Don’t make children eat their greens!

Read this great article in the Guardian today about fussy eating in children.

The author talks about his struggles to make his children eat their greens. It concludes that this was ultimately counter-productive and made them less likely even to try them.

Psychotherapist Susie Orbach, author of Fat Is a Feminist Issue, is quoted in the article:

She sees such anxiety as centring on issues of control and rejection of the offerer of the food rather than the food itself. In other words, you’re not getting upset when your child won’t eat because it’s not healthy. It’s because you perceive the child as rejecting your love. And the whole framing of the issue around health and nutrition – food as “medicine” – is misguided.

“As long as we make food ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ food an issue,” she says, “we are going to produce anxiety. We should just eat well when we are hungry. We need to be relaxed about it – like you pee when you need to. When nourishment is labelled ‘bad’ or ‘good’, it becomes part of an emotional language and therefore problematic.

“We have a society with rules, regulations and terrors about eating and BMIs and God knows what, and mothers being assaulted by industries to create body hatred. It’s induced.”

This story comes at a great time for me as we embark on baby-led weaning with our second. One of the main benefits, from my point of view, is the lack of control parents have over what and how much their baby’s have. I know with a more traditional weaning approach I’d have been anxiously documenting every mouthful and getting concerned over X, Y and Z. By letting Baby feed himself and deliberately stepping back this just isn’t an issue. Any temporary lack of hunger or dislike of a food one day just isn’t a big issue and is not something likely to be blown out of proportion. We’ve not had a single ‘bad’ mealtime as Baby always enjoys playing and experimenting with what we give him. No stress meals are fab.

This isn’t to say we don’t have our food fad issues with our three year old. Despite BLW him he can be fussy from time to time. He much prefers food separated out into distinct bits rather than mixed together. This is a shame as he no longer eats and enjoys his Dad’s cottage pie. He also claims not to like onions which is annoying as they are a staple of many meals. But by serving his food slightly earlier in the preparation process, before it gets mixed together, we can usually prevent any issues fairly painlessly.

Three year old Bub definitely has a feast or famine approach to food. Some weeks he eats everything we give him and then wants more. He’ll consume adult portions of meals and is endlessly hungry. Usually these phases coincide with him growing two inches almost overnight. But other times he has almost no appetite. Three small mouthfuls of a meal and he claims to be done. On these days he appears to eat almost nothing and you think he might waste away. This is a pattern we’ve observed in him over several years and we’ve learned to put our anxieties to one side somewhat. I know that trying to control or influence his appetite would be unhelpful and stress inducing on all sides. I thank my lucky stars I was baby-led weaning when he was younger as this feast/famine approach would have driven anyone doing purée/spoon feeding nuts.

Mealtimes in our house aren’t perfect. But any issues we have probably say more about me than him and I try to keep that in mind. I do feel bad when I cook something new and he won’t even try it. But forcing him would remove any traces of enjoyment from the meal and probably make him even more fussy next time. So I try to resist.

“It’s very difficult with children,” says Orbach. “You want to give them something delicious and nutritious, but children go through food fads when they are rejecting many foods. It’s just part of their development. Probably you will feel upset, but you must approach the issue in a neutral way. Don’t lose your rag. The meal table should never be a site of conflict. You shouldn’t make any threats around food.”

Good advice, I’ll try to remember it!

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