I’ve been observing how us parents are with our kids around food, including myself. I’ve been noticing how some folks insist their kid eats everything on their plate. I’ve also been observing my own tendencies and the language that I use with Joshi around food. And it’s got me thinking. The conclusion I’ve come to is that mealtimes are yet another opportunity for practicing mindfulness.
How Mindful Are You Around Your Kid’s Eating?
“Come on, finish your food, eat up.” Do these words sound familiar to you? The parent’s goal is for their kid to finish the food. Or how about, “Once you’ve eaten all your food you can go and play.” Same goal but with a bit of bribery thrown in. I’m not just pointing a finger here. I’ve noticed that I too have a tendency to encourage Joshi (now 17 months) to finish what’s put in front of him, and I have to consciously stop myself from running with it sometimes. After all, why should he eat everything on his plate? Of course it’s not great to waste food. And yes, we can all be reminded of the huge amount of people on the planet who are starving, and that’s a big problem on our planet, but is that a good reason to spoil your kid’s digestive systems and create a potentially life-long habit of overeating? For me, one of the main ways for you to avoid spoiling your digestive system is this: If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If your child’s not hungry, don’t force or strongly encourage him/her to eat.
This is one of the reasons why I was drawn to do baby-led weaning with Joshi. If you want to learn more about how to do it this book is a good starting point: Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater (affiliate link). I think a kid’s got a much better chance of learning how to properly regulate their eating with baby led weaning. Instead of puréeing or mashing food and spooning it down your kid’s throat they get to choose what to eat and when to stop eating. The way I see it with Joshi is that surely he knows better than I do about when he’s had enough. After all, I’m not able to feel the sensations in his tummy which tell him he’s had enough. I’ve often watched moms shoveling spoonful after spoonful into their some pretty majorly disinterested baby’s mouths. I’ve watched some of those babies either just keep going, like robots, even though they have zilch interest in the food. I’ve watched other babies either spit it out or ‘allow’ it to spill out as fast as their mums are shoveling it in. Yukky. And poor kid. Your kid can’t learn how to regulate their eating when you do this to them.
Do You Allow Your Kid To Have Preferences Around Food?
If I put food in front of Joshi and he doesn’t eat I figure there could be a few different reasons. Firstly, he may not be hungry. This is where I leave the food out for a while to see if he’ll become interested and if not, I take it away. I won’t force him to eat, even if I think he should be hungry. Eating when you’re not hungry weakens your digestive system. Secondly, he may not prefer the type of food that’s been put in front of him. This is where I might offer him something else, especially if I think he actually is hungry. While I think it’s important for kids to eat a variety of foods and not to become too fussy around it, we’re all entitled to have a few food preferences, right? How would you like to be force-fed your least preferred food and told to finish it all?
Do You Encourage Your Kid To Overeat?
“Come on darling, just one more mouthful.” Yes, it’s well meant. Of course it is. There’s no discrepancy around that, but just because it’s well-meant doesn’t mean it’s a habit you (and your kid!) wouldn’t benefit from losing. When you’ve had enough to eat you’ve had enough, right? And if you’ve had enough you wouldn’t want to eat even just one more mouthful, right? So why get your kid to?
Yes, your kid may be accepting those last few spoonfuls of food you’re shoveling down their throat, but it doesn’t mean they want or need them. Perhaps they’ve already learnt that they’d better just go along with your insistence coz they know