Food Glorious Food!

I confess that I am a bit of a food snob, a food diva, maybe even a bit of a drama queen about food.

I have a few rules for myself such as I won’t eat left overs in general, maybe sometimes but not often. I hate mince and sausages, it’s a sirloin steak for me! Vegetables must be eaten raw, I cannot stand beautiful vegetables that have been boiled to within an inch of their little lives. I do not eat chocolate or cakes, or many sweet things at all really (Because I don’t like them rather than the sugar issue). And I absolutely will not drink instant coffee even though I am a coffee girl!

Some would say I am fussy. Some do say I’m high maintenance!  I am quite happily both of these things!

My story is that I would not eat when I was a child. I simply did not want to eat and I think I simply was not hungry. I was not focussed on food and could go quite happily all day without. So my poor parents spent every meal time trying to make me eat. Some of you can relate to this I’m sure. And it would sometimes turn into forcing me or a battle of wills around “you will sit there until you eat it!” that kind of thing.

So somehow this has absolutely NOT been passed on to my own children (much to my mother’s disgust as I think she was hoping my kids would put me through what I put her through!). And I think I know why.

I love food!

Good food of course, not crappy food. I love raw food, Asian food, fresh wholesome food.

In my motherly opinion our household has a bit of a gluttony problem. The children are growing frantically. The eating is endless, and apparently there is never enough food in our house…and therefore it goes without saying that the cooking is endless, the shopping and the grocery bills and the ideas of what to buy/eat/cook…..you get the picture!

In my therapist opinion however, my children have a nice healthy appetite that many mothers would give their eye teeth for. I know that there are many families out there that struggle significantly with food issues and children’s eating problems. Whether its fussiness, stubbornness, refusal or …this is a common issue in the western world. Funny isn’t it that I don’t think they have this problem in developing countries where food is scarce.

Perhaps we have too much, perhaps our choices are too great, maybe food is just a bit too accessible. Maybe Western parents get a bit too anxious about it.

Recently there has been research into young children growing food from scratch which has shown a positive impact on their willingness to actually eat it. If they grow the carrots they are more likely to eat them.

I know my kids (unfortunately for me) love my homemade bread better than store bought. And even better is the pride and sense of accomplishment for them when they have actually done it themselves is really great to see. Children really do need to be able to contribute to the family feeding frenzy – the sense of contribution to the family is immeasurable.

So the dilemma came for me when my kids were toddlers about whether we would make (as in forcing) them eat things, and make them eat everything on the plate.

I don’t agree with this philosophy and certainly don’t agree with forcing children to do anything.

But I do agree with some consistent and frequent encouragement.

I think if we can make it interesting and fresh. If we can get them involved in the process of (growing, if you can) cooking and delivering the food to the table, then I believe children will be more likely to eat it. To me variety is the key. I am easily bored and therefore have a tendency to bore easily of food being presented the same way. I’m not particularly a fan of meat and three vegetable kind of meal but do produce it several times a week. I could graze on horderves/canapés and be entirely happy.

In my early days of parent education and support we taught parents to present the food that infants didn’t like frequently. Put it on the plate and the theory was that after about 3 weeks, or about 10 times, of this the child will eat it. I still think this is a pretty good idea.

But it’s a bit more in depth than this.

You as the parent must be able to do the perfect balance of not being anxious about it, relax, act as if you don’t really care, encourage gently but firmly. Remember – perfect balance is essential!! (ha ha does that make you nervous!)

Kind of like this “That’s OK just have a few and then leave the rest.

“You don’t have to eat everything but give it a good go please”.

“You don’t have to like everything. I eat things I don’t like sometimes. It’s just part of life and you have to practice for when you go to other people’s places. Polite behaviour, eat the yukky peas and smile”

Anyway something like that. Just keep saying the same thing. Smile and empathise….but encourage.

The more of an issue you make it the worse it can sometimes get, especially if you have a wee stubborn one on your hands. If kids are hungry they will eat. Basically it’s that simple. There are of course exceptions but we won’t get into that as it’s a more specialist area and not so common as just plain fussiness or control.

So if we look at the scene of a mum for example trying to get her kids to eat what do we see? We see unhappiness, or false happiness, or tears, or anger, or forcing, or yelling. None of these things are good for anyone and achieve nothing but problems. Even if you do manage to get your kid to eat what happens is that meal times are surrounded by bad feelings and therefore anticipating meals or food, or eating creates anxiety and is associated with anger, or sadness etc.

Usually when we are feeding babies or toddlers we are doing it on their own as in the picture below.

Note that the Mum is not eating her own food. Usually we feed very young kids early and they are eating in isolation and they do not get to experience the meal time togetherness, and eating modelling of their parents with them. If we all eat together in a positive environment with few distractions (like television) things can go a whole lot easier.

Another note is that it can be quite useful to reflect on our own meal time experiences as a child. Are they associated with good feelings or bad feelings? This can be useful to be aware of.

Remember – don’t give kids food after 4pm. No matter what.

Too many kids are eating just before dinner and then they do not want to eat, or struggle to eat dinner. Let them know that this is the new rule so they understand.

When my husband was house dad he used to say to the kids “You can have a cup of fresh air” This became quite the neighbourhood saying as we often had neighbourhood kids playing after school. Feed the kids straight away and then nothing after 4pm.

You want them to be hungry before you spend all that time preparing their delicious dinner!

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