Food is on my mind

Food. I have been talking to so many people about food lately, that really I just have to write about it. I don’t know where to start, so I’m thinking back to the table I left at home going to work the other day. A little table with a finished breakfast. Well, finished in our definition of what it means – there was still some food on the plate when Antek took his bib off, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, smiled and walked away. A few mouthfulls of scrambled eggs. A couple of bites of bread. Some tea on the bottom of the glass. Breakfast is finished. We don’t go for ‘One more spoon? For Mummy?’

My husband and I had our own struggle around it. We love eating, we love food, and we love spending time in the kitchen. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that, quite a while ago we realised that our eating habits are not what we want them to be, and that Pawel’s portion of pasta would really shock you (and the fact that you can’t see him from behind all this food). How can we know that enough is enough? How can we know if we’re eating because we’re still hungry, or because we simply don’t know when to stop. Neither of us has a problem with obesity, but healthy eating habits are about more than that, you’ll agree. So we mindfully worked through our eating habits, we slowed down and started listening to our bodies more. And we let our kids do the same. Just so they maybe don’t have to go through the same thinking we are doing right now, in the future. Fingers crossed.

Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat. (from an interview with Emmi Pikler, reproduced on Little River School blog)

As always, we have found that it’s all about trust and respect. Trusting your child to know how much he needs, and respecting his decision to stop. Trusting your child that he knows his body better than anyone else, and respecting this body enough not to want to impose your will. All of this, if practices early, can lead to life-long benefits.  But recently I have been talking to so many people about food so many times, that it has led me to believe it’s not only these kinds of benefits we are talking about here…

Know when to stop

The first years of life are all about learning. It’s all one big experience (not that it changes much after that) and also learning how to learn. Learning what we like and what we don’t like. Learning what we are comfortable with. Learning what is and what is not acceptable to us. But, as ever, this kind of learning needs to be done by the child himself. We can talk about it, we can explain things all we want – but at the end of the day, this kind of learning needs to be coming from experience.

In letting our kids eat  as much or as little as they want, we hope to let them learn how their body feels about certain things. When they’ve had enough, Kala gets up, takes her bib of and sometimes says thank you ( ‘jeen’) and hands me the plate. Or just smiles and walks away. When Antek is done, regardless of what is left on the plate, he usually says ‘I’m done’ or ‘Thank you’ and walks away to play. Sometimes he takes his plate into the kitchen :) Letting them stop when they wants to stop we are letting them walk away when they’ve had enough. And this does not only apply to food.

We want our children to know when to stop. To know when to say ‘no’ and walk away. I can imagine that when our kids are teenagers, we will want them to know all of this even more. We will probably pray that they know when to say ‘no’ and ‘I’ve had anough’. But for them to be able to do that comfortably, we also need to respect when they say ‘no’ to us. Especially, when it is about things they know better than we do – when it is about themselves.

Emotional experience

Just like anything else that goes on between our children and us, eating and feeding is an emotional time. For all those involved. I remember how hard it was for Pawel when he prepared a meal and Antek would not eat it. And of course ‘I’ve made all this for you and you are walking away’ is definitely something that was on his mind. But he never once let Antek know that he thought that, and learnt to trust our son, and let go of the expectations. And that always pays off :)

We have this thing in Poland, where parents will sit down with babies and feed them spoonfulls that are always for someone (now, I have no idea if this is a universal thing or not?). ‘One for Mummy. One for Daddy. One for Granny….’ The list goes on, the child gets fed, nobody knows how much or how little he really needed to eat. But this, again, is not just about food. It’s a pretty heavy load, now that I think about it, for a child to stop even when he is full. After all, if he’s had one spoon for Mummy, will he not have one for Daddy?

My husband has recently told me an adult version of this, which really is just the same. When you go out and don’t want to have a drink with someone (and by drink in this situation we usually mean a shot of vodka) the ‘normal’ response is: ‘Come on. You won’t drink with ME?’ well…

Trust me, you’ll like it

Antek had a couple of months when he would not touch a carrot. Kala is going through the same thing right now, funny enough. We never worry about it, but unforunately we mentioned it to someone, who seemed to find it a bit problematic. The advice which followed included things as varied as giving him only carrots so he had no choice, through to giving him other things mashed with carrots, so he would not notice. Now, needles to say, we did neither.

First of all, we don’t think it’s abnormal not to like something. We usually don’t see it as something unusual when it comes to adults (think about having all your friends over for dinner at once… I would probably have to serve water). The problem with children is that we tend to worry that they will not get what they need, or that they are becoming ‘picky’. Since we tend to trust our kids that they will know what they need, we didn’t worry about the first one. And we keep offering carrots once in a while. In the beginning, we just ate them ourselves. Until, of  course, one day Antek grabbed one, ate it, and has loved carrots since. Kala is not there yet. She might never get to love carrots, and that’s ok too.

There are several important things we wanted to remember with the carrot ‘situation’. It’s ok not to like something, so if he ended up just not liking carrots in the end, we would also not have a problem with that. But more than that, we disagree with cheating anyone into doing anything – and in our ears ‘mashing everything so he doesn’t know carrot is there’ is cheating. We don’t want our son to  lie to us. We will not lie to him. And that goes far beyond carrots.

Do you have any particular food-related struggles? Or stories you would like to sare? We always love to hear from you!

Anna