Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!
So, we’re talking about toddlers this month. Toddlers: The picky eater extraordinaire! Right? Our difficulty eating started very early on when they were breastfeeding actually. Because as preemies, we were challenged with acid reflux.
Now, acid reflux is when the acid in your stomach flows back up into the esophagus, and it causes this nasty burning sensation. It can be very painful depending on the severity, and it could lead to other problems down the line. So, when the acid flows up into the esophagus, it causes fluid in the stomach to flow into the esophagus as well. You can get that sensation of fullness, of bloatedness. Of course, as a result, the kids often had a loss of appetite, and sometimes, especially when they were babies, lots of spit-ups. They didn’t really throw up as toddlers. We did pretty well with that.
I was told that they would eventually outgrow acid reflux around the age of two. Now, I have to be honest with you, Andy’s reflux was really bad as a baby. It got better as she went. In the case of Emmi, her acid reflux was not as bad as a baby. Still, hers eventually turned from acid reflux into gastritis. So, it got more severe.
And this made feeding my toddlers extraordinarily difficult when they were young. So, I had to get really creative. And that meant for me, because the internet was not as prevalent as today, hitting the books. Here are some of my favorites:
1.) First Meals Revised: Fast, healthy, and fun foods to tempt infants and toddlers.
2.) Gimme Five!: Kid-Friendly Recipes and Tips for Helping Your Child Enjoy Eating Fruits and Vegetables
3.) Toddler Menus: A Mix-and-Match Guide to Healthy Eating
And finally, 4.) Kid Favorites Made Healthy: 150 Delicious Recipes Kids Can’t Resist from Better Homes & Gardens.
But the thing is that my kids did resist. They resisted everything! I remember being so desperate once they were about two years old, and I decided, “Okay. I’m gonna figure this out today.”
I took out my books, and I cooked all day long. I mean, literally! From the morning to the evening, I cooked. And I tried to get my kids to eat all of this food. Not all at once but every day, I tried a little on them. And they didn’t like anything. Nothing! By the end of the week, I was in tears. I was just in tears.
What am I supposed to feed these kids? They won’t eat anything. They have severe acid reflux. How am I supposed to make sure that they’re eating nutritious meals when the vegetables make them gassy. The red sauce gives them acid reflux? You have to be careful with the amount of oils that they consume. I mean, all of these challenges!
On top of everything else, to be honest with you, they were picky eaters. My child with ADHD has things about texture. The texture of her food makes a big difference in whether or not she can handle eating it. I also quickly learned that she wouldn’t eat foods that touch each other on her plates. So, the spaghetti had to be here. The sauce had to be here. The vegetables had to be over here. They couldn’t all mix.
To this, add the fact that people were not supportive. My mother would say things to me like, “I always just fed you whatever I wanted. You always ate whatever was served to you, and that was it. If you didn’t want it, you didn’t eat.”
Well, I’m Mexican. I was eating Chiles Rellenos, which are pretty spicy poblano peppers when I was three or four years old. But I never had health issues. I never had acid reflux. I didn’t have gastritis. I wasn’t a preemie. I didn’t have any challenges. I was a really healthy child. In fact, I was a super healthy adult up until I turned thirty-eight years old. I never encounter a health problem. So, it was a different situation. My mother could not relate to it and couldn’t be just supportive.
It was the same thing with my mother-in-law. I remember the kids were about three years old. One of the things that we explained to my in-laws was that even traveling could be really challenging because what my kids would eat or their stomach would tolerate was very limited. Now fortunately for me, what they could handle was McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets.
Here was the interesting part, they couldn’t eat the crust. My kid with a problem with textures could not eat the crust, and my other child didn’t want that crust. So, here I am, peeling Chicken McNuggets. They couldn’t eat the fries. They would eat the apples. They would drink the apple juice. But that was it! Those three things: apples, apple juice, and Chicken McNuggets.
My mother-in-law says, and her infinite wisdom, “You’re just wrong. This isn’t the kids. This is you. You could make them chicken nuggets that they would eat, and I’m going to prove it to you.”
My mother-in-law goes, and she gets chicken breast, and she cuts it up into little round pieces. She then fries and then puts it in the oven. And I have to tell you. They tasted pretty good. So, then she proceeds to give it to my toddlers. They look at it.
Very blank my twins respond, “No. Thank you.” Very blank.
“But these are grandma’s special nuggets.”
“No, thank you.”
“But, won’t you try them?”
“No, thank you.”
“Look, if I would give it to the cat, the cat would eat them because they’re delicious.”
My child, “that’s a good idea, grandma. Give it to the cats.”
She tried for about two hours. My kids were starving. They were really cranky, which was making me cranky. I finally said to my husband, “Go get chicken nuggets at Mcdonalds.”
The kids ate their Mcdonald’s nuggets, and everybody was happy except for my mother-in-law. She said, “Next time, just don’t feed them until they’re willing to eat what you give them.”
Well, I can’t say that she’s entirely wrong, maybe, possibly, I don’t know. But here’s the challenge. We were traveling. The kids were already cranky because we were driving from Michigan to Ohio, and we were staying in a hotel room. My one child with ADHD didn’t handle change well. So, there was already a lot of crankiness going on. Why add to it? Why add more stress to it?
We did try many other things along the way. But to be honest with you, things ended up backfiring on us because they would get really severe acid reflux, and we would have a crying child. Or they would get diarrhea, and we couldn’t leave where we were at. We were stuck there because my kid needed to go to the bathroom fifty bazillion times. Once you get your kids out of the diaper, they don’t want to go back to them. They don’t care if that’s because we’re driving or because it would be easier. It doesn’t matter. So, we were stuck trying to make this work.
