There’s a big misconception in the practice of feeding babies and children. A misconception so pervasive and far-reaching that it has affected how most of us feed our kids.
I will get to this falsehood in a second. But first, let me ask you a question (and you can answer whether you’re a parent, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, a daycare provider or simply a bystander to the challenges of mealtime):
How do you define a successful mealtime? Simply put, how do you judge whether a child is eating well? What measure or scale do you subconsciously (or consciously) use to evaluate a child’s eating?
Whether we care to admit it or not, most of the time the answer has something to do with the quantity consumed. We might exclaim in delight “Look at little Sofia, she ate all her broccoli! She’s such a good eater!” or “Baby Elliott gobbled up a big bowl of spaghetti! What a good boy”. Sometimes we might be scrutinizing what the child ate: did they eat more of the “healthy” foods? Did they ask for seconds of veggies? Did they eat something other than the noodles on their plate? Bottom line: we tend to equate success with WHAT and HOW MUCH a child ate.
Here’s the thing, and now I reveal the fallacy, a successful mealtime is not defined by quantity. It is defined by quality.
Yes awesome parents and caregivers of the world: how much your child ate means little to me as a dietitian. Let’s say your little one DID eat a giant plate of food, if the mealtime was chaos and there was pleading and begging and coaxing and bribing and distractions galore, well let’s just say that by definition (and not just my own) mealtime is actually not going so well.
Successful eating means a lot more than amounts. It means a pleasant and positive eating environment, it means families eating together and children eating according to their developmental abilities. It means cooking and serving one meal and knowing that everyone at the table has at least one food they can fill up on. It means going to a restaurant or a friend’s place or an event and knowing your child can make do with whatever food is served there. It means peace. It means being okay with your child’s up-and-down appetite, knowing that they will make up their intake tomorrow or the next day or next week.
Quality doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes families need guidance and help to achieve it. That’s okay. Feeding our children has become a confusing and often anxiety-fraught task. There is so much going on! Food companies that barrage you with a plethora of the latest and greatest snacks, the internet flooded with so much misinformation, well-meaning friends and family trying to provide advice. And of course your own self-doubt. But there is a better way.
I counsel families to follow one exceptional strategy, Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility. It works. It often takes some finessing and mastering, but it works. In essence, you as the parents decide WHAT, WHERE and WHEN your child eats; and your child (baby, toddler, preschooler or school aged child) decides HOW MUCH TO EAT. It sounds like a simple strategy, and it is, but it often requires unlearning not-so-positive practices and adopting some positive feeding dynamics.
If there is one thing I would urge you to start with today, it would be to have sit down meals and snacks. That means all (or most) eating happens at the table, with no distractions (TV, tablets, games, toys and so on). You eat with your child(ren) for social interaction and role modeling. And you enjoy your food while your children enjoy theirs.
If you would like to learn about this strategy and how to make it work for your family, I am running a 1 hour workshop in Milton next month, the details are as follows:
Thursday, June 25th at 7:30pm
$25 per guest, this will include light refreshments and information package
Location to be provided upon registration
(in Milton, Savoline Rd. and Main St. area)
Please call 905-580-1803 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register and reserve your spot!
Banish mealtime chaos and learn how to deal with your picky eater once and for all!