Updated: Aug 29
“Be patient and trust the process.”
Raising and feeding my 2-year-old toddler has been such an incredible testament to what we practice here at Beyond, including concepts from Intuitive Eating, Satter’s Division of Responsibility, and the act of trusting one’s body in the feeding/eating process.
When my toddler turned 6 months old, my husband and I practiced Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) with our son. For those of you not familiar with this infant feeding method, BLW is the practice of putting age-appropriate solid foods in front of your child and allowing them to self-feed (as opposed to introducing foods by way of purées that you spoon-feed to your child). I chose BLW because it offers exposure to a wider variety of foods along with the convenience of having our child eat what we were eating at meals although in an age-appropriate size/texture.
Frankly, the first 2 months of BLW with our son were mostly him playing with the food, squishing it in his palms, and sometimes actually tasting/consuming it, and, quite honestly, it was a LOT of mess. With our patience and his practice, at around 8 months of age, we noticed a significant shift in our son’s eating, and it seemed he was really getting the hang of things. He later started to sign “more” and “all done” during mealtimes to notify us of his body cues. It was amazing to witness him both recognizing and communicating his body’s needs.
While allowing him to play and explore with foods led him to grow to accept a wide variety of foods early on, I knew on the horizon was the natural pushback as he entered his toddler years and the commonly touted “picky eating” phase. My boy who once ate more broccoli in one sitting than any adult I’d ever seen now would sometimes leave it on his plate, untouched. And while it goes without saying this can be frustrating as a parent (not knowing how much of certain things to buy or prepare, having lots of untouched leftovers, etc.), it has been so important to sit back, release any and all expectations, and be patient with our son. In Satter’s Division of Responsibility, the parent’s role is to decide what is served, when and where, while the child’s role is to decide if, what, and how much they choose to eat at each meal. I often talk with clients about the concept of “zooming out” to consider what type of variety one may be getting from week to week or throughout the month as opposed to focusing on one particular meal. Yes, my son may choose to eat just noodles at one meal or just bbq chicken at another, but by having their own autonomy to choose what they eat in a pressure-free environment, kids learn to listen to and trust their body and develop a healthy relationship with all foods.
Research tells us that repeated exposure is so important when it comes to food acceptance, and some studies predict that a child may need upwards of 15 to 20 exposures before accepting a new food. I can share by firsthand experience that it was likely upwards of 50+ exposures (though it actually feels more like 500+) before my son chose to put scrambled egg in his mouth and utter “more egg, mommy” while I sat back with my ultimate poker face.
In addition to repeated exposure, another useful suggestion that has certainly helped us during this period of increased selectivity has been getting our son involved in shopping and preparing foods in age-appropriate ways. He loves being our sidekick at the grocery store and also has a newfound love of holding the strainer while we wash fruits/veggies together at the kitchen sink. He takes his job of “banana masher” quite seriously whenever we make banana bread together too! With his very own set of toddler-safe knives, he enjoys cutting soft foods like avocado and ripened pear. Getting him involved in these tasks has noticeably increased his acceptance of these foods more consistently.
One of my favorite resources on the topic of feeding babies/toddlers is the new-ish book How to Raise an Intuitive Eater: Raising the Next Generation with Food and Body Confidence by fellow dietitians Sumner Brooks and Amee Severson. I highly recommend it to any parent or caregiver, and any practitioner working with young clients. It is an easy read with so many useful tools to guide one along the process of feeding little ones.
I look forward to restarting the feeding journey once again in the upcoming weeks with our younger daughter (though maybe not the mess that comes along with it 😉)!
-Niki Pillitteri, RD, LDN
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