 times over the next few years. And that’s OK. Kids’ taste preferences are finicky as hell. Loves cheese one day, won’t touch it the next. Beets are his favourite for months, get them away from him! Salmon is nasty…wait salmon is delicious, serve it to me all the time. Ride the wave and avoid the temptation to pressure, reward or coerce your little one into eating something from their plate that they don’t want to. It might work in the short-term, but it never works in the long run.
3) Things don’t always go as planned. As a dietitian, I strongly believe in providing my clients with the latest evidence-based information and guidelines to help inform their decisions. This includes offering milk (cow’s or goat’s) to toddlers and preschoolers at an appropriate age. Yet James threw a curve ball at us when I stopped breastfeeding him at 18 months and he gave a hard pass on other milks. He still to this day won’t drink any milk of any kind, despite my various attempts. So we got creative, and worked our way around this ever so popular drink through a combination of other foods and supplements. The bottom line is: your child will throw a wrench at your feeding plans in some way or other. You’ll manage, but arm yourself with some good supports. And coffee. And wine.
4) Learning to like to new foods is like learning anything else. You don’t expect your kid to jump on a bike and ride it perfectly, or to start saying full sentences without first learning the words on their own. Learning to eat and accept different tastes requires practice. A LOT of practice. So as hard as it may be at times, be patient. When I’m feeling disappointed because my son doesn’t want to eat something that I know is totally delicious (like halloumi cheese last night), I try to ask myself “did I like this food when I was 5?”. And usually the answer is “heck no!”.
5) The Division of Responsibility (by Ellyn Satter) which I teach in my classes and in my one-to-one support with parents, it WORKS. It really does folks. Sure it may be easier to implement with some kids than others. And will challenges still present themselves throughout your feeding journey? Absolutely! As I said, my 5 year old is by no means a “perfect” eater. But I am genuinely surprised (a little bit proud) of the foods he eats, like the 3rd helping of spinach salad he served himself at tonight’s dinner. And how he doesn’t even try to enter into a “mealtime battle” because we truly don’t have them. Not because our kids are “perfect” and eat everything, but because of the approach we have chosen to use in feeding them.
So Happy 5th Birthday to my funny, sometimes shy but always big hearted James. I can’t imagine a world without you buddy.
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