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Raising a Finicky Eater

May 14, 2010

If you ask me what has been the most stressful task as a parent, my answer would be feeding my second child. Until I had her, I never knew how stressful it could be to have a child who doesn’t eat.

I am writing this post in a hope that this helps some parents in the midst of their struggle to feed their kids. I am neither a doctor nor psychologist, so nothing written here comes from a medical or professional standpoint. This is simply one parent’s experience with her finicky eater child. I am not by any means suggesting that this should be the solution for every parent. Just like every child is built differently, how to solve the same eating problem for each child can have different solutions. My daughter fortunately does not have any disorder, but if you suspect that your child has some sort of disorder like allergy, consulting with a professional and physician would be advised.

I knew something was different from the day one. When I nursed my second daughter, she would nurse for about 10 minutes and then fall asleep. She repeats the process every hour. You can imagine how tiring that can be for a mother. Later on, I met a friend who told me that her daughter did the same and she used to put a cold towel on her daughter’s face to wake her up. Now I know how to deal with that situation.

She never ate as much as my first child did. She turned 6 months and I started solid food with her. While my first child took rice cereal well from the first day, my second child fussed about eating it from the first trial. The struggle started. I wanted to start weaning her off from nursing as I did with my first daughter around 6-7 months, but I couldn’t because she didn’t eat. She didn’t want to take a bottle or sippy cup, either. She was completely dependent on nursing. I felt trapped.

She did not like solid food. She was such a bad eater that I had no incentive to make baby food for her unlike I did for my first child. I made baby food for my first daughter at home at least once a week and froze a bunch for it to last for a week. My husband and I lived in Africa back then, so in some way, I didn’t have a choice. With my second child, I bought typical American or Japanese baby food from a super market and fed her (we lived in Okianwa, Japan at that time). Sometimes she would eat well, but most of the times, I ended up throwing away half of the food. I hated it.

☆ WEIGHT

Our second child didn’t gain much weight in the first year, but it didn’t require a special medical attention. I never felt alerted about her weight. Around the 8 or 9 months when she became more active, I started receiving comments on how skinny she looked. When a parent keeps hearing the same comment from different directions over and over, even if it’s remotely negative, it starts to haunt you and you start thinking that there might be something abnormal about the child. I found out that the body fat in the first year of baby’s life was very important for physical and brain development. I started to get obsessed with my second child’s physical appearance.

☆ CONCERN

Another thing I was concerned was that I thought that this fighting with her about eating will worsen as she grew older. I didn’t want it to be an ongoing battle later in her life. She has always decided whether she would eat the food or not based on its appearance. She would eat something one day and the next day she wouldn’t. I sometimes spent 15 minutes trying to feed her the first bite by convincing her that she would like the food. When I knew she would like the taste, usually I was right. Because of this, I never wanted to loose the battle with her.

☆ PEDIATRICIAN

My pediatrician was very laid back. In retrospect, it was good for me. It allowed me to relax a bit. My second child gained some weight in between check-ups and developmentally was on the track, so the doctor told me not to worry. I was still worried. (typical parent?) Some people have suggested that I get a second opinion, but I did not think that would be a solution for me. I believe in medicine, however, something inside told me that I should find more first hand experiences rather than medical theories out there.

☆ SEARCHING

I started googling information to see how parents dealt with their children who would not eat. One common comment parents gave was that babies would not starve themselves. I also learned that some babies do not eat well when nursing and they tend to eat better after they stop nursing. These points removed some pressure off my shoulders.

I also wrote about the struggle I had when feeding my second child on a Japanese social networking site called “mixi“. I got some responses to my writing and several of my friends told me that they were a finicky eater when they were a baby or small child and very skinny growing up, but they all grew out of that stage and started eating better as they got older. I felt 100 times better.

☆ WHAT HELPED ME ☆ From 10 to 18 months old

1. Congee

I needed something that she would like to eat. One day my husband got sick, so I made Chinese congee instead of chicken soup and gave some to my second daughter. She ate it and asked for more. I was thrilled! It was the very first time she accepted what I served her and she loved it. She couldn’t chew food well until she was much older almost closer to the age two. Congee was great in that sense.

2. Baby oatmeal cereal with soy milk and honey (after 15 months)

When my second child was 15 months old, I decided to stop nursing. I had wanted to do that for a while, but I didn’t, since I felt the need to continue nursing during a stomach flu season. I knew that she would always nurse when she was sick. After she had recovered from a stomach flu in March, at her 15th month, I went cold turkey and stopped nursing all together. I used to nurse her before bed time, so alternatively I started making baby oatmeal cereal with soy milk and honey. (The reason for using soy milk was that my older daughter likes soy milk and so do I.) I mixed a little bit of honey to add some more sweet taste. She has always loved it. She even started sleeping better, too. My life has gotten much easier at that point.

☆ WHAT HELPED ME ☆ 18 months old to today (2 and a half years old)

At this point, she was finally eating chopped up regular food and she had become a better eater.

