Somewhere along the line, as a new parent, you are going to have a day when your child refuses everything you try to get them to eat. Although my mum doesn’t remember much about her early parenting years, she does remember one very helpful incident.
“Your brother did not eat anything for 5 days straight. Nothing went past his lips other than a bit of water. I was worried, I called the doctor who said that unless your child has other symptoms along with no appetite, looked undernourished or was losing weight then you’ve absolutely nothing to worry about. Kids have off days just like we do.”
This has helped me so much, particularly with Lucy who eats enough to nourish an amoeba. I would find myself leaning on the table, spoon full of baby food in one hand and my forehead wrinkled with worry in the other. I came to realise that if she didn’t want any food, there was very little I could do to change that. Kids don’t suddenly become hungry again after watching you aeroplane their food in to your own mouth and contort your face into all manner of rapturous expressions. It just doesn’t work. Interestingly, I have found that freedom does work. I stopped cradling my head in my hands and put the ball in her court. Let me explain…
1. I started serving her food that was easy for her to eat herself.
2. I made myself ignore the mess until she was done.
3. I removed her from her high-chair when she started squirming, even if she had eaten nothing.
4. I made the fruit bowl within her reach.
5. I started serving snacks twice a day such as raisins, popcorn, cherry tomatoes, peeled carrots etc. Healthy stuff.
6. After a while, I removed her from her high chair and seated her in a kiddies chair behind a kiddies table opposite her brother. This is when Chris and I aren’t eating with the children.
7. If she has eaten nothing at all the whole day, I would leave a peanut butter sandwich on her bedside table incase she woke up hungry in the night.
8. I served her the formula milk she always has 3 times a day through-out this whole transformation. Sometimes she drank it, sometimes not.
The result after 3 or 4 weeks?
How and what Lucy chooses to eat on her plate is entirely up to her and she revelles in her new-found independence. Dealing with the mess of this independence at the end of her meal is also crucial. I give her a napkin which she has started using! But, more importantly, I am not interfering every minute with a wipe to the face or hands. She is now able to finish her meal undisturbed. Removing her from the high chair when she asked meant that confinement no longer became an issue as she was now free to refuse her meal completely. Moving her to the kiddies table with Jack has given her even more freedom but then eating with your brother is so much more fun than eating alone.
Putting the fruit bowl within her reach and also serving snacks twice a day has helped me and my peace-of-mind. I now see this as a meal supplement, rather than something that would sabotage her next meal. I have checked with my GP and am now happy that my kids are still eating a balanced diet even though they are not eating most of their food at mealtimes. They are also developing a healthy attitude towards eating and this has allowed me to drop my shoulders over the whole issue and I am a better mum for it.