Tips for Little Eaters

7.27.2011
[I'll warn you up front that this one's a bit long, so if you want the tips and not the scoop on Violet + solids, scroll down a bit]

I get emails every now and then asking about how solids are going with Violet. In case you are a new reader, I'll just give you the quick recap - Violet has a rare condition called FPIES, or Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome. Sounds complicated, but basically it means that she is allergic to the proteins in certain foods. It was a difficult diagnosis to come by, due to the fact that a) it is rare and b) a lot of doctors have never heard of it and c) you can't test for it. Although your typical allergies (IgE mediated) generally show up on blood tests and skin prick tests, Violet's (cell mediated) don't.



Because her allergies can't be tested, we have to feel our way along by trial and error. We trial a food for three weeks slowly building up from a teaspoonful of food on the first day to a jar (or as much as she'll let us feed her) by the end of the trial period. If she's not allergic to a food, everything will be normal and hunky dory. If she IS allergic, she'll begin projectile vomiting for hours to the point of dehydration. She's already been hospitalized once after a reaction, so let's just say that trying new foods (and being in social situations with food) can be a little bit scary to say the least.

We weren't able to really start solids with Violet until she was ten months old, as her body needed time to heal from the reactions she had when we first tried to introduce them. Because of the delayed start and bad history, Violet had difficulty swallowing and strong aversions to tastes and textures. And although you can often coax a six-month-old into eating a spoonful of baby food, at ten months Violet was old enough to clamp that little mouth shut and run some serious interference by waving her hands in front of her mouth whenever we'd try to feed her. It's been a difficult road, but we're finally making some headway and I wanted to share with you what we've learned.

Although I doubt that many of you have the same issues that we've experienced with Violet, a lot of this can pertain to any kid who is picky with food, dislikes certain tastes, or has issues in general with eating solids, so I hope some of you find it helpful! Here's what has worked for us:


Tips for Little Eaters:

1. Start with something bland. Violet's prescription formula is very VERY bland, and we made the mistake of trying to start solids with apples. Let's just say it was a LOT more flavor that she was used to and it didn't go well. We went back to the drawing board and tried potatoes instead. Although she still wasn't thrilled, it went much more smoothly than apples. We then slowly built up to carrots, apples, and so on up the taste ladder.

(Violet is currently eating plums, broccoli*, carrots, blueberries**, potatoes, avocado, prunes, and freeze-dried apples. Why no meat, grains, or dairy? No, we're not vegans. FPIES kids react least often to fruits and veggies, although we may be trying a meat next.)

*Okay so she just bites it and then spits it out, but it's progress! **She eats the insides and spits out the skin. I'll take it.



2. Stick with what works. Once you've found a food that gets good reviews (Violet eventually decided she really loved freeze-dried apples and pureed carrots) stick with that for a little while in order to build basic eating skills (chewing, swallowing, and the like) That way they're not focusing on the taste or texture as much and are really able to just get the basics down.

3. Patience is key. For a long time Violet would put freeze-dried apples in her mouth, but didn't seem to realize that she was supposed to swallow them. We'd always find little apple bits all over the place, which was frustrating, but we knew we were making progress based on the fact that she wanted to put them in her mouth at all. After a LOT of patience, one day it eventually clicked and she realized that those apples were FOOD and that she was supposed to eat it. That was such a huge milestone - it was the first truly solid thing that she swallowed and that opened up whole new doors for us.


4. Discover your inner model No matter how much you DON'T want to eat prunes or broccoli or freeze-dried apples (which are actually surprisingly good), this one is really important. If you won't eat it, most likely neither will they. Over exaggerate chewing and swallowing so that your child can observe eating skills and hopefully imitate them.

5. Use peer pressure to your advantage One of our huge breakthroughs came on a day when we went to visit Violet's babysitter and her kids They were gobbling down Violet's freeze-dried apples like they were candy, and Violet realized that not only were those things a hot commodity, but also that the other kids WEREN'T SPITTING THEM OUT. It was after that day that we really noticed that she started to chew and swallow. I also will play YouTube videos of other babies and toddlers eating. She really watches and imitates what she sees in the video. This is how we got her to start taking bites of larger bits of food and she also tries to use utensils now as well. Seriously, what did parents do before the internet?! Here are her current favorite videos:



Cute Baby Eating Peas (Good for eating finger foods)
Baby Eating (Good for biting pieces from larger bits of food)
Toddler Eating Strawberries with a Spoon, Very Silly! (Good for using utensils)
One-year-old baby eats food by himself (Also good for biting pieces from larger bits of food)