1. Rice, furikake (Japanese rice seasoning) and Korean Seaweed.

Both of my daughters love the combination of rice, furikake and Korean seaweed. Seaweed would disappear in a few seconds if I open a package for them. I sometimes pack rice balls for lunch. Simple, easy and inexpensive.

2. Peanut butter and jelly with Challah bread

Thank goodness my daughter does not develop peanut allergy. It’s a great source of protein, so I love that she would eat PB & J sandwich. The key is Challah bread. My girls and I love the sweet tasting Challah bread.

3. Miso soup and tofu

My younger child loves tofu. She would pick tofu from miso soup and eats and usually asks for more tofu. Going to a Japanese restaurant is easier than other restaurants because we can order a bowl of miso soup and rice and there is a meal for her.

I hope this is somewhat helpful. I remember when my second child was about 10 months old, I kept telling myself, in a year or so, I would know the answers to my questions. When I was in the midst of struggling, I felt like I was walking in a tunnel without any light to guide my way out. You might feel like you are stuck in dark, but a path will always unfold in front of you.

My second child is growing just fine. I used to spoon feed her until recently, but about a month ago (2 and half years old), my husband and I started making her eat by herself. It was his idea and I’m glad we did and we started at this age where she understands us better. At the beginning she sat for over an hour at her table until she finishes her meal. She used to sob and moan. She still spends much longer time than us at the table, but she does a much better job. This quest is not over yet, but we’re at a better place.

Finally, here’s my most recent happy purchase at IKEA!

I love the colors and designs. I purchased them for my kids, but I am very tempted to use them myself!

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. denise Henderson permalink
    May 15, 2010 6:47 am

    same here… my first son… he just DOESN’T EAT!! +_+
    many people made comment of how thin he’s and… yeah… even though i believe he’s fine (happy n active= healthy!) all those comment made me worry…. i took him to the specialist $$$$ only to be told JUST FEED HIM MORE!! =_=”
    i try to offer different kind of food and try all different ways to make the food more attractive…
    still his favourite remain : PLAIN rice PLAIN pasta PLAIN noodles…
    I think many people who look at the food I feed him and think I’m not doing a good job… but that’s all he’d eat………. (as soon as I mix something else into the PLAIN XX he’d refuse!!!)
    We had way too many “fight” at the table I’ve recently given up… but my husband has since then raise the issue that “our son is too skinny” (once again!!! +_+)
    what can you do!?!?
    the more you fight with them, the more they refuse eating… especially at this age. they want to feel that they’ve control over things…. and controlling to eat or not seems to be the easiest…..
    so long as he’s still active and happy… i will try not to fuss about it too much…but yes… it still worries me at times!! +_+ we parents all want THE BEST for our children i guess… ;)

    • May 15, 2010 7:16 am

      Thanks for your comment!! I have friends whose children are just like yours. Their kids eat the same things as your son, plain rice, plain pasta, and plain noodles. Sometimes, sausages, fruits, etc. One of my friends is a fabulous cook, but her kids would not touch what she makes. Such a shame!

      My second daughter was not even on the chart for her weight until she went to the 24-month well baby check-up. That’s how skinny she was. Now at age 2, her weight is in 3rd percentile! My husband and I were at first stunned to learn that she wasn’t even on the chart for the first 2 years of her life, but then we both were delighted to know that her weigh finally made it to the chart!

      You’re right. The key to determine if he’s doing fine or not is whether he’s still active and happy or not. Mine was very active and happy, too and when some people told me that, those words made me feel better.

      I agree. We parents want the best for our children. It must be a parents job to worry about their children. No matter what we all worry about our kids. :)

  2. diogcoing permalink
    May 15, 2010 8:10 pm

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

  3. May 16, 2010 9:52 pm

    Hi Kaho,
    Same stuff happened to me with Chloe! she became fussy when she started walking at 11 months. Until recently every meal was a fight and she was only eating plain rice, plain pasta and fruits, bread, and drinking milk. I used to make banana milkshakes, hide tofu in the milkshake etc so that she took at least some proteins. Also I started giving her vitamins supplements.
    She was growing fine and has always been very active, so my pediatrician was not worried at all.
    Last year after she turned 2 I brought her to see an osteopath who detected that she was sensitive to lactose and sugar. So we replaced formula milk and cow’s milk by organic soy, rice, hazelnut or almond milks. I was lucky that she accapted straight away the changes!
    I decided to buy mainly organic food for her as she was eating small quantities. At least sugar and chemicals in organic foods are limited!

    Finally at the beginning of this year I brought her to see an homeopath to help me change this situation. Indeed I started thinking that her problem was not so much the food, but rather her attitude towards food. She was using food to show me that she had decision power at least over this in her life. Homeopath gave her a treatment, and now it is so much better.
    She still doesn’t eat much vegetables, but she is opened to try new things, and she now eating meat and fish (chicken meatballs, fish balls, fish fingers, fish) and accepting cheese in her pasta (not the tomato sauce though). She is also eating her lunch at school which makes such difference in the afternoon when she is back home (not as grumpy as before!).

