“Mommy can I have dessert? I’ve been really good and ate all my carrots!”
Hearing my oldest daughter (she is now 6) say these words made me cringe and realize I’m doing something terribly wrong. The last thing I want her to associate with dessert is that it’s a treat she gets only when she is “good”, dessert has a contingency tied to it as eating her vegetables and eating vegetables makes her “good”. I am a dietitian and a Mom but, this just proves I am struggling with the same challenges all parents have been faced with when feeding their children.
When I first started my practice as a pediatric dietitian 17 years ago, I considered myself book smart. I eagerly read everything I needed to know about feeding children. I attended conferences, networked with other colleagues and listened to others explain their food struggles with their children. The most important aspect I was missing was the life experience of actually having and feeding my own children.
When my oldest was born, I re-read some of my favorite books on feeding children. A personal favorite is “Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense”, by Ellyn Satter. I made a commitment to listen to her hunger cues, offer a variety of healthy food options and allow her to make her own choices on the amount she wanted to eat. It was important for her to learn to trust her own internal cues to establish a healthy relationship with food.
It’s not about the carrots.
A notable quote from Ellyn Satter regarding the division of responsibility in feeding and what I have always taught the families I’ve worked with. ”Parents determine the what, when and where of feeding and children decide the whether and how much of eating. It’s based on trust and choice. The child trusts the parents will come through with reliable meals, the parents trusts the child knows how much to eat and the kids ultimately understand that he has the choices to eat or not.” After hearing my daughter’s request for dessert, I got the wake-up call. I wasn’t trusting my daughter to decide the How and Whether at mealtime. With a young toddler now added to the mix, it’s clear there are areas my husband and I can do better, despite doing a lot of things right as in the What, When and Where department. My daughter no longer has to finish her vegetables prior to having dessert, when it’s available. Perhaps one night soon I’ll shock the family by including the dessert on the table at the beginning of each meal (common practice in the Intuitive Eating approach). My daughter has already shocked me with “Where are my carrots, Mom?” when I didn’t put them out one night.
Stay tuned for future blog posts as I continue to discuss common challenges to feeding children. Through shared experiences, I hope to offer simple solutions we can all use.