Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My child won't finish her dinner

Not my child: someone on a parenting forum was worrying that her child wouldn't finish her dinner.

I would back right off.

It's such an anxiety, isn't it, when we don't think our children are eating enough? But by trying to force our children to eat we risk them losing any understanding themselves of when they are full, when they are hungry, what foods they do and don't like (and when we stop understanding that we are full or hungry, we open the door to being overweight later in life, or being unhealthily thin). One of the most important things your child can learn is how to self-regulate their food intake and, by definition, you can't make it happen, you have to LET it happen. (there was something about this in the papers just a couple of days ago - about parents trying to get their children to eat another spoonful and how harmful it can be in the long run)

Reassurance: no 4-year old is going to starve themself, as long as you provide food they like.

1) some people are grazers, not big meal eaters. You could try just letting go of the expectation of big meals, and providing healthy snacks for child to eat during the day.

2) I would mix up the family meal time for a bit - it can be such a big deal, yk? My feeling is that once adult meal time conversation is interesting to a child, they'll come and take part - there's no need to "train them" up to it. Have carpet picnics, TV dinners, breakfast in bed - just let go of that whole everyone-sitting-together-and talking-and-eating-together thing, because sometimes it's much easier to eat when there aren't two or more adults watching your every move.

3) can child say what she wants to eat? Go with it. You'll find it's beans on toast 3 times a day for a week, and then suddenly there'll be a day when it's all about apples or all about bananas, or it's chips with everything until suddenly rice is flavour of the month. Or maybe it'll be just chocolate for one day (I don't know many people who'd do that for more than one day, but you have to do it once to realise how icky you feel at the end of it. No lecture needed, just offer something bland like yoghurt to help the poor tummy recover!!!) Left to themselves, people don't eat a balanced diet every day, but when you work it out over a week or a month, actually all the right stuff is going in.

The more you worry, the more you will communicate your tension to your child, and the more she'll pick up that food is something to be anxious about. So you really have to chill out, if you possibly can, and then food will become more fun for everyone for many years to come!

Oh - and where did we get this thing about finishing our plateful? It's so arbitrary! My parents' generation will have picked it up in the days of rationing, and passed it on to us with new justifications. When I was little it was all about the starving children in Africa (well send them my ruddy left-over mashed potato then, I'm FULL UP!!!!)

It's taken me a long time to learn to stop eating when I'm full. Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my tummy. Sometimes the eyes of the person serving up for me are bigger than my tummy (if that makes any sense).

If you don't want to put leftover food in the bin, then
1) put it in the fridge for your own breakfast
2) only have a tiny helping yourself and then clear anyone else's plate
3) yes, tiny portions. Or maybe the meat in one little bowl and the rice in another, so if child only eats one sort of food, the rest can pop in the fridge.
4) get chickens or pigs to eat the scraps
5) start composting, and think about all that goodness going to grow next year's peas

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