Feeding time. It’s the part of the day I hate the most. It’s easy to lose your cool when you have an uncooperative child on the table. My 14-month-old daughter Jill would cry and scream when she loses her patience during mealtime, and I’m always resisting the urge to do the same. I’m like, “You hate it? Guess what, I hate it MORE!”
Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? As a parent who wants nothing more than to keep your children alive, you resort to various methods just to get them to eat, not knowing you are already doing it wrong (I can’t believe there’s a “right way” to feed a child! Can’t it be enough to just get food in her system?!?) This is a major concern for me, especially since my daughter is not putting on so much weight. She was exclusively breastfed until 6 months and even then her weight gain was below average. She’s already 14 months old and she still weighs a little below 9 kilos.
We are at a loss! So when we moved to our new home, we got a new pediatrician who was also a child nutritionist. Her name is Dr. Mercedita Macalintal and she has a clinic at Asian Hospital and Medical Center. She was just as deeply concerned about my daughter’s weight as we are. So she reviewed our feeding habits and pointed out the things that we should rectify.
- Get her away from the TV / tablet
Jill always gets bored when eating and when she gets bored, she starts crying and ignores her food completely. To keep her entertained, I set my laptop right in front of her and let her watch Dave and Ava or Elmo’s World from YouTube. And then she’d be staring at the screen and opening her mouth mechanically. Talk about 15 minutes of sanity! But turns out, that’s not the right thing to do.
According to Dra. Macalintal, children should be kept away from the TV, gadgets or toys during mealtimes. There shouldn’t be any form of distractions whatsoever. The child should be able to learn that mealtime is for eating alone and focus on her food. Also, I’ve noticed that she thinks we are interrupting her video session with a spoonful of her meal and so she starts resenting the food.
Her doctor calls YouTube “stimulation,” and that too much of this may cause behavior problems as she will find it hard to focus and won’t be able to tolerate boredom. This caught us off-guard; admittedly, we have resorted to using stimulation much for our (parents) benefit than the child’s. So we started lessening her YouTube sessions and then completely got rid of it. Surprisingly, she doesn’t even seem to remember that she’s supposed to be watching Elmo’s World. She’s not looking for it at all.
Result: We still find it hard to feed her. She would only be attentive for about 5 minutes and totally lose it afterwards. But gradually, we are observing that even if she gets bored, she wouldn’t thrash about anymore. So you might wonder: How is this whole YouTube-withdrawal thing going to help her put on weight?
- Increase feeding frequency
And so the answer. Since our daughter no longer watches YouTube and is only attentive for about 5 to 7 minutes, so much of her food is left untouched. How is this a good thing? Well, it’s not. But according to Dra. Macalintal, the key is to feed her more frequently. She may not be able to consume everything on her plate at a certain time (and she said I shouldn’t freak out), but then I should compensate for it by feeding her some snacks at smaller intervals. With this she made us this meal plan:
Result: My daughter responds well to her new meal plan. However, I just find it particularly challenging to feed her the morning snack. I think this is because she is either full from breakfast or she is in play mode during this time of the day.
- Introduce table food
I’ve only given my daughter Cerelac for about a month when she was 6 or 7 months old. Most of the time, her meals were composed of pureed fruits, camote, squash, lugaw and a little serving of meat. And from 6th month until her 10th, we cooked her meals separately (except when we were having tinolang manok or pork nilaga).
But at that stage, doctor said we should have already started feeding her table food, or food that we, adults, eat. This is because she has to familiarize herself with different flavors. When we’re having adobo, she also gets adobo. When we’re having sinigang, she’s having sinigang. We only have to be careful not to put MSG on the food. Sometimes, we still cook her food separately, especially when we’re having inihaw (grilled) or anything spicy.
Result: When we started giving her table food, we discovered which flavors she liked best. Apart from tinola, she particularly enjoyed anything that’s ginisa (sautéed), chicken, ground pork, and fried fish. She also loves yoghurt and banana for dessert.
As for the weight problem, Dra. Macalintal recommended some vitamins (Cherifer, Ferlin drops and Ceelin) and advised us to give our baby 3 tablespoons of Virgin Coconut Oil or Canola oil per day (this could also be mixed with her food).
- Sit her at the dining table
Jill was used to having her meals inside her room, on her small booster chair, away from the adults. But we were advised to let our child join us at the dining table and sit her on a high chair instead. This way she would see what the grownups are doing, and eventually, mimic their actions. This should also make mealtimes more fun. Also, she should be given her own plate with some food on it. I almost want to cry seeing all the mess but doctor said we should just allow her to feel the texture of the food, then let her pick it up and put it in her mouth. Never mind the mess, just clean it afterwards.
Result: This setup kind of worked for us (except for that one instance when my daughter got so impatient she threw the entire plate and its contents across the dining room). I noticed that her mood starts to brighten up as soon as she sees people on the dining table. She would start showing off by opening her mouth wide and taking whole spoonfuls of food and then clapping her hands afterwards. I remembered one time when we had lunch at Tong Yang. I got her a plate with boiled veggies and set it in front of her. She just quietly sat there and munched on the carrots.
- Do not force baby to eat
At home, our dining table is like one big theater: there’s the spoon as The Flying Airplane, and you’ve gone from “Look, mommy’s going to eat this,” and “Wow, you’re such a good eater!” to “Eat this, or ELSE!” There was even one time when I had to wrestle with her just to get her to eat.
Parents are worried that their kids are lacking in important nutrients, so they resort to force feeding. But according to Dra. Macalintal, pushing or forcing food will cause children to be more averse to them. Kids should learn to like their food on their own and should not be pressured into liking them. Also, eating should be a pleasant experience for the kids.
With this, we were advised to take it easy on our daughter; if she doesn’t seem to like the food, then we need to let her be. We could skip to dessert. If she still doesn’t want to eat, we wait 5 to 7 minutes until she’s ready. We could also let her try different varieties, like fruit juices, boiled egg, crackers or banana.
Result: I hate being the one to do all these forcing but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. My daughter doesn’t seem to like fruits (except for bananas), so we thought of putting them all in the juicer and let her drink it. She seems to like it. There are also times when we just wait for a few minutes and let her starve (it’s kinda mean, I know), then she’d be more receptive to food.
How about you, what are your feeding strategies? What are the “desperate measures” you’ve taken just to get your child to eat? I’d love to know your experiences.