When I was growing up in Germany I remember seeing an art exhibition made up of supersized everyday objects: massive chairs, ginormous tables and so on. The idea was that adults could visit the exhibition to see what it felt like to experience the world from the level of a child.
I love the idea because it is so easy to forget that our babies don’t see the world the same way we do. They are shorter, less experienced and have no idea that toilets were not invented to be played with. For me, taking a moment to think about how things look like from less than a metre above the ground has helped stave of frustration in more desperate moments.
Especially when it comes to eating. I never visualized how stressful weaning could be. My son, for example, simply doesn’t want breakfast. He’ll eat a hearty afternoon snack, dinner and post-dinner snack but breakfast? Not so much. This can be irksome if you have the mantra “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” stuck in your brain. And when it comes to adding variety and vitamins, my baby will pick an olive over a piece of fruit every single time. It’s especially frustrating when you’ve spent the best part of the morning concocting a gourmet toddler meal only to have it thrown across the room.
But imagine this: you’ve just stepped off the plane in Beijing. You are starving, famished after a long flight. All you want is nice hot lunch. And then you get served a plate of spiders. All around you the other people in the restaurant are digging in but you freeze. How are you supposed to eat this?! Everything about the appearance and smell tells you this is not food!
After a couple of weeks in China (and after you’ve found the expat store that keeps you supplied in tea and weetabix) you try the restaurant again. You still stare at the spiders. But you feel a bit braver. Perhaps you pick one up, look at it closely, maybe even touch it to your lips. Then you still go home for a bowl of cereal as you haven’t quite mustered the courage to actually bite into it.
Every month or so you return to the same restaurant and by the end of your stay you are guzzling down spiders like a local. Or not. Maybe you eventually tried one but decided you didn’t like the way the leggs stuck in your throat. In any case, you’ve moved beyond the “omg, gross, get it away from me” stage and are able to make a measured, informed choice about the food. You even think that if you were stuck on an island with nothing but spiders to eat, you’d cope.
Now imagine a toddler with a plate of broccoli in front of him. Like you arriving in Beijing, he is starving. He’s expecting some milk, or maybe a piece of fruit, but now these strange green trees are staring up at him. And there is nothing else to eat. In my eyes, your toddler feels EXACTLY like you did in China. With any new food. It might just be carrots and peas to us, but to the toddler it might as well be spiders. He has no idea how it tastes, whether he likes the texture, how he’s supposed to eat it. Given time, he will become accustomed to those green trees, pick them up, smell them, touch them to his lips and eventually try them. He might end up loving broccoli or not but, just like you, he’ll get over the initial aversion.
But let’s go back to China and imagine that instead of being left alone with your spiders, someone is forcing you to try them. Wiggling them around in your face. Withholding the weetabix you so desperately crave until you try just one bite. Sound familiar? Yup, that’s us parents with the broccoli again. And I don’t know about you, but I would definitely resist anyone trying to make me eat spiders. I’d probably throw my plate across the table and refuse to return to the restaurant.
So I try to let my baby go at his pace. He gets offered (somewhat) regular meals and snacks, usually involving something that we’d be eating anyway. There is no pressure and no cajoling. The vegetables are put on his plate along with the protein and carbohydrate. He gets to choose what he eats, and he generally chooses protein and fat over practically everything else except olives and ice cream. Sometimes we use fingers, sometimes a spoon, depending on the texture.
At the very least, baby boy is happy at mealtimes. There’s no fighting and no tears untill we tell him he can’t put his fingers in the hot saucepan. And he is eating, sometimes more, sometimes less. Luckily, there’s always enough milk on tap to fill him up, if necessary (which is just one more reason why I love breastfeeding).
And although I hope I never have to try spiders, I trust that one day he’s going to give those strange green trees a whirl.
Join the conversation! Do you have a picky eater? What’s your approach to weaning and feeding?
This time last year: Ode to the Ring Sling