    So to all the parents out there, don’t worry, they eventually change and start eating :)
    Cheers
    Marie

    • May 17, 2010 6:09 am

      It’s interesting to know what children use to control the power relationship with their parents. I heard about kids controlling their body during potty training, but I can see decisions over eating being an easy case for them to control. My little one’s trying more food like your daughter now that she’s 2.5 years old. She ate fish tonight reluctantly, but she at least tried. I give her credit for that. I need to buy more organic food. Sometimes I look at the price and choose cheaper options, but I need to get better about this!

  4. May 16, 2010 9:54 pm

    * I forgot to write that Miss Chloe is now 3 years and 3 months… so it took us a LOT of time. I wish I would have been to the homeopath earlier.

  5. May 17, 2010 8:50 pm

    I know organic food is really much more expensive than “regular” food. At first I was like you, but recently we have been doing a lot of research around where we live and managed to find many organic shops selling at more reasonnable prices. And I tend to think: “let’s eat less, but of better quality”.
    Now maybe where you live is a farmer market or smtg similar? buying local over imported food is already much better :)
    Have a good day!

    • May 18, 2010 6:16 am

      Thanks! I’ll try. Trader Joe’s has pretty reasonable prices for organic items, so that’s where I do my weekly grocery shopping. Have a nice day!

  6. Katherine V permalink
    June 25, 2010 12:05 am

    Hey Kahori,

    Love your blog! I feel like I have much to learn from you! My older daughter has the same issue with eating. She’s always on the 3rd or 5th percentile for her weight since the beginning of her life and we were so worried. She has a real sweet tooth now so it’s so hard to get her to eat anything unless it’s somewhat sweet. She does LOVE Miso Soup with rice. I love going to Japanese restaurants because I know for sure she’ll eat! I’ll have to try the seaweed. I LOVE seaweed myself. She also just started liking peanut butter and jelly. She used to HATE the texture of it but I just kept on trying and finally she was like…mmmm….

    My son on the other hand, eats everything except VEGETABLES. I dunno what to do…any suggestions? He’s not a big fruit fan either unless it’s Kiwi fruit.

    • June 25, 2010 7:58 am

      Katherine! Thanks for visiting my blog! Your daughter likes PB&J, too! That’s great because that is a source of protein. Isn’t it such a relief to have at least one or two things that you know your kid would eat? I realize that being persistant with something you know your kid would like is also a key. Your son eats everything excpet for veggies! He’s still very young, so his taste buds and preferences will probably change. Both of my daughters do not like veggie so much, either, although I LOVE veggies. I eat vegetables in front of them all the time and my older daugther started trying some vegetables I eat after she turned 5. She also started eating cucumbers and carrots when she went to her friends’ whose mothers served those vegetables for snack or lunch. She’s pretty good about trying. My girls seem to be okay with the vegetables that I stir fry with oil, minced garlic and a little bit of soy sauce. I cook broccoli, green beans, and some other veggies like that. My younger daughter loves Japanese food, so as long as I cook food with soy sauce base sauce, she would usually try it. She also likes pasta. With her when I serve vegetables I cut them in very small pieces and hide them in meat. I’m glad I have buddies who are going through the same issues. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone on this part of parenting journey.

    • Katherine permalink
      June 25, 2010 6:52 pm

      You seem so involved and attentive to your kids. I wish I have half the energy as you do! Your blog is very inspiring to me as a Mom of two. Like you said, it makes me feel that I’m not alone in this journey as a parent. My son is totally into salty stuff too…my daughter on the other hand is so into her sweets. YIKES. One thing they both love is Hainanese Chicken Rice. I got into making this dish a lot because they both would eat so much of it! They are also really into ramen from Santouka (I believe is a chain that came directly from Japan)…there’s one about 10 min. away from me and the soy sauce hard boiled eggs they serve with the meal. Gyudon is another one that works for them but I have yet to find a perfect recipe for it. My entire family LOVE Japanese food and I really want to learn to cook more Japanese dishes for them.

    • June 25, 2010 8:26 pm

      Aw, Katherine, you’re sweet. I’m all about how I can entertain my kids while I can also have fun. I can never take my kis to a park or play ground by myself because it is not fun for me… Truth comes out. I do have a lot of energy though!

      I often make dishes both of my kids like, too! They like beef. My hubby and I used to eat more chicken, but now we see more beef on the dinner table because of our kids. My younger daughter loves salty food and that made her a better eater! Up till 12 months, I only gave her low sodium or no salt added food and she did not like any baby food because of that. Then once she started eating regular food, she has eaten more. She loves french fries. Gyudon is also a popular dish at our household. I will take a while for me to be able to cook and post a recipe, but I have one gyudon recipe I would like to share. I’ll work on it… :)

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