Overhauling a toddler's eating habits: Jackie's success story!

Jackie (October Moon.net) wrote me after reading French Kids Eat Everything, with this inspiring story. Thanks Jackie! Your niece is lucky to have such a devoted aunt! 🙂

Jackie’s Story: As a pastry chef and an avid cook, most of my brain is channeled to all things food. So browsing in a bookstore one day, it was no surprise that the one book to catch my eye was ‘French Kids Eat Everything.’ However, I didn’t realize how much it applied to my life until I started reading it, and I’m glad I stumbled across this book at the time that I did.

Jackie’s sister and her daughter

I am a proud auntie to my two-year-old niece, and ever since she was in my sister’s belly, I called dibs on making her baby food. I researched, got tips and tricks, and when the time came, nothing could make me prouder. While other babies ate unidentifiable jarred baby foods, my niece ate homemade pureed carrots, green beans, beets, parsnips, peas, and sweet potatoes, all of them fresh and organic from the local farmers’ market.

As she moved on to solid foods, she was introduced to white rice, white bread, and pasta, and all her amazing veggie-eating habits flew out the window. Because I wasn’t the only one who fed her, I couldn’t control what she ate and who fed her what.

Needless to say, I started getting frustrated with cooking dinner, because I wanted her to eat better, but I would succumb to making her a separate dinner with pasta or bread just so that she would eat something. Anything!

Right when I was ready to give up entirely, I started reading ‘French Kids’ and realized how much I could relate to Karen’s situation. (Minus the moving to France part, of course!) I found myself nodding and agreeing to what Karen wrote, and I was immediately inspired to try harder. Just because I wasn’t the only cook in my niece’s life didn’t mean that I shouldn’t try on the nights that I did cook for her!

So armed with my newfound knowledge, I eagerly started to plan a weekly menu. I decided to go slowly and work on one rule at a time. First off, the most important rule was that kids and adults eat the same thing. No more making two different meals! (This, of course, also means less work for me!)

I started off by reintroducing pureed soups that featured one vegetable. Basic and simple. She wouldn’t go near a cauliflower puree, but she smacked her lips with her first taste of pureed tomato soup. She ate a few bites of butternut squash soup and then pushed it away, but the butternut squash and sweet potato puree garnered a tiny thumbs-up.

In between soups, I would still feed her her favorite carbs, but with vegetables thrown in. She devoured her spinach and egg fried rice, but she deliberately picked out the bok choy from her miso noodle soup. And I applauded her for trying a green bean on her own, even though she immediately threw it back on the plate right after it touched her tongue! We are taking things slowly after all.

The next step was to tell my sister that we should not give my niece any alternate options. If she did not eat her meal, she got nothing and would have to wait until breakfast. If she was hungry, we would give her the same food. Luckily, this only happened once so far. My sister and I felt bad, thinking that she was going to go hungry, but then we realized that not eating one dinner was not going to harm her. She’ll just go to bed and have breakfast when she woke up.

Feeling as if we were making a bit of progress, I went on to the next step – eating together at the dinner table. This is perhaps more my fault than anyone else’s. Reading about how the French ate together at the table was like a scolding to me. In fact, if I were to eat in France, I would be completely shunned.

Guilty of standing up while eating, I complete meals in 10 to 15 minutes, as I rush to tend to other things. During dinner, I eat at the same time that I wash dishes and clean up the kitchen. But I figured that my niece might be more willing to eat if we ate together, and if she saw us eating and enjoying the same food that she was eating.

It was practically torture to leave the dirty dishes in the kitchen, but I kept going. Everyone’s plate was prepared before I brought them to the dining table. Napkins, silverware, drinks were ready, as I was determined that I would not leave the table until everyone was done eating.

Sitting at the table with my family, I felt myself start to relax. I pushed the messy kitchen out of my mind and started to enjoy the food more. True, my dinner and kitchen time is now longer than my usual 15-minute dine and dash, but taking the extra time out to spend it with my family and appreciate my meal has made a huge difference. I might not be able to get in that hour of work on my computer, and the laundry would have to wait for the next day, but you know what? It’s okay. My niece has no excuse to get up from the table in the middle of dinner, because we are right there encouraging her to join us and to eat.

Whenever my niece finishes her dinner, I round off the meal with a platter of fresh fruit for all of us to share. My take on the French cheese and dessert courses!

While each meal is a hit or a miss, the successes have motivated me to continue with what I learned from reading ‘French Kids.’ The next step is “No snacks an hour before dinner!” It’s a little daunting, but I’m positive we can do it. Wish us luck!

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