Even though both my boys are teens now, I remember those days very well. I was outnumbered at the dinner table as they fed off each other and screamed, cried, threw tantrums, pretended to be sick- anything just so I would give in and not make them eat those horrible veggies. We are now a LONG way from those days, and I vowed when we came out the other side that I would help other parents out of that slippery slope.
It can start so easily, a party, a vacation, family over -times when you become lax with routine and eating rounded meals, eating on the run or too many restaurants/fast food. But before you know it- your child has self limited to 4 foods, has sensory issues, or sleeps poorly, has weird rashes, cannot regulate moods /behaviour and maybe seeing all kinds of gastro issues. You know deep down inside that things are not right and even that multivitamin you give is not enough, but see no way out. BEEN THERE.
It does not take much to throw the body out of balance- the self limiting means that essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function everyday are missing. The body will start to how external signs of imbalance: eczema, hives, rashes, pimples, constipation, diarrhea, shiners, headaches, stomach pains, chronic runny nose, ear infections, food cravings, red cheeks/ears, anxiety, hyperactivity and sleep troubles. We have lived through all of them.
There is so much that goes on behind of scenes of the simple fact of putting food in your mouth, chewing and swallowing. The nervous system and brain is at attention trying to sort through all the senses- taste, smell, touch- the receptors are all trying to makes sense with the brain- hot/cold/sweet/sour/hard/soft- do I like this?? Not to mention the behavioural piece- toddlers quickly realize this is the one thing they have control over and will take the helm- FAST. Also the body's biochemical state- all the vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats at this moment in time need to be balanced for the body to be able to function properly, let alone all of the above to work smoothly. All these things have to be in total harmony for the simple gesture of eating.
So the first thing I work with clients is to rule out underlying issues. Are there underlying food sensitivities? Hives? Tongue feels funny? Do they have acid reflux or constipation- things that cause pain they cannot verbalize, or make them feel already full if they are not having a bowel movement everyday. Yep EVERY day. Just because it is common, does not mean it is normal. Despite what our GP would say- it never felt right to me- children should not be in pain having to pass stool every 2 days, or have pain from acidic chronic diarrhea. Nope. Is the child having texture/sensory issues with certain foods hard or soft? Do they crave one food group? Sweet, salty, bread and pasta? All these mean something and point towards imbalance. There are many local services and practitioners that can help overcome any issue- you are
There is so much advice out there- so next is just breathe- no one knows your child better than you. One step at a time gets you going in the right direction. Growth slows in toddlerhood as they play and explore the body and brain is very busy making those connections and building the pathways for all senses. Everything develops at a different pace, including taste buds! This is why they love bananas one week and hate them the next, as if it isn't hard enough. But there is a reason behind everything you see in them. One of the first lessons around food is learning the connection between what you eat and how you feel. We all learned this together way back when navigating through the boys allergies and how to expand their palates.
Connection and modelling come through meals together- watch how you are with food, they emulate! Don't let your dislikes become theirs- explore foods together you have to constantly offer foods (avg 30x) before they even try to taste it. Let them get dirty- they have to explore the foods with ALL senses to become comfortable- put down a drop cloth but know this phase will not last long. Check the TV and tablets, studies now show that we don't even taste the food when our brains are occupied with viewing, plus we are likely to eat twice as much. Educate- get them involved in the kitchen from an early age, meal plan and prep as a family, create special traditions around meals. Show them documentaries, plant a garden, visit a farmer market. Take out kids cookbooks form library and let them choose meals. Again that sense of control but for the whole meal & family, brings another dimension of responsibility they crave as toddlers.
Do things in slow evolution- you can't take away Doritos overnight and expect them to eat dried apple rings the next day. Move to corn chips with dip, then organic corn & hummus, try bean or quinoa or cassava chips- there are so many varieties, you may just find new faves. You can change up the dinnerware, eat with chopsticks or fingers of from muffin trays- or the whole family eat from a pot placed on the table. If you find the kitchen has become a battlefield, then move locations- eat in the basement, have a picnic in the laundry room- all bets are off with changing venues- basic psychology, you will get different behaviours. Use family and friends strategically- my brother got the boys liking shawarma and vindaloo, when you want to introduce something new have a member over that will change the dynamic- you will be surprised. Take cooking classes together, and when they get older with peers, or do taste tests blindfolded. In this house, having fun and distraction were the main ways out of the vicious cycle- and we are still trying new things from other cultures.
If this all sounds great but you have no time to begin with- their are some great local services that do all groceries and come to your house to make meals for the week- all to your unique needs and very affordably. (MMMChef, Oh Delicious, Magic Fridge, Deliciously Vero) Just start. Each day is a step, some good, some bad but just keep moving, changing, evolving, it truly does get better.