I posted a while ago about the first rule of baby food.
The first rule of baby food, in short, is “there’s no such thing as baby food.” Babies can, with few exceptions, eat the same food as their parents. This is the easy rule.
The second rule of baby food is ten times harder, even though it basically tells you not to do anything. The second rule of baby food is:
Once you put the food on the table, your job is done.
I’m paraphrasing from Ellyn Satter’s book Child of Mine, which is really the last word on the feeding of older babies and children. (The book talks about breastfeeding but in much less detail than a good breastfeeding book like The Nursing Mother’s Companion.)
Satter puts the second rule slightly differently: you and your child have a division of responsibility, she says. You decide what and when to eat. Your child decides whether and how much to eat.
That means absolutely no cajoling at the table. No making sure they eat the peas and the larb. No getting upset if they want to fill up on bread. And no freaking out if they don’t want to eat a single bite of anything.
Probably no single piece of advice has saved our family more stress, even though it’s a pain in the ass to actually follow it, and probably no one follows it perfectly. Abiding by the second rule is as hard as choosing to ignore some of your spouse’s annoying habits.
Even though toddler feeding patterns have been notorious for as long as there have been toddlers, new parents still seem to be shocked and frustrated by them. There have been many days when Iris has eaten nothing more than half a cup of milk before her afternoon snack at 3:30pm. Other days, she’ll eat a whole piece of buttered toast and a bowl of Greek yogurt for breakfast and then be hungry for snack 90 minutes later.
Especially, I think, if you’re a guy (and more especially a guy who worked for years in tech support, like me), it’s easy to see the world as a series of problems that you might be able to solve. If you knew an adult who regularly skipped breakfast and lunch and then ate the fluffy inside part of the bread for dinner, you’d stage an intervention. But a toddler who eats that way doesn’t have a problem.
For all the parental handwringing, toddler eating is much less neurotic than adult eating, at least in the US. Toddlers eat when they’re hungry and the food tastes good. They won’t eat because the food is good for them or because you want them to.
Or let’s put it this way: If you look across the table, see a 20-pound kid, and think, “Oh, I can totally win this,” you may as well be saying, “Look at that small country in Asia. I could totally win a little war there.”