By Joe Carr
I thought it was my job as a parent to get as much nutritious food into Della as possible. I filled her plate with large portions of nutrient dense meats and veggies, and shoveled food in her mouth as fast as possible. When she said she was all done, I would try to convince her to eat a few more bites. If she threw food, dumped over her plate, or vigorously shook her tray, I would tolerate it and just keep feeding her. If she insisted on getting down before the food was gone, I followed her around putting bites in her mouth until it was gone. I even started bribing her with a bath (her current favorite thing) if she finished her food.
Apparently, this was all wrong!
First of all, I was violating her. What if someone locked you in a chair and insisted you eat when you didn’t want to? Or followed you around shoveling food in your mouth? Even our pets feed themselves. I was treating Della like a plant that I must feed and water for it to grow. When in reality, she’s a person who gets hungry, enjoys good food, and will happily eat as much as she needs to.
I was also unconsciously encouraging mindless eating. By feeding her while she played, or bribing her with a bath I was teaching her that she should not pay attention to her food, and eat for reasons other than because she’s hungry. Not habits I want her to have!
Janet Landsbury’s Unruffled Podcast on this subject blew my mind. Turns out it isn’t my job as a parent to make sure Della eats. It’s my job to offer healthy foods and let her decide when and how much she eats. Janet outlines a clear strategy on how to do this.
Guidelines for Healthy Mealtimes:
Ultimately our most important job as parents is to set our children up for a lifetime of healthy eating by encouraging a positive relationship with food. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and trust your body to know what it needs. As long as we limit access to foods that are hyper-palatable and addictive like sugar and processed foods, their intuition will guide them without fail.
How to Transition
Since Della was used to my old way of forced-feeding it took us time to transition our mealtimes. Before each meal I said, “We’re going to be eating a little differently now. You're going to decide what and how much you eat. Let me know when you’re done and mealtime will be over. If you throw food or try to get out of your chair I’ll know you’re done and mealtime will be over.” And then I had to follow through! Again and again. And she learned quickly!
Now Della sometimes eats less volume than she did before, and may not eat the perfect ratio of meat and veggies at every meal, but she feeds herself easily, doesn’t throw food, and tells me when she’s done. I am much less stressed about feeding her, and I know that she is learning good food habits to last a lifetime.
I’d love to hear you’re feeding stories and how you do it!
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