How I got my kid to eat (almost) everything

Syona’s special needs means eating can be a challenge, but her diet is one thing Anchel doesn’t worry about.

Syona enjoys a chocolate milkshake from her Lollacup.

I love cooking. However, our hectic schedule means that I don’t have time to make a fresh meal everyday. Instead, I usually carve out a chunk of time to batch cook on the weekend so we can eat a reheated, homemade meal every day. (I’m also not above taking food from our parents!)

Recently, we’ve started to get Syona in the kitchen with me while I cook. Unlike a lot of other parents, I can’t put my 2.5-year-old on a stool and have her stand at the counter and help me mix, etc. because of her physical limitations. But we can put her in her stander, which has a huge tray, and have her “help” me cook — pretend or otherwise. She does everything from putting handfuls of chocolate chips into cookie batter to telling me when to run a blender or stir a pot.

Our diet is pretty healthy — lots of veggies, fruits, lean meats, veggie proteins, lentils and whole grains (I also have a notorious sweet tooth and obsession with popcorn, while Dilip loves fried, salty snacks and Syona dabbles in the best of both worlds). Famous food journalist, Mark Bittman, recently wrote this post about the impact cooking at home can have on the obesity epidemic.

So here’s my flipside take: Syona is off the charts teeny tiny. In fact we had our most recent weigh-in, where she hovered around the 20 lbs. mark, which is where she’s been for the last several months.

She follows a high-fat diet and a specific schedule designed to try and maximize her food intake. She eats a lot of different food, but in very small amounts. She has issues with texture — one of the things we work on is encouraging her to chew her food properly — but she loves food. And I really think that while getting kids in the kitchen can help avoid obesity, I also think that it can help to encourage a child’s interest and enjoyment in food (and for an underweight toddler, that interest can translate into an extra few calories a day).

We’ve never shied away from trying different foods with her, and she has always eaten the same things we eat (sometimes just a little less spicy and often pureed so she can handle the texture). She loves Indian food, lentils, beans, mixed veggies, spices, lemon, curried chicken, salmon and ice cream. We experiment with different flavours and we talk about food — what we like, how it tastes and how it smells.

Meal times are stress-free. Syona eats as much as she wants. We try and get her to eat more by trying various foods, eating together and offering lots of praise. But when she’s done, or wants to eat something else, that’s fine. Often her meals are finished with a piece of toast, drenched in butter, and that’s OK.

There was a period of time where we worried about Syona needing a feeding tube. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to go down that road and I often think about how parents and children with feeding tubes must have a very different relationship with food. For us, we’ve been able to manage all of the complexities with Syona’s special needs and any food issues through a few commercially available products.

You know the pouch-style baby food that is now all the rage on grocery store shelves? It’s convenient and portable, but when you have a kid that needs extra calories, commercial baby food doesn’t cut it. So when we started using the Sili Squeeze it was perfect. It works a lot like the baby food pouches, only we can fill it with our own healthy, homemade, high-fat purees.

Our other major issue has been with milk. Syona doesn’t drink nearly as much as she should and it’s something we struggle with on a daily basis, so we give her a lot of yogurt and ice cream.
She still uses a bottle most of the time, but we would love to transition her to a cup. We use a litterless juice box style cup for water, but she refuses to drink milk out of the same cup. She also has issues with holding cups, lifting, tilting back and drinking at the same time (if you think about it, drinking takes a lot of coordination). When my sister told us about the Lollacup she saw on Shark Tank we immediately decided to give it a shot. It has easy-to-grab handles and a weighted straw, which means Syona can take sips from any angle.

I think using tools that work for Syona help to strengthen her positive relationship with food. Our time spent cooking together is one of the highlights of my week (especially since Dilip is usually on clean-up duty)!

Do you have tips on how to get your children to eat?

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