food is not an "issue", part 1

Hellooo! Today's lesson in Parenting and Lifestyle Management will focus on the feeding of children. I do not intend to cast aspersions against those who make three separate meals for a child, each of which is requested by said child and then refused, ultimately resulting in the child consuming one bite of pelau, one bite of chicken salad sandwich and one bite of cereal. A balanced and nutritious meal, to be sure, but one which involves an hours' worth of thought, cajoling, whining, cooking and much washing of dishes and throwing away of food.

I believe, and studies have shown, (dude, research it yourself) that a normal child who is offered several healthy meals a day will not starve to death. I also believe that some people need to eat more and have a faster metabolism, and some people need less, and some people can be naturally healthy vegetarians, while some need more meat protein... If they are allowed to listen to their bodies. Little babies are born, generally, knowing when they need to eat. During a growth spurt, (typically at around 3 weeks, 6 weeks and 3 months or so) babies can nurse all day long. This increases their mothers' milk supply naturally, and within a day or so, they space their feeds out again. Often this instinct is squashed early, with babies being left hungry because "but he just had a bottle!" or forced to eat more because "he hasn't eaten in three hours!" Many toddlers quickly learn that we must not eat when we are hungry, ONLY when we have lost a battle of will power against an authority figure. They must eat because they are good, or strong like daddy, or in order to have a special treat, or to avoid punishment.

No wonder so many of us grow up and eat only when we are fed, advertised to, or feel we have lost control of our own will. Many of us don't even know when we are hungry. We have been trained to eat when we are told, or when we have lost a battle.

I am lucky. Food in our home was always a good family time, and the only time my mother tore her hair out over my eating was when I, as a skinny fourteen, became vegetarian. She begged me to eat occasional meat. My own babies, therefore, were lucky to have a breastfeeding-on-demand mother with no hangups about food. When they began to eat solids, it was never a big deal if they wanted nothing, or banana for two weeks straight, or spinach, or oatmeal. They had the breast, and gradually figured out how to communicate hunger, and even what kind of hunger.

Chas and Sam are big eaters, and both taller than average. Chas didn't want meat till he was around seven, which suited me fine. But when Sam came along, I had to start cooking meat. That boy will eat an entire chicken in one sitting. I don't keep junk food in the house, and enjoy baking cookies and things. I reduce the sugar in most recipes, and use plenty of whole grains. I would say that Chas and Sam reinforced my belief that kids will eat healthily if they are allowed to. If they have a "not hungry" day, it may be that they are fighting off a bug, or very tired. They make up for it at the next meal, or the next day, and they like a huge range of foods. Sometimes, they go on a salad kick, or crave omelettes, or MUST have baked potatoes. Sometimes they sit under the portugal (tangerine?) tree and eat portugals till they pee orange. Sometimes they make Betty Crocker cookies or brownies, with huge mess and much tasting of batter, and we have a tea party with the remaining cookie.

Max is more of a challenge. He is small, and has never been a big eater. My natural response was to compare him with his Voracious Cannibal brothers, who would be devouring man-sized plates of beef stew with beans and veg. Max would eat his tomatoes, some brown rice, and then say "I'm full!"

Silly me, I would say "No you aren't!" (aha! I have just denied my son power over his eating, AND made him feel that he cannot trust himself!) "have three more bites" (three? Why this random three?)

It took some time, and several doctor check-ups, for me to trust Max and leave him be. He is very healthy, bright and energetic, and he will probably always be a skinny shrimp (though his height is average). I feed him first, and give him a minute or so head start before his brothers begin inhaling their food, because he is a slow eater. It is no fun for him to be at the table alone, while his brothers rush off to play and I go washing up. I am more careful about his snacks: nuts, yogurt, eggs, cream cheese on toast- protein snacks, designed to bulk him up. He likes these, but most of all, he would love to live on tomatoes, bananas, and cucumber.

I told Max once, "listen to your tummy, not to me. Sometimes I want to fatten you up, and I forget that it is your own tummy, not mine!" Now, we have a standing joke when I say the knee-jerk "two more bites!": Max stands up in his chair, pulls up his jersey and sticks out his belly. He looks like a starving Biafran, which doesn't help my mothering instincts. He says "Look at my tummy! It is SO BIG!"

Oh yeah, and I can count your ribs, dude! But if I don't trust you, my little shrimp, you will never trust yourself. I would rather have my skinny, self-confident, tomato-loving little rockstar than the toughest carnivore on the block with food issues.

Part two, coming soon: Issa, the boy who lived on sugar and white bread and ketchup.


Anonymous said…
You nailed it! And I Stumbled it.
Be prepared for plenty comments.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this post.
We are having food control issues and we are guilty of doing the "3 more bites" routine.
We do the same as junk in the house, healthy snacks.
Why is food such a battleground? We are working really hard on improving things...this was a great post for me to read.
Ash said…
My eldest eats when she wants to, we eat three meals a day, and keep the fridge sticked with juice and yogurt. If she doesn't like what we are having, she has to try one bite. don't like it? Have a yogurt.
I spent YEARS fighting the battle only to releise that it was a lost damn cause.
I'm feeding on demand to my 7th month old, with an occasional cherrio or fruit and vegitable solid thrown her way.

Kids are kids and I have other battles to fight then ones over food.

Excellent post!
Nan Sheppard said…
This seems to be a big topic. Keep your comments (and suggestions too!) coming!
Skettleton said…
Awwww I loved this post. I have a peanut butter, banana eating, yuck I hate chicken little man. He's a tiny little thing and I have no idea where he gets energy for all that running. Must be the peanut butter. The doctor constantly tells me he won't starve himself, just make sure I get good things in when he wants to eat and I try to remind myself of that from time to time. I do try the 'just one more bite' thing at times as well. But for the most part I try to let him decide what he wants out of his options and even though peanut butter, bananas or tomatoes win most times I try not to worry too much.
Anonymous said…
I enjoyed that post
Kellykat said…
Wow! I wish more parents practiced these principals with their children. To this day I still have issues being a member of the Clean Plate Club, I wish that I had been given the opportunity to choose for myself so that I could have developed the ability to read my hunger they way your children are. Cheers to you!
witchypoo said…
Hi Nan:
I just wanted you to know I was thinking fondly of you.
Nan Sheppard said…
Witchypoo! You crossed my mind just the other day. I hope all is well! I haven't blogged in ages, but it's all good here :)