Q&A: Food, eating, and emotions

J writes:

"I've been reading your website since before I had my now 8-month-old daughter and it's been SO helpful! As we're transitioning to solid foods, I'm finding some issues are arising that I was hoping maybe you or your readership could help me with.

Although I'd consider myself recovered for several years now, I have a long history of food issues and eating disorders. I'm doing my best to keep my own issues out of mealtimes, but when they combine with the mom-voice ("I KNOW you're hungry and if you would just FOCUS instead of smearing that in your hair or chewing on your high chair WECOULDALLBEHAVINGABETTERTIMEHERE"), I'm struggling to keep mealtimes fun, lighthearted, and issue-free. We've been breastfeeding on demand until now, and I totally subscribe to the idea that babies know what they need to eat and when they need to eat it, and I certainly don't want her to pick up on my stress level and begin to associate food with stress... so why is it so hard to act accordingly? I feel like I don't have the time or mental energy to be Awesome Food Mom for three meals a day.

Is some level of frustration normal or am I just totally nuts? What should I be doing? What's helpful for children? Any specifics on what's particularly unhelpful for children? And maybe most importantly - any tips on how to keep my cool?"

Food issues are awful, aren't they? Your own, and your own with your kids'.

First of all, I hope you can let it go a lot at this point, because your daughter is only 8 months old, which means food is just for practice now, so it's all about experimentation and play. You do NOT have to give her three meals a day, nor do you have to have any variety. She is still getting most of her nutrition from breastmilk and/or formula, so it's purely an exercise in "how can I let this roll off my back without repercussions?" at this stage.

Save the hair-pulling for 20 months when you want to bang your head against the doorfarme, hard, at each meal.

I am a huge, huge fan of the "babyled weaning" method of feeding kids. I did the standard bland rice cereal and mashed gruel buildup with my older one, and it felt like another job, and he wasn't all that thrilled with it, and I blame his mistrust of anything that's not white (rice, bagels, mashed potatoes) on the rice cereal. The second one just started shoving whatever he could get his hands on into his mouth (I was too busy chasing a 3-year-old around to bother with mixing up rice cereal) and he's continued to be a much more adventurous eater. I am SURE it's all due to the rice cereal or lack of it, and not their personalities or anything else. (Can you hear my eyeroll?)

Anyway, researchers have been researching when kids start eating solids when allowed to serve themselves, and they found that it was safer (in terms of choking hazard) for kids to eat bigger chunks of things than smooth purees, because they could control the chunks of food inside their mouths. And kids were ok eating something when they could pick it up (so a baby isn't safe eating a pea until she can pick it up with her fingers, but can handle a big chunk of banana because she'll gum off a piece she can manuever in her mouth). There's a ton of info on the website.

Hey, it looks like they've even published a book on it since I last looked it up, called (unsurprisingly) Babyled Weaning. I haven't read the book, but it's got almost 5 stars on Amazon--will anyone who's read it tell us what you thought in the comments section?

The main thing I like about the babyled weaning method is that it makes eating solids not a set goal that can be done a right way or a wrong way, but instead a process of going from baby-who-drinks-milk-only to child-who-eats-food in a slow and self-paced way. So instead of driving yourself nuts trying to be Awesome Food Mom you can think more in terms of what your daughter likes to eat, and not stress if she's into the other sensory aspects of food for awhile.

The other thing to remember is that unless your daughter has sensory issues that make food tricky, she's going to learn to eat solids no matter what you do or don't do. At some point in the future you'll walk into the room and she'll have made herself a sandwich and will be eating it and you'll flash back to right now and think about how you'd never have predicted it, but here she is, a fully-functioning, chewing, knife-skills-having child. (Now THAT is a nail-biter--the first time your kid uses a sharp chef's knife.)

Has anyone else navigated through introducing solid foods past eating issues? Advice or support for J?