My mother did visit us in Michigan once. She was afraid of flying, so she only did that once. She tried to convince me to let her for just one day try the, “if you don’t feed them, they will come around and eventually eat what you’re giving them.”
Since I was going to go to work, and I was having such a difficult time feeding my kids, I said, “Okay. You can try it until I get back from work.”
I went, and I knew I was going to be teaching. I had my office hours, and I thought, “You know, this is not a good day to plan lessons or to do any grading. I’ll come back home as soon as I can so that there aren’t any problems.”
I get home. I have two crying children and one grumpy grandma. She didn’t feed them for four hours. The food was right there. The kids refused to eat it, and everybody was miserable. My mother’s words when I came through the door was, “I give up. I give up.”
So, what did I figure out? How did I make this work? The answer often goes back to what I’ve often said to you. You have to do what is right for your family, what is right for your child. We accepted that when we were traveling, we had to know where McDonald’s would be found. Luckily McDonald’s is a trendy fast-food restaurant. When the kids were young, it was peeled chicken nuggets, apple slices, and apple juice.
Eventually, we were able to incorporate Chick-fil-A. They have fruit cups. They have milk: white milk, chocolate milk. They had chicken nuggets. And that worked for my kids as well. Believe it or not, red meat? They couldn’t tolerate it very well until they were about five, almost six years old, when I was finally able to introduce it.
I began to accept that no matter my cultural background or what I was used to eating because of that cultural background, my kids could only eat bland food. The vegetables they could tolerate were limited. So, that meant that every meal had to have vegetables, and they did pretty well with carrots, and cucumbers, and lettuce. They didn’t do well with any legumes. Forget the beans. Anything high in fiber like broccoli or cauliflower, to this day, they still struggle with it. I mean, one of my daughters, Emmi, loves salad bars. But when I let her eat at a salad bar, she’ll walk in there. She has this tiny stomach. By the time that she walks out of place, her stomach is entirely distended and bloated. She still can’t process the vegetables very well, and it’s unfortunate because she does enjoy them.
Cantaloupe, watermelon, bananas, and apples were fruits that worked for us. Eventually, I was able to incorporate berries, strawberries, blueberries, and all the berries. We did pretty well with them except for kiwi. By the way, I didn’t even know that kiwi’s considered a berry. Then one of my kids turned out to be allergic to berries.
Another thing that I found that worked very well for us was, in the case of Andy, who had a problem with textures, I had to learn to be patient because sometimes, it’s just like, “Just try it!”
And that doesn’t work. It makes Andy miserable, makes me miserable. So, I’ll just say, “Have a little bite, please.”
And she’ll say, “But.”
“Have a little bite, please.”
And you know what, there have been some things that Andy has a little bite, and she goes, “This is delicious!”
Andy’ll try it, and it will work. Sometimes, she will try a little bite, and she likes it, but guess what? Her stomach doesn’t tolerate it. Other times, she puts it in her mouth and pfft, pfft, pfft… Doesn’t like the texture. She cannot handle mangoes. She cannot handle pineapples. Not just because of the acidity but because there’s stringy. It’s just she can’t handle it. She can’t do it. So, really it’s about what works for you and your child, how you can make it work.
Trust yourself. Trust yourself. There have been very few times where I have really asked people for their opinions. When it comes to food, it was one of them because I was absolutely desperate. We even paid for a nutritionist, and frankly, it was $300 down the drain. We went through the testing. We went through the consultation process. All for her to tell me, “Well, your kids have acid reflux, and they’re limited in what they can eat.”
Well, geez, thank you. I already knew that. I could have saved myself those $300, especially back then when it really mattered.
And know that you will find the answer if you keep trying. You will find the answer if you keep trying. For example, today, my kids can have spaghetti, maybe twice a month. Now, my husband loves my spaghetti. But if I was to make it with my traditional marinara sauce, it’s too much for my kids. They can’t handle it. So, I cheat. I bring down the acidity by putting milk in the sauce or putting alfredo sauce in the marinara sauce. My husband doesn’t like it as much, but my kids tolerate it very well, and they really enjoy it. So, sometimes it’s the little tricks that will go a long way.
They can have pizza. My kids love pizza, especially Andy. But I always ask the pizza place to go light on the sauce, and I learned from a mom in Puerto Rico that you can ask for pizza pies without sauce. I think it’s called white pizza. In any case, I just ask for light sauce. Pizza’s a big issue because so many kids really enjoy it at parties and things. The other thing is if I know that they’re going to a party, I will give them something for their stomach before they go. So, they can eat whatever it is that everybody is having. It doesn’t become an issue, which makes them very uncomfortable.
And learn to deal with your jealousy. Let me tell you. I was so jealous of Dora’s biological mom because Dora can eat anything. Bugaboo can eat anything. These kids have incredible stomachs. They can handle anything. They can eat spicy. It’s not an issue whatsoever. And they’ve been doing this since they were kids.
I also remember visiting my sister in Utah, and here’s my nephew eating pickles and jalapeños. He was barely one! I couldn’t even dream of my kids doing that. And sometimes it did, it made me moody, it made me testy, it made me wonder why?! Why did this happen to my kids? Why did this happen to me? You know what, it’s just silly jealousy. It’s the bottom line.
No matter what challenges your kids face, they’re your children. You love them, and that makes them extra special, extra loveable, extra huggable. Just remember, in those moments when you’re getting really frustrated, take a breath, you got it, you can handle it! Just take a pause. Take a breath. It will be alright. You will find the answer for your child, for your family.
Ultimately, how do you enjoy the toddler years and the challenges that come along with them? With a little bit of patience and a lot of love.
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