My kids are what you would call “good eaters.” They eat a variety of food and they eat a decent amount of it. But the reason they are good eaters? Because I would never tell them they are.
The other day we were at a friend’s house. She had a bunch of delicious snacks out, including chocolate muffins. We all put food onto our plates. My 3 year old was VERY excited. He loves chocolate muffins. I do too, so I completely understand the excitement. With about a quarter of his muffin left, he said “mummy, my belly is full.” Then we wiped his hands and he continued to play. I popped the rest of his muffin in my mouth, finished my own and finished all the rest of the snacks on my plate. That’s when I realized, my belly was full a few snacks ago. I didn’t need all the food I quickly ate without thinking.
So how is it, my 3 year old son is already better at listening to his body and hunger cues than I am?!
Well that’s because I’ve been very careful to never control how much food he eats and I always encourage him to listen to his body.
Most of us weren’t raised this way. Most of us were raised to finish our plates. And if we were lucky enough, finishing our plates meant dessert would follow. I believe this has created a generation (or more!) of emotional eating adults who’ve never been taught to listen to hunger/full cues. I believe it’s also swung the pendulum the other way. Creating parents who want to do things differently, and are willing to make multiple meals for their kids (or encourage other bad habits like walking around and eating), just go get them to eat.
So how do I feed my kids?
We follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility. Check out her website for the details, but ultimately, this means I control where we eat and what we eat. My kids control how much they eat. It’s simple.
I make food, I fill the plate with the healthiest food I can manage that day (some days it’s chicken nuggets and fries, other days it’s organic quinoa and broccoli pancakes) and then I serve it to them. I don’t make a second (or third!) meal if they don’t want the first.
I just let them eat.
Or don’t eat.
And that’s it.
There’s no.. “just try a bite”… or… “one more bite”…
There’s no… “good job!” … or… “look how much your sister ate”…
And if they don’t eat, I make sure snack or meal that follows is something they really like. That way I know if they’re hungry, they’ll definitely eat.
Now what does this do? It takes the power struggle out of it all. They don’t feel external pressure so they can decide themselves what to eat or not.
The other thing we don’t do is save “dessert” for after dinner. If we have dessert (fruit, ice cream, whatever), then it gets served WITH dinner. You’d be amazed at how what you consider dessert doesn’t get eaten first and completely, when it’s not viewed as something more special than what’s on the rest of the plate. My kids will eat a bite of cookie, then eat their pasta, then another bite of cookie, then some protein. Another plus is this way they don’t race their way through dinner just to get to the prize, dessert.
Eating should be about enjoying the company, enjoying the food and listening to your body.
Not racing through one meal to get to something better.
So, when we get together with friends or relatives and they compliment my child on their eating, they’ll surely look confused. Eating isn’t something we reward. Eating isn’t something we punish. Eating is just about eating.
So, how do you start?
Now, I’m not a dietitian but I will tell you what’s worked for my family. If you have questions, definitely find a dietitian to speak with.
- Serve “dessert” with the rest of the meal.
- Don’t make a backup meal if your child doesn’t eat the first one you serve.
- Try and serve one thing on their plate you know they’ll eat. For instance if I’m serving one kind of food for dinner I’m not sure they’ll eat, I’ll also include something I KNOW they’ll eat.
- Don’t praise your child’s eating.
- Don’t disapprove of their eating either.
- Don’t compare. What one child does or does not eat has nothing to do with their friend or sibling.
- Instead of worrying about your child’s consumption, focus on connection. Stop multitasking and sit next to your child.
- Have them help you prepare meals. My kids are WAY more likely to eat the food they helped make.
- Rules and boundaries. My kids know if they stand up and walk away from the table, their food will be taken away. They know there’s no eating and walking along with other rules. Set the boundaries that are important to you and follow through.’
- Explore. Eating isn’t just about food consumed. If you’re serving your kids something new to eat. They may just smell it, touch it, stare at it, lick it! They may do everything except eat it and you can inwardly cringe. But remember this is all part of the experience.
- Don’t give up. I served broccoli to my son about 20 times before he actually ate it. In those 20 servings, sometimes he told me he didn’t like it, other times he completely avoided it and occasionally he’d try it. Then on about the 20th time, he ate every bit of broccoli I served and asked for more!
Anyway, I know kids are frustrating and I know it’s not always possible to keep your cool… especially when it comes to something they need to stay alive (FOOD) but just try taking the stress out of it. You may be surprised how your kids start focusing on eating, instead of pissing you off. HA.