People envy a baby's blissful existence. All that a baby seems to do is eat, sleep, urinate and excrete. For the first few months of her life, a baby's hunger is easily satisfied. The baby just wants food. She is not at all discriminating about her diet. When she is close to a year old, she ceases to be as ravenous as before and she becomes picky about food. She develops definite likes and dislikes. And feeding becomes a nightmare.
Your baby develops dietary preferences, as she becomes aware that she is not just an extension of you. Deciding what she would like to eat is one way in which she asserts her independence. Teething can also kill a baby's appetite. Like an adult, the baby's appetite and liking for particular foods change from day to day. Feeding problems can also stem from sibling rivalry, illness or other worries.
Trust your baby's instincts
Dr. Davis conducted an experiment using three 8 to 10 month old babies who had been fed only on breast milk. At each meal six to eight dishes of wholesome unrefined foods were placed before them and they were allowed to point to what they would like to eat. Dr. Davis discovered that left to their own devices, these babies had a healthy development. Over time, they chose what was generally accepted as a well-balanced diet. Their appetites varied from meal to meal and day to day. This study seems to indicate that babies somehow have a natural inbuilt ability to eat in a manner that does not harm their development. We must remember that we managed our diets successfully for centuries before we were told the do's and don'ts of nutrition.
Parents should trust their babies' instincts and give them some leeway when it comes to eating. Anxious parents worry that poor eating can lead to nutritional deficiency and development problems. Children seem to have an inner mechanism that somehow works to ensure that they have a balanced diet. Children rarely develop vitamin deficiency or malnutrition because they are poor eaters.
Force feeding is not the answer
When your child has a feeding problem, meal times become a battlefield as anxious and frustrated parents try to persuade their child to eat. A feeding problem is often the result of parents coercing their children to eat. In most cases this backfires. Forcing your child to eat will only worsen the situation because it reinforces the child's dislike for food.
Mealtimes should be pleasant affairs. Avoid making the child's diet a bone of contention at every meal. This will make the child dread meals even more. Make every effort to make your child look forward to mealtimes. Give her the wholesome food she likes best for 2 to 3 months and omit all the foods that she dislikes. This will help to make her less suspicious and tense about food.
My child loves junk food
If you have a child whose diet of choice would consist of only junk food, the problem is more complicated. Give her what she likes for a few months. Once you have gained her trust, slowly introduce more healthy food that she had no severe objections to. Do not try to make her eat something she hates. Do not make an issue about the new addition to the diet even if she leaves it untouched. Try again after a couple of weeks or try something else in between.
My child thinks dessert is the main course
If your child has an inordinate sweet tooth and wants to eat four helpings of dessert compared to a single helping of the main course, give in to her. Sometimes if you show that you do not care one way or the other, children come around to a reasonable diet on their own. However, cut down on the number of times that you serve dessert at home. Introduce fruit after a meal instead. Do not bargain with your child promising her that if she finishes the vegetables, she can have another helping of dessert. You will make her feel that eating vegetables is a punishment, which will only serve to reinforce her dislike for them. Never make them eat at night what they have refused in the afternoon.
My child has the appetite of a bird
If your child is a small eater, give her smaller servings of food. Give her less than you expect her to eat so that she voluntarily comes to the conclusion that the food is not enough. Let her ask for more. Don't press food on her eagerly as soon as she finishes. Also, remember that when the child sees what appears to be a huge mountain of food on her plate, she will be discouraged right from the beginning knowing that there is no way that she can eat so much.
Spoon-feeding your child
A child of two should be able to feed herself. However, some parents whose children are fussy eaters feel that their children eat more when they feed them. While this may be true, parents sometimes go to an extreme by feeding their child until she is 2 or 3 years old. In these cases, the child gets into the habit of being fed and has no desire to feed herself. In addition, the child perceives feeding as an expression of love and concern on the part of the parents. Consequently, when the parents stop feeding the child, deciding that she is old enough to feed herself, the child is hurt and becomes resentful. Parents usually give in at this point and resume feeding the child. Thus, the child learns to manipulate the parents.
The way to wean a child off the habit of being spoon-fed is to give her her favourite foods and then step out of the room for a minute or two. Lengthen the period of your absence slowly. You may still have to feed her when you step back into the room, but she will soon become impatient and begin feeding herself. Do not get into the habit of feeding her the last half of the meal. If she asks you to feed her after she has eaten a few spoonfuls herself, casually tell her that you think she has had enough. Her hunger will soon naturally lead her to finish the meal herself once she realizes that she cannot expect any help from your quarter.
Parents have told innumerable stories about the ingenuous ploys that they have had to use to convince their child to eat. Some parents have to tell a new story for every mouthful; some have to take their children outdoors to distract them; some parents bribe their children with gifts for every plate that is wiped clean of food. This is not advisable. Eating should not be linked to a bribe because you are indicating to the child that it is an unpleasant act for which they should be compensated. The child should eat because it wants to and for no other reason.
While the child should be allowed a certain amount of freedom in her diet, it does not mean that the parents should be slaves to her whims. Give in to your child's preferences only to the extent that it does not inconvenience the rest of the family. Parents also need to control the intake of sugar, chocolates, colas, desserts and other less nutritious foods.