By Dina Cohen, MS RDN CEDRD
One of the best cures for perfectionism has got to be having twins. One baby definitely changes the dynamics of your life, but when there are two, the odds of things going as planned are even more drastically reduced. If one baby manages to stay clean, the other one will surely spit up all over her carefully matched outfit – and yours. If one accommodates your busy schedule, the other refuses to nap. If one happily consumes the meal you worked hard to prepare, the other may turn up her nose at it. Raising twins effectively erases the last vestiges of any illusion of control.
While I was expecting my babies, I read Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, an American author now living in France, and I was enthralled by her description of the way French kids eat. Apparently, they enjoy a sophisticated, varied menu, and picky eating is seemingly nonexistent. Wow! Imagine having kids like that! I knew it would take more work to ensure that my babies tried a wide range of foods from a young age, but I wanted my children to have a healthy, positive relationship with food, and naturally, I sought to avoid the power struggles that can result from dealing with picky eaters. Excited by what I’d read, I looked forward to starting my twins, Adele and Rebecca, on their first solid foods.
The first few weeks were a lot of fun. They are seven months old now and I still love watching the funny faces they make when they taste their first spoonful of a new food. Because I spend so much of my time working to help kids (and adults!) try new healthy foods, it’s a pleasure to be able to serve items like salmon, tofu, beans, and avocado to eager customers who don’t know yet that some people consider these foods yucky. But I’m learning that the only predictable part of this process is the work I put in. After I’ve cooked, mixed, and pureed the day’s treats and settled the babies into their high chairs, all I can do is hope. They are generally easy to please, but sometimes they’ll eat just one spoonful of a new food and turn down the rest. (Quinoa, for example, was not a success…but we’ll try again!) Some days, one or both will refuse a previously enjoyed food, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Their appetites will vary from day to day and meal to meal, and I never know exactly how things will turn out. Adele is clearly the more enthusiastic eater and seems braver when it comes to new textures and flavors, but a couple of nights ago, after tasting turkey for the first time, she went on strike. Rebecca, who is usually much more hesitant with food, happily finished her sister’s portion. Feeding my babies it teaching me to let go of my expectations and to respect each baby as her own little person with her own unique preferences.
Much of my work with pediatric clients is based on Ellyn Satter’s philosophy of division of responsibility in feeding children. I explain to parents that they are in charge of the timing and content of meals and snacks, but they are not responsible for how much their children eat or whether they choose to eat at all. They also do not have control over how their children’s bodies turn out. Adele and Rebecca provide me with my own miniature twin study right here at home. Adele is fascinated by watching her parents eat, and she’s the one making eager little noises at mealtime. When Adele is particularly hungry, she may get two spoonfuls for every one spoonful Rebecca gets. And guess who the bigger baby is? Surprise…it isn’t Adele!
I’ve come to accept that as with so many things in life, my children’s eating is going to be unpredictable, and that my efforts and their outcome are often unrelated. I must admit that while the babies enjoy my homemade yogurt, their favorite food seems to be jarred fruit. They’ll eat their broccoli, but they clearly would rather have applesauce. (My dietitian brain knows it’s their innate preference for sugar, but I have a feeling they know they’re American!) I’m going to keep doing what I can to ensure that the girls get the best possible start, but I realize that that’s all I can do – set the stage. My babies will eat the way they want to eat and grow the way they’re destined to grow. And while they’re busy experiencing new tastes and flavors, their mom is savoring the sweetness of stepping back and letting go.
Dina Cohen, MS, RDN, CEDRD provides nutritional counseling for clients of all ages and specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. She is dedicated to helping kids and their families develop lifelong healthy habits and a positive relationship with food. Her private practice, Eatwellsoon, is located Lakewood, NJ, where she lives with her husband and twin daughters.