As I type, my ten-month old son is licking the track-wheel of a mouse that has been sanitized for the purpose of toddler tasting. He has two visible teeth and has now been eating solid food for four months, in which time his mother and I have observed that his early interests are not so much in the Eating Department as in the Turning-the-Head-and-Trying-to-Escape Department. Oh, he’s a curious one by all means and has demonstrated a determined proclivity for putting any small item in his mouth, unless of course, the small item happens to be in some manner edible. As far as food is concerned, he loses interest after the first small bite.
In these four months I’ve learned that toddlers are just as social as larger humans. They want to eat with us. They want to eat what we do (but of course, we know we shouldn’t eat what we do). My son already prefers drinking from a glass to drinking from his bottle. So, whenever possible we try to ensure that he eats at the table with us. We give him various healthy, edible bits of food with different shapes, textures, flavors, and colors and he enjoys sitting there tasting and playing with his food (not necessarily in that order). He picks up a small piece of his food with the thumb and index finger to closely inspect it. After he’s comfortable with what we’ve given him, he clasps it in the tiny palm of either of his hands and shoves it into his mouth. It is a slow deliberate process. It is also inefficient and not adequate for all of his nutritional requirements. Sometimes, the hand is not perfectly coordinated food ends up on his cheeks.
And so like other parents we’ve devised numerous games and charades. Our chief weapons are surprise, deception, and distraction. At first, we tried to make the boy think his bland food is delicious by tasting some of it.
Me: Eat your delicious yogurt. Mmmmm… It’s so yummy. Look at me eat it. MMMM…
Loud Internal Voice: HAAAKTHOOO. THIS SMELLS LIKE CAT VOMIT. HOW ARE BABIES SUPPOSED TO EAT THIS?
Barely Audible Voice of Reason: [Smirks] It’s because they’re largely immobile, can’t talk, and haven’t eaten anything tasty to benchmark against yet… Count your blessings. Soon your son will want to eat pizza for breakfast.
OK, let me rephrase. I don’t actually advise trying to eat baby food. Rather, simulate eating it without actually eating. This doesn’t work for long, because babies figure out the trick pretty quick. The more viable solution is to distract the little child. This is much easier said than done because babies have very short attention spans. Think, in the seconds. If you don’t have any family members with you or domestic help – and these are a luxury in most of the western world – then your options are severely limited. You cannot call upon impromptu musicians to perform Mozart’s Pots-and-Pans Symphony 5, and therefore you are left with devices such as moving objects, falling water, or obscenely-loud, noise-making toys. In our case, is been primarily up to the boy’s mother to come up with ingenious methods to feed him and also to fret once their effectiveness wears off: mirrors, the bathtub, the baby-walker, and large plastic toys have all had their time.
Very recently, the K-Pop song Gangnam Style started working. I don’t remember how the idea even first came up. Our son is not allowed to watch television, so it must have been sometime when he was playing with my iPad. Anyway, long story short: he is mesmerized by the video in such a way that he quietly eats his food while watching it on YouTube. He polishes off his bowl after we’ve played it 2-3 times, so he’s not watching it for too long, but I would’ve preferred not to have introduced him to moving pictures this early. In this case, however, nutrition takes precedence. What worries me is that the magic of Gangnam Style will soon wear off. Neither of us speaks any Korean, nor have we watched or listened to any Korean Pop apart from Gangnam Style. So, it is a Brave New World.
I’ll let you know what I discover.