We also recently started to take Violet to feeding therapy. We would have started sooner, but it took THREE MONTHS to get in! Here are a few tips that the therapists shared with us:
  • Provide your child with at least two preferred and one non-preferred food at each meal
  • Limit distractions
  • Eat as a family at the table and serve family style at all meals
  • Allow your child to help with food preparation and setting of the table (Violet seems to eat more when she sees me chopping up her food for whatever reason)
  • Set mealtime routine with breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner
  • Allow child to 'play' with food and get messy. (This one surprised me as parents are notorious for telling children NOT to play with their food, but apparently studies have shown that children who are allowed to play with their food become better eaters in the long run. Playing with foods has allowed Violet to get used to new textures and to learn that eating is fun and not just a chore. It's definitely a LOT more work, but it's working and that's what matters.)
  • Do not hide foods in other foods, 'trick' you child into eating a food, or force feed your child. (The idea is to gain your child's trust. Mostly I place the foods in front of Violet and allow her to decide what she wants to eat and doesn't want to eat. I model and encourage certain things, but don't force the issue. Usually she will eventually try everything on her tray.)
  • Don't strap your child into the high chair. (Obviously if you have a very squirmy child and feel that it's a safety issue, by all means use the straps, but this kind of goes along with the trust thing and making eating fun and not a chore.)
And although this post has gotten (quite) long already, I have one more thing I really want to add. The next time you see a mom feeding her child formula, please don't judge. I nursed Violet for nine months and would probably have gone longer if it hadn't been for her GI issues. After months of her reacting to my breast milk and an elimination diet that caused me to lose too much weight, we finally ended up with a prescription formula that has done wonders for my baby girl. She's like a totally different, much happier and healthier girl now that she is on something that doesn't irritate her little body. She sleeps better, feels better, and I can't thank formula companies enough for making these products for kids who need them. You never know for what reasons a mom is scooping powder and shaking up bottles, but know that they are most likely good reasons and that she is doing what is best for her and her family.

Thanks for letting me get up on my soapbox for a minute there. I really, truly hope that this post is helpful to some of you - whether your child is just a picky eater or something more serious.

And if you have any tips for getting your kids to eat solids, I'd love to hear them!


13 comments:

  1. Megan klinger conradJuly 27, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    Thanks Lauren! We just started cereal w Kohan last week and it is def a new experience! Loved ur advice

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  2. Lauren you have done an incredible job with Violet. You have done research, had to deal with (some doctors) at a reputable hospital who basically blew you off and have had the patience of a Saint. Violet is such a happy healthy little girl and I know with your wisdom she will continue to make little/huge steps to be where she needs to be.

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  3. I can imagine that is very challenging for everyone. I wish you the best in doing whats right for your family!

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  4. I tried to breastfeed my little girl but was difficult at the begining. I needed some help with formula, so now that she is 2 months old I breastfeed her a bit and them give her some formula. It's been so hard for me to recognize that I couldn't breastfeed her exclusive. At first I felt like I was poisoning her when I gave her the formula! But she is healthy and this is the most important.
    Thanks for sharing your experience, you're doing it awesome!!!

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  5. Thanks, Lauren. My little girl hasn't had any reactions to food yet. I still learned alot from this post. I admire how hard you have worked with Violet to provide what is best for her.

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  6. Thank you for this post. It's reassuring that you have been successful with getting Violet to eat different foods. Days like today I wonder if my little guy will be drinking Elecare for the rest of his life. Reading your posts are hopeful for me.

    Amanda

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  7. So great to hear an update on Violet. And thanks for the feeding tips. This post is perfect timing as I am already feeling myself try to "control" Behr's meal times.

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  8. So glad that some of you found this post helpful!

    Grammy - thanks so much for the encouragement!

    Shannon - it's so hard not to try to keep them clean and stop them from smearing food all over the place, isn't it?! It goes against what I feel like I'm supposed to be doing, but it seems to be helping. Whatever works, right?

    Thank you for all of the kind words, ladies - we are all just trying to do our best for our little ones, aren't we!

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  9. Great post! Although Eva doesn't have as many complications as Violet, I can relate to what you have gone through to a certain extent. Eva has an intolerance to dairy products -- screaming gas pains, diarrhea etc.

    SInce I'm breastfeeding, it means that I can't consume any milk products either!

    Eva wasn't quick to take to eating solid foods and only now at 14 months old is she eating meals consistently.

    Great tips!

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  10. Sometimes we have some trouble eating, too. She'll say "Ahh Duh" and refuse to eat more after a few bites. As soon as I start singing any of her favorite songs or ask her to point to some things in the kitchen, she gets distracted and the food starts going right in. I'm also glad to hear that they should play with their food. It's tough to watch her smear a banana all over her and her highchair or squeeze her orange so juice gets everywhere, but that's how they learn!!

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  11. Great ideas. I found that singing a favorite song or asking her to point to things in the kitchen is a simple distraction that we use to sneak food in her mouth after she takes a few bites and says "AH DUH." I'm also glad to hear the they should be messy to explore their food. I try not to let the thought of cleaning up messes limit her learning.

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  12. Thanks, Lauren. My little girl hasn't had any reactions to food yet. I still learned alot from this post. I admire how hard you have worked with Violet to provide what is best for her.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I tried to breastfeed my little girl but was difficult at the begining. I needed some help with formula, so now that she is 2 months old I breastfeed her a bit and them give her some formula. It's been so hard for me to recognize that I couldn't breastfeed her exclusive. At first I felt like I was poisoning her when I gave her the formula! But she is healthy and this is the most important.
    Thanks for sharing your experience, you're doing it awesome!!!

    ReplyDelete

 

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