Long before I became a parent myself, I was mortified looking at parents and their children engaged in constant mealtime battles. My heart ached for the parents and seeing the kids uninterested in food was mind-boggling. This wasn’t the simple “ take a spoon of food like an airplane and reach your baby’s mouth” kind of strategy. The stakes were higher, the bribes bigger and the battle seemed never-ending. Fast forward to a few years later when I was expecting my first child, sure enough, I was reading about healthy food habits, even before my baby was born. Surely it could be helpful to learn about some good food habits pretty early on. Did it help? Yes. Did I stress over my child’s eating anyway? Definitely yes. Despite keeping all the knowledge I had gathered in mind, I still ended up with some battles and frustration. Learning not to stress over your child’s eating takes practice. I’m getting there and it’s been absolutely worth it.
Raising a healthy eater involves some effort. Being consistent, patient and getting your child involved surely helps. Most of all, you must trust the process. Children's’ appetites keep changing, especially after the initial phase of rapid growth in the first two years. They might experience an increase as they go through growth spurts, while an illness or congestion might cause a severe decrease. Also, as toddlers reach developmental milestones, they might want to assert their independence or test boundaries. They might be more interested in playing and running around than sitting for a meal or also be picky about their food in an attempt to assert independence. So at all times, we must understand that our kids are not going to eat the same way, the same quantity nor with the same enthusiasm.
A book that greatly helped me in setting some rules around food, was “French Children Don’t Throw Food" by Pamela Druckerman. As with all books, you can’t apply everything you read but it can give you a different perspective. Not only was it an insightful read about a different approach towards food but I must admit, some if not all of the food habits mentioned in the book have stayed with me, many years later. I definitely can’t boast that my children eat everything I offer them, simply because they don’t. Neither do they stay off junk completely. But what we do have are mostly fairly enjoyable mealtimes and a balance of most kinds of food. On most days, we get in our veggies and fruits and on other days, we eat fries for lunch and ice cream for dinner. Experience has rightfully taught me that forbidding a category of food completely only makes it more attractive to kids (and adults too).
It is helpful to remind ourselves that we can’t expect children to eat every bite of food on their plate every single time. Most paediatricians will tell you that if your child’s height and weight are in the range of what’s expected for their age, there shouldn’t be a reason for you to worry about their food intake. It’s a fact you have to remind yourself at every meal, that we can’t expect our child to have a consistent appetite or eat in the same dedicated fashion every day. I’m no expert on food habits or healthy eating but here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way.
Mealtimes battles are no fun and definitely don’t serve the purpose, so I agree we might as well practice keeping our calm and enjoy our time together. It takes a little time and a lot of reminding ourselves but eating together must be a time we look forward to and enjoy. I once read in a book “As a parent, your job is to give your child the opportunity to eat healthy food. Your child decides how much they want to eat or if they want to eat at all”. I'm learning to agree with that. It is the only part we have to play in our child’s eating habits, giving them the opportunity.
Make plenty of healthy food available in the house and keep them at eye level. Keep the sugary drinks and processed foods out of sight and offer them as occasional treats. Let your child learn to understand their hunger cues and enjoy a variety of foods. If you are concerned about your child’s growth and eating, talk to your paediatrician who can put your worries to rest.