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!


11 thoughts on “Food is on my mind

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the blog post from Little River School. It is such a beautiful article about Dr. Pikler. Just made my day to see it shared on your beautiful article. I am so in agreement with your post. Here in the U.S. people do tend to do the same, “One spoonful for Grandma, etc…never knowing how much a child has eaten..or wants! Dr. Pikler and Magda Gerber were so on point when it comes to respect and observation. Your post is a breath of fresh air.

    • Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate your work and writing at Little River School. The ‘One spoonfull for grandma’ bothers me a lot – it puts too much emotional strain on the child, and has really nothing to do with the food and eating!

  2. I like the idea of trusting and respecting. But how do you ensure they get the nutrients necessary? I’d be okay if my child eats a few bites and leaves the rest, my problem is some days he refuses to eat all, not even one bite. A three year old can’t live on milk alone. When kids do no eat a proper diet their health may be compromised due to nutritional deficiencies. It would be nice if you addressed this.

    • Hi Steph, thanks for reading and commenting! I am thinking about a couple of things here – no a three year old cannot live on milk alone, sure. You say ‘some days’ – how often is it? If it is occasionally, I would not think there is a need to worry, unless you know of some health issues or deficiencies. There have ben studies ( I can dig them up if you want) showing how kids regulate their diets, given healthy choices. I remember because they talked about a kid who ate eggs and eggs only for a few days (or longer) and they started to be worried. All the tests were fine, the kid turned to some otehr things later on. I would say provide healthy choices for what the kids eat, and let them decide how much. But then if you do have any concerns consulting a doctor is the best option – like I said, all this I am talking about refers to kids with no health issues. And yes, sometimes my kids go on nibbles for a few days, just eating fruit and drinking water. We actually had some days like this this past summer. We monitored it to see how long it lasted, and sure enough, they went back to eating dinners after a while.

  3. This article is refreshing. There is so much conflicting advice i have read about food and toddlers. My son is nearly three. For a year now he has not eaten vegetables. Not even sweetcorn. As a baby he did, then as s toddler he just stopped. It’s caused me a great deal of concern but knowing what I know now I wish I’d just done ‘nothing’. I’ve verbally encouraged him to eat them. I’ve tried to hide them (only successful in pizza sauce!). It’s really hard to not encourage and to remain neutral. I suppose it’s because you connect health with good food. I actually find it easier when nursery tells me he hasn’t eaten lunch there two mornings a week because the responsibility of it all-mainly choosing the meal – is out of my hands. If I decide to try something he has refused to eat in the past-like scrambled eggs-and he doesn’t eat it- I feel responsible as I chose that meal. Anyway, I think I could write a book on it all myself and am rambling! Even the latest netmums cookery book suggests a reward chart for trying a new veg every week which of course I now know I will not and should not try doing! Rebecca

    • Ahhh, Rebecca, thanks so much for your comment. Yes, it’s hard, exactly because we care. And it is not easy to let go and trust that they know what they’re doing. But the idea of reward chart made me laugh out loud – wow. I do hope you will write a book on it one day!!

  4. Such a well written and interesting post. I’m sharing this with my husband since he tends to worry when our two year old son doesn’t eat enough at meals. I try to put the healthiest, most nutritious food in front of our son and it’s his job to listen to his body and eat what he needs. Sometimes he goes days without eating much followed by days where he becomes a bottomless pit. As parents of our two year old, I think we could probably do a better job of making meal times a bit less emotional when he is going through a period of low appetite and learn to be OK with his appetite fluxuations; not expecting him to have the same appetite every single day. He is human afterall :) Thanks for writing this post!

    • Oh Kari, thanks so much for reading and for your comment. We go through the same around here! Days of eating huge amonuts, followed by days of eating fruit only. And you know what – both are fine, healthy, and look good to me :-) SO yeah, I guess apetite fluctuations, as you perfectly put it, are to be expected :-) (and when I think of it sometimes I go through them as well…. would not be so great if someone made me eat the same amount daily). Same with our food choices, and their choices how much (or sometimes, if at all…) to eat – we give the options, they listen to their bodies. And now I need to go over to your blog and look around.

  5. Thank you so much for this great post that came right on time!
    We tend to ask her to taste so that she can know for herself if she likes something or not before saying that she does/doesn’t like something – which she respects and does
    Lately, she doesn’t want to eat veggies (she loved tomatoes, cucumbers… but suddenly she doesn’t). I offer veggies on her plate to see if – maybe – she might change her mind but doesn’t.
    I’m really a great chef to be honest and have issues with healthy eating, i eat no matter what (hungry or not, and i am an emotional eater) even though, as you said obesity is not the problem
    We never *forced* food, and we offer choices but we have asked her to eat “one more spoon”…
    I have learned a lot from your article
    Thank you

    • Hi Claire,
      First of all, thanks so much (SO MUCH) for sharing. I keep wondering why food is such an issue at most hoseholds… It is such an emotional subject. Re veggies – yeah, sounds like our carrot situation, we did the same. Kept offering, zero zmotions, just putting it on the plate or table. We ate it, so finally I think he just wanted a taste. We also suggested he try something he never had before just so he can figure out for himself if he would like it or not, but never insisted if he didn’t want to try, I gotta say now (at 4 1/2) he will try anything. I mean – anything. If he doesn’t like it, he will just swallow and say he doesn’t want any more of it.
      Ahhh, food. I keep thnking about it now…

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