We went away for a couple of days with my dad and his wife this week, and the experience of baby-led mealtimes was a little bit different from what I’ve got used to at home and when staying with my mum. I don’t know if my dad follows this blog, but I hope he won’t be offended if I share my reflections – in the interests of giving a rounded picture of family responses to the BLW approach!
Essentially, my dad and his wife just seemed a bit less relaxed about the messiness of mealtimes and, to some extent, it seemed that food throwing was construed as being ‘naughty’. Whilst I admit it can be frustrating, I never consider Daniel to be misbehaving at mealtimes – at this stage, to me, it’s still just experimenting, exploring or simply getting distracted from the matter at hand. There was no direct intervention, and we were allowed to get on with it in our own way, but I could just sense that they were less comfortable with food on the floor, spoons and bowls being wafted about (fair enough, Daniel’s bowl of milk-soaked shredded wheat minis making a direct hit down the inside of my t-shirt must have been a bit of a sight), and the amount of non-eating involved in a mealtime.
As a kind of concession, I let dad buy Daniel a pouch of Ella’s Kitchen minted lamb casserole for his tea on our second night away. My dad does enjoy buying us our preferred things to eat and I’d told him how much Daniel likes the fruit pouches, so it wasn’t specifically about attempting to make mealtimes tidier, but I figured he’d like to buy something for Daniel, so I showed him the selection on offer at the local Waitrose and when he offered to buy a basketful, I agreed that we could buy one pouch for tea!
Now, I must admit, the lamb casserole smelled pretty nice, and Daniel did appear to enjoy it. However, to me it just looked completely bizarre as I squeezed this lukewarm brown sludge out of the packet (yes, if you’ll forgive me for lowering the tone, it looked like dog poo) and it made such an almighty mess compared to the ‘real food’ that Daniel usually has, getting smeared all over the tray, his sleeves, his face. The meal was perfectly fine, but it just felt very strange to me, like a totally unnecessary backwards step, or a complete anomaly.
Another difference that day was that Daniel ate earlier than the rest of us. Dad and his wife do tend to eat much later than we do at home, and so it would have been stretching him a little to wait until about 9pm. But the other factor is that, following the Health Visitor meeting last week, we’re trying to get into a better routine of earlier teatimes, leading to earlier bedtimes. Daniel starts nursery this week and so will need to be up earlier on a morning, so we’re trying to gradually bring his whole daily routine back by an hour or so. It’ll be a real shame, but it might be that he has to start having his tea earlier than Jon and me sometimes, once we’re into our new life of nursery school and two working parents.
One other thing that happened during our couple of days away was that Daniel did his second ever major gag – this time on a piece of fruit that went down insufficiently chewed. He was eating slices of apple and pear and I’m not sure which was the main culprit (it may have just been that he had too much in his mouth), but while my attention was diverted in another direction, he started to gag and when I turned towards him, it was just in time to see a mouthful of fruit chunks and a significant amount of his morning milk feed make a reappearance. Poor kid, seemed a bit surprised, but as ever, he was right as rain within a few moments. A lesson to mum though; don’t get too complacent just yet, and don’t turn your back when there’s hard fruit on the go.
In other news, his appetite has stayed pretty impressive as we’ve continued to gradually cut back the breastfeeding. I would say he’s ‘really eating’ now, with things like whole clementines, whole crumpets and whole portions of peas or carrots disappearing (oh, and his whole icecream plus half of mine on Benllech beach!) I’ve worked out a few strategies for maximising the amount that gets eaten, as opposed to flung, at proper mealtimes. One is not to present him with his full plate all in one go, because his way of getting to whatever he wants to eat is still primarily one of elimination – removing everything else (to the floor) so as to end up with the one thing on his plate/tray that he actually wants. I’ve also tried out giving him his vegetables first, while I prepare or cool down the main dish, and this seems to work well – so long as he’s hungry, he gets quite focused on picking up his bits of carrot or peas and popping them one by one into his mouth until something else arrives.
Cutlery skills are going very well now – he always wants to try for himself before letting us load his spoon or fork. It takes absolutely ages, but he can now manage to eat most of a pot of yoghurt all on his own – and I discovered today that giving it to him in the pot leads to much less throwing than if I decant it into a bowl. He was actually holding the pot with one hand and scooping the spoon with the other this morning! Forks are still more tricky, but he has a good stab (if you’ll excuse the pun) and has had a few more flukey successes in the past couple of weeks.
He’s also started to indicate very clearly for what he’d like to eat. This includes a request for ricecakes at virtually every meal when we’re at home! From where he sits in his highchair, he can see the shelves where we store cereal and the tins of biscuits and crackers, and whenever he glances up and spots the ricecake packet (or just the tin, now he’s clocked that we sometimes store them in there) then he points and does his “I want that” noise. Usually I reward his clear communication with some of the desired ricecake, but sometimes not – I figure he needs to understand that not every meal involves puffed rice!
He’s also finally got the hang of drinking water from a beaker – my repeated instructions to ‘tip it up’ have at last caught on, and he will usually have a good few tidy sips during each mealtime. In hindsight, I think that the number of beakers I bought in the early days, in the quest for the ‘right one’ was a bit futile – it wasn’t that it was the wrong beaker, it was just that he wasn’t ready to sip water yet. Naturally, his newly acquired drinking skills are accompanied by a range of related mealtime games, including blowing raspberries with a mouthful of water (messy, but let’s face it, very funny) and the creation of a waterplay pool when he turns his free-flow beaker upside-down on his tray.
First full day at nursery on Thursday, so my next post will probably be to convey the report of how BLW went down without mum or dad on hand…