[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.)
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!