Embracing Elvie's Eating Style

Elvie has had feeding issues her whole life. While she was in group care in Ethiopia, her feeding needs were misunderstood, so that by the time we got to her, she was severely malnourished. We brought her home at the age of five months, and it took a month to establish a good feeding routine. When she took the bottle willingly and without pain, I was elated. That time just happened to coincide with the point at which many babies begin solid foods. We introduced some purees, and she was unimpressed. We tried a variety, and still: nothing. She didn’t like it. So I stopped offering her purees, and aside from giving her things to taste when we were eating, I didn’t really worry about her eating habits. When she actually ate something I put in front of her at meal time, I was a little surprised.

Since that first meal, she’s come a long way, but she’s still a bit quirky when it comes to food. I know better than to worry, but I want to do better than that. I want to embrace her eating style and find new flavors that will encourage her to enjoy eating even more. Here are the three big challenges we have and how we’re working those out so that Elvie can get good nutrition and enjoy eating every meal.

The biggest challenge we have is that Elvie does not like anyone to help her eat. Because she was given so much medicine by mouth, she has a deep distrust of anyone who wants to put something on her tongue. I don’t blame her. If she sees what we are about to put in her mouth and recognizes it as something she likes, she’ll let us help with a couple of bites, but that’s all. The foods we give her need to be finger foods, as she’s still a few months away from mastering use of a spoon. While that limits our options somewhat, there are a lot of things that she can eat. She is still not a fan of purees anyway, so it’s largely working out.

Our second big challenge is that Elvie wants to have pieces of food that are the same size as (or bigger than) the pieces we are eating. This is fine if we are eating something she can bite off with her two teeth and then gum, but a little more challenging if it’s something tougher to bite off or that she shouldn’t be eating at all. As silly as it sounds, my main solution to this problem is to simply wait to eat things she cannot have until she is napping. If it is dinnertime, when we all sit down together as a family, I put those items on the side of my plate that is less visible to her, or I distract her with one of her favorite foods. I’ve also noticed that if I let her start her meal a little bit before everyone else comes to the table, she’ll start eating things that are cut into smaller pieces because she doesn’t yet see anyone else doing it differently.

Our final challenge is that Elvie is a very messy eater. This can make eating on the go a lot more challenging, but we’ve found that there’s one thing that makes all the difference: a full container of baby wipes along for the ride. Some foods will stain everything within her reach, so we avoid those while dining away from the table. I learned my lesson with blueberry muffins – they seem so delicious and convenient, but there are many other foods that will not leave marks on clothing, strollers, or the cat, and those are preferable.

Every day it seems that Elvie tastes a new food and likes it, and it is exciting to watch her tastes develop. Because we know that she is growing and thriving, it takes the pressure off, and we get to enjoy seeing her experience new flavors. I will never forget the first time she tasted chocolate, or the first time she looked surprised when the piece of pasta she was trying to eat just kept slipping right back out of her mouth. Each time we offer her something new, I get excited to see her reaction. Will she ignore it? Try it and make a face? Reach out immediately for more? With each new food, it’s anyone’s guess. That’s what makes it so fun.

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