Many of you will recall from various posts in the past that my oldest daughter doesn’t like to eat meat (see Challenge #2: My Kids, Why I Cater To My Kids, Challenge #2 Update: My Still Spirited but Much Healthier Kids). Through a series of events (sensory issues, severe reflux, undiagnosed gluten intolerance, being on doctor’s orders to fatten her up because she was so dangerously thin at 1-year old, catering to her desire for soft foods just to get her to eat), my daughter never really developed the jaw strength or muscle coordination to chew meat properly. We’ve been working on this slowly over the last year of eating paleo in our home.
We changed our strategy in the early part of this year (see Towing a Harder Line with My Kids). We went from completely catering to my daughter’s food preferences to feeding her a meal that was much closer to what the rest of the family was eating (I always make sure to have fruit and vegetables on her plate that she likes). And, we started making it a rule that she had to eat a reasonable amount of meat at every meal (well, eggs at breakfast and something like 1-2oz of meat at other meals).
I go to great efforts to make delicious food, to keep my daughter’s flavor preferences in mind, to remember that chewing is hard for her, that food texture can be overwhelming for her. Even still, we have generally found that most meals were a battle, the intensity of which varied depending on the meal, how tired my daughter was, how stressed my husband I were, and whether or not we had any bribery power on that specific day. We have seen slow (S-L-O-W) improvement though. My daughter went from only eating Paleo Chicken Fingers and maybe some types of fish with minimal harassing (it still would take her an hour to slowly pick at it before she had eaten it all) to the huge milestone we hit just this week. My daughter announced that she likes steak!
Yesterday was leftover night in our home. I asked my daughter if she would prefer leftover Paleo Chicken Fingers or leftover Simple Broiled Pork Chops. She chose pork chop! It still takes her a long time to eat and she still needs some gentle reminders to take another bite (and another and another), but we haven’t had a battle over dinner in over a week. A whole week! Best of all, she is finally getting at least some enjoyment out of foods that require chewing!
Getting my daughter to eat quality proteins has helped in many other ways too. She is stronger, has more energy, sleeps better, behaves better (this all may be related to getting gluten and most dairy out of her diet as well, although we successfully went gluten free a couple of months before implementing the “meat-eating plan”). I often lament not knowing any better when she was born, when we started her on rice cereal and she became chronically constipated, when I didn’t look at my diet when she was extremely colicky (for a whole year!) and would projectile spit-up (and continued to spit-up until she was over 3-years old!), when she didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was 3.5-years old and when she started having tantrums at 9 months old. I don’t know how much might have been different if I had had a better diet through pregnancy and nursing and fed her better foods in those early years. Mommy guilt is tough to get over, but I do try not to think about that too much. Instead, I try to appreciate just how far we’ve come and be thankful that I did figure it out when I did. Vive la paleo!