- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

The latest battle front in the Stewart household these days is the kitchen. Lisa and I are pitting our combined wits and intellect against 9-month-old Jeremy "Stonewall" Stewart and his finicky eating habits.

It's a game of "hotter-colder," the childhood game in which you directed your friends toward a hidden object by telling them if they were getting hotter or colder. With Jeremy, it's smiles and grunts of approval or screeches and clamped lips.

I inadvertently opened the floodgates to this nutritional war when I said to Lisa several months back, while we were discussing Jeremy's impending move to solid food, "I don't want to play any stupid games with him to get him to eat, like 'choo-choo train' or something like that. There are enough indignities in my life as a daddy right now. Sean was a quick learner at the kitchen table; I'll bet Jeremy will be, too."

Wrong, wrong, wrong. If I should have learned anything from my recent Family Times story on birth order, it's that second children frequently are the opposite of firstborns in personality and temperament. Sean did, indeed, make a smooth transition to solid food. With Jeremy, I am making a smooth transition to a mental institution.

The game starts every mealtime. The first big decision we have to make is whether Jeremy wants food or just a bottle. We plop him in his highchair. He whines. BUZZZZZ. Thanks for playing; let's give a warm hand to Mommy and Daddy.

Or he'll smile. We're getting warmer. He wants food. We go to the pantry and pull out a box of Cheerios. Big ear-to-ear smile, plus grunts and waving hands. As Marv Albert would say, "Yesssssss."

Or perhaps not. Maybe it will be another whine. Um, think fast. this isn't "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," in which you get to sit around for 15 or 20 minutes trying to win $125,000 by guessing in which war "M*A*S*H" was set.

You run to the fridge and pull out a container of yogurt. Smiles all around. You win. Breakfast is conquered.

We have been waging this food fight for a couple of months now, ever since it became apparent that Jeremy simply didn't like baby food. He got through that "stage one" period all right, but after that he wanted nothing to do with baby food. He would clamp his lips shut so tightly we couldn't even wedge a spoon in, and he learned how to cry without even opening his mouth. Pinching his nostrils shut until he turned a nice robin's-egg blue didn't work, either.

We discovered the secret quite innocently at breakfast one morning. Jeremy was in his highchair, remnants of a failed attempt to get him to eat baby-food oatmeal still on his face. I poured a bowl of Cheerios for Sean and me.

Jeremy's eyes lit up, and he sat bolt upright in his highchair. He began to whine.

"Would you like some Cheerios?" I asked, holding up the box. Jeremy whined and smiled. (I know, I know you just had to be there.) I was getting warmer. I sprinkled some on his tray. He attacked them with both hands.

A few days later, Lisa and I were eating bananas at the breakfast table. Jeremy whined again, eyes glued to the food.

"I guess he wants to skip right over baby food and go for the real thing," Lisa surmised.

"Whatever," I said. "It's working; that's all that matters."

Jeremy has proved to be a big fan of starch. He loves his Cheerios, almost every morning, in fact, and last week he started eating a few crumbs of bread, too. He also seems to like fruit, especially bananas, and yogurt. There's no rhyme or reason to what he wants to eat on a given day. You just have to go to the pantry or the refrigerator and play the game.

Now if only there were a way to work "hotter-colder" into toilet training next year.

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for the Family Times. He can be reached at stewar@twtmail.com.

More info:

Books -

"Coping With a Picky Eater," by Dr. William G. Wilkoff, Simon & Schuster, 1998. Dr. Wilkoff offers sound advice on helping children develop healthy eating habits.
"How to Get Your Kid to Eat … But Not Too Much," by Ellyn Satter, Bull Publishing Co., 1987. This books provides psychological tips for parents who have fussy eaters.
"Baby Let's Eat," by Rena Coyle and Patricia Messing, Workman Publishing Co., 1987. The authors discuss homemade recipes parents can use if their infants and toddlers don't seem to like baby food.
"Poor Eaters: Helping Children Who Refuse to Eat," by Joel Macht, Perseus, 1998.

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