More feeding dilemmas -- and solutions
5. If at first you don't succeed... try, try again
We would like to suggest that you approach instilling the skills required for eating and drinking in the same way you would when teaching your tot her ABC's. You don't wait until the day before kindergarten to sing the alphabet to your child. In fact, some parents start singing it to their babies even before they begin to coo, and only with time, repetition, encouragement, and many "failed" renditions do kids respond, imitate, separate the l-m-n-o-p, and eventually start to put "a" and "b" together in any sort of meaningful way. Knowing it can take a dozen or more exposures to a new food before a child decides to accept it will make it a little bit easier for you to swallow the reality of the preceding 11 refusals. The goal here: teaching tolerance. The measure of your success is neither how many tries it takes nor the number of foods your child ultimately is willing to eat, but the instillation of a willingness to take a bite and give it a real chance.
6. Eat by example
It's going to be a very hard sell to get your child to eat things that you won't eat, or to make healthy choices when he sees you indulging your own frequent visions of sugarplums all through the year. If you aren't in the position to change your own pattern of eating, we suggest you make a concerted effort to keep your less-than-desirable indulgences, habits, and dislikes to yourself. On the flip side, feel absolutely free to model good eating habits for your child. This is a great time to let your little one see you enjoying healthy snacks and balanced meals. As soon as solids are a part of her life, he'll be curious as to what's on your plate and more likely to try your chicken and asparagus if you're munching away with delight.
7. Opt for out of sight, out of mind
No, hiding food is not the most direct or enduring approach to teaching your child a sound eating style. But as a strategy for averting a battle, restricted access works wonders, and we highly recommend it. Kids of all ages are known to want what they see. At the same time, they're not very good at grasping the concept of delayed gratification, much less listening to reason if they can't have what they want. So if you don't want your child to have certain foods -- whether it's a bedtime bottle or potato chips -- then don't put them where he can see them. Don't want to hear him begging for dessert each night? Don't bring it into your home. Want to minimize the number of times you need to say no at the grocery store? Bypass the cookie aisle and choose your checkout lane wisely by avoiding the chocolate- and candy-laden ones.
8. Keep a big-picture perspective
This final strategy is meant to be applied to any and all food fights to help take the pressure off you and your child. There are no expiration dates on any of these strategies, and regardless of whether your tot is 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years old, you've still got a lot of time to make an impact. Simply think of his diet as a video rather than a snapshot, and you're much more likely to end up with a clear picture of how you can handle just about any food-related challenge.
There are sure to be good days and bad, and even week-to-week variations in your child's attitude toward food. It's much easier to forge ahead knowing that it's not each bite or each meal that really counts. What matters far more is the weekly picture -- that the balance of good food to unhealthy snacks is fairly even, and the ratio of plate-cleaning days to ones where his mouth stays firmly shut doesn't get too far out of whack. After all, the food pyramid wasn't built in a day.