My first memories with my great-grandfather are memories of him sneaking me bites of bologna and cheese. My grandpa was a chef and was always cooking for festivals, and as I grew up I got to tag along and learn a lot about cooking. Food and family gatherings have been important in my life and I want to share these experiences with our son.
As we introduce our son to our family culture and traditions around food, we have encountered some challenges and blessings. Eating can be a challenge with a young toddler, but when it comes to the way our son eats, we are blessed! Here are three of our struggles, and strategies we’ve used to cope:
It takes time.
Food with a toddler takes planning because we cook at home more often than we did before. I enjoy cooking, and I want our son to take part, even though it might make the process take longer. We have a small kid’s kitchen beside the pantry for our son to cook along with me. I have even held him on my shoulders while I’ve prepped things and stood him on a chair to wash vegetables and dishes in the sink. As he has grown he also has begun using a spoon or fork which make meal time even longer, but this is an important skill to work through. Chopsticks will be a bigger challenge down the road.
It takes patience.
When we sit down to eat it can take a lot of patience or wait time. Our son doesn’t always like the first bite of something so we might introduce a new food several times. This can be aggravating after spending time preparing a meal. Learning his preferences requires constant observation. Colors, textures, temperature, smells, and hunger level are all factors in his meal and snacks. Allowing him time to develop skills to feed himself and watching for cues of when he is finished have also been important.
It is often messy!
Being messy bothers my wife more than me. When we eat out, the floor can be pretty messy which sometimes gets more attention than we’d like. As we have added new foods, such as noodles, food ends up everywhere. Recently, he enjoys waving noodles in the air before eating them, resulting with some on the wall. But not to worry—everything can be cleaned and our dogs like helping. Although with dogs around during meals, it added to the mess. He enjoyed feeding the dogs a bit too much so we ended up needing to move them during meals. We have a huge stack of bibs which have saved on total outfit changes. We have also learned that when he is done with his bib, he is done eating.
Modeling the behavior we want to see has been important, especially when it comes to making healthy choices and learning manners during meals. There are few healthy choices out in the world for children so staying away from fast food chains and maintaining a healthy meal lifestyle has been important for my family. We encourage words at meals and he quickly began to say “dink” for drink which was closely followed by “cookie.” But we continue to model “Please ” and “Thank you” and are hopeful that he will be a good model for a sibling.