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Home Family Parenting Advice Messy Eater — Good Parenting

Messy Eater — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Messy Eater — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I try really hard to teach my children to be neat when they eat, but my youngest, who is almost 1, just makes more mess the more I fuss at him to stop. Seriously, if I don’t keep a wet washcloth in one hand while I feed him, he’d be covered head to toe. He grabs at the spoon , knocks over the plate or bowl, and if I turn my back, whatever is within his reach gets flung to the floor. He’s pretty picky about what he eats, too. He seems to only like rice cereal and his milk bottle. I wonder if it’s because he only has two teeth so far?

I Can Hear My Mother Having a Fit

Don’t miss last week’s column on Whose Homework Is It?

Dear Hear My Mother,

My hunch is that your mother put a high value on keeping clean. My advice is to prepare for the mess and relax a little.

But first, let’s discuss food options for your dentally challenged child. Whole milk and brown rice cereal are providing protein, calcium, iron and some vitamins, so be sure to follow your pediatrician’s recommendation for vitamin supplements, especially if you’re not breastfeeding. By the way, breast milk has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics for a child’s entire diet for the first six months, and there are perfectly healthy babies who get by on mother’s milk alone for longer. Also, delaying the introduction of foods beyond milk minimizes the chances of food allergies. So as long as he’s growing well and otherwise seems healthy, don’t fret too much over his limited diet.

Here are some gummable first foods to tempt him with: mashed bananas, mashed avocado, mashed sweet potato, plain whole milk yogurt with mashed fruit or (no sugar added) applesauce, cooked carrots, split pea soup, hot buckwheat cereal, and salt-free brown rice cakes. It’s important to introduce one food at a time – for about a week – to see if there are any rashes or other indications of sensitivity to that food. Jarred baby foods can have added salt, sugar and other ingredients, so you’re better off using a food processor to grind up coarser vegetables (broccoli, peas, asparagus), or meats yourself. Adding new foods one at a time to his diet, maybe just a few tastes at a time, may also help him to accept them.

Now for the mess. Yes, babies like to touch, smush, smear, drop, and fling food. They are learning about the physics of the world — in this case in the food category — and every moment is a possible learning opportunity. Is it sticky, slippery, gritty, slimy, chunky, crunchy or somewhere in between? To prepare his classroom, start with cleanable surfaces. Take advantage of nice weather to set up picnic style outside! All the mess falls on the ground for the wildlife, or onto your picnic blanket for the washing machine. If there is no way around feeding him over a carpeted floor, keep some newspaper on hand to put under the high chair. (In Anne Arundel County you can toss that paper right in your recycling bin – even covered in food mess). Plan to change his clothes (and yours) after eating; bibs are an extra hassle many babies and grown-ups could do without. A bath is a nice follow-up to a messy meal if you can swing it. Besides the wet washcloth — which can wait until the end of the meal, keep your other cleanup tools handy. My favorite is the family dog. (Ours did a good job not only of the floor but the babies, too!)

It’s best to have a positive attitude about him “being in touch” with his meals. Not only is he enjoying sensory play — stimulating his brain with all that textural information — you are supporting good digestion with a pleasant social atmosphere as he eats. This is the foundation for family time around the table for many years to come.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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