I have a new diet plan. It is called “The Toddler Eats My Food.” This hour in our lives has entered its third year.
History pointed to my toddler’s selective eating early
Jrue has been a picky eater since about 16 months. Just before that time in his development, “big people food” was a state-of-the-art concept and caused quite the riveted enthrallment…scrambled eggs? Stuffing? Corn on the cob? Check, check, and check, as long as mommy and daddy were eating them, too.
As Jrue’s exploratory fingers took on a new strength with age, he delighted in dumping the food hubs and I had staged on character plates for his mealtime enjoyment. We resorted to, instead, plopping quartered food directly onto Jrue’s sanitized highchair tray. This allowed him free rein of mixing and tasting. This was doable. Jrue’s learning curve, then, existed in realizing how much of everything could not fit into his mouth at once, the cramming resulting in many spewed food rejections and surprised looks.
Much like life itself, if we try to ingest too much at once, we’re bound to vomit, right?
However, as he turned two years of age in the summer, his obsessions became whole white milk and chips. If allowed, Jrue would drink a gallon of milk, happily alone, sippy cup by sippy cup, in three days. If we dismissed a request for milk, he would fall into a dramatic rendition of a song whilst tantruming, declaring that he was eternally hurt and had nothing left to live for. Once he recognized that slamming the pantry door or the bedroom door or the race car down on the floor would not yield maximum return on investment, he would commence a loud, obnoxious cry/yell that we usually bent to in order to restore world peace in the island nation.
Similarly, if mommy or daddy or Cousin Jon or a visitor carried anything that resembled a chip, or plastic grocery bag holding a chip possibility, Jrue was right there, quacking his obligatory, “Chip. Chip. Chip…” and pointing expectantly. We began purchasing the boxes of individual snack-sized chip bags in the hopes that the serving would ratify much improved than the adult handful of chips from the big bag, even if it made less sense economically.
The plan satisfied his cravings until he began asking for more than one chip bag a day or asked for chips as soon as he rose at 7 in the morning.
Mommy still attempts negotiations at the pantry door to try to avoid that terrible cry/yell: Jrue: “Chip?” Mommy: “No chips right now. Crackers?” Jrue: “Chip?” Mommy: “No chips. Crackers? Cereal?” Jrue: “Chiiiiiip.” Mommy: “Crackers. Here.” Jrue: “Cereal?” Mommy: “Cereal?” Jrue: “No. Chip.” Mommy: [sigh, walks away] Jrue: [storm clouds approach]
It’s a different level of power struggle.
After he was gifted with his own table and chair set to enjoy solitary meals, the hubs and I arranged smaller versions of our servings onto Jrue’s plates and lovingly presenting them to him at his table…like waitstaff of sorts. We quickly had more blunt lessons in feeding the toddler.
Food lectures are long and meticulous
(1) The food was too warm, discovered by Jrue’s grabbing food with his fingers, putting it up to his mouth, barking “Hot!” and whacking said food towards the table, not always making the plate. Mommy and/or daddy blew on the food to cool. The food became no longer appetizing; Jrue got up from the table and went about his business.
(2) Mommy cut up everything–waffles, peaches, green beans—which was actually sufficient…until it wasn’t. Jrue declared one day in his English Babble that he no longer wanted anything segmented. He wanted to eat like mommy did, picking items up and pulling meat with his teeth. Apparently, our repeated instructions regarding how to eat food whole exasperated him enough to give up eating altogether. Jrue got up from the table and went about his business.
(3) We attended the coveted, “This is not what I want. I have never had it before, and I will not start to eat it now” food seminar, many times over. Jrue would get up from the table and go about his business after lengthy standoffs of him downing nothing but milk for dinner on some nights.
(4) We also experienced toddler meal dementia: For example, Jrue loved macaroni and cheese just weeks prior. We purchased the family-sized version because it was exciting that he wanted to eat. He refused macaroni and cheese recently, emphatically, with an insulted orientation. I learned of his disgust by witnessing Jrue launching single noodles from the side of his table as he watched me watch him. Then he got up from the table and went about his business.
I impart the role of saving my toddler from chips
These lessons have morphed into a singular stubborn and complete withdrawal of eating from his own plate or at his table. “Avoidance” is a nice, light phrase for it. Because he is usually hungry, he has turned to the joys of everyone else’s plate presentation, particularly mommy’s. Since I struggle with the idea of him not eating, or only taking in milk or chips as a meal, I allow Jrue to have his dinner from my plate.
Now I am sharing most meals with a toddler who loves to ask for a sliver of food by sticking his finger on it and squaking, “This. This. This…” until I fork it or push it into his gaping mouth like a bird. The tiny amount of food on his plate that is set on his table is often deserted, or is mashed beyond recognition, so I dish an extra serving of something for Jrue to eat onto my plate and feed him his portions, disguised as mom’s. This has become the way to get Jrue to eat while attending to my own body’s needs, which is a refreshingly different magnitude of success. I’ll take the small things.
The food on mommy’s plate is much tastier than that served on his own, of course. Much like other members of his humanity, Jrue’s entitlement to anything his parents own is a tangible resource, as is the revolving expectation that his wishes are always honored.
We are not even trying to push particularly nutritious food onto Jrue…we are merely encouraging him to survive, at this point. I know we are not alone in this endeavor, which brings me a winter scarf’s length of comfort. To see some proof, the blog Mommy Shorts has done a series of reader submissions that visualizes the ludicrous yet hilarious picky eating habits of children via memes. The kids are inducted into what is affectionately dubbed the blog’s Picky Eaters Club. The virtual fraternity is honestly a basket of fresh fruit–really juicy and comforting.
This mom is honing the tricks to feeding the toddler (and herself)
The “bad” of my new diet is not that I have to split my food. I suppose it’s my “Mama Bear” that finds some satisfaction in feeding this way. Sometimes, I just do not want to share. Unfortunately, though, both “childhood” and “parenthood” are child-centric structures and have little to do in the way of the wants of the parent. The parent must practice a zenful mastering of clever schemes to make his/her way around the plot of the toddler.
To off-set my “selfish” desires, then, I eat my waffle fries or my sandwich cookie ice cream or my chocolate candy bar in the car after work before I go into the house.
Someday, I hope to have well-renowned, genius-level thinking in how to feed a picky child, especially coming from as far as we have in our endeavor to feed our own.
Or our experiences will explain why I exclusively eat in my car.
Ilana. “The Picky Eaters Club.” Mommy Shorts, 10 Jul. 2015, http://www.mommyshorts.com/tag/picky-eaters-club. Accessed 12 Dec. 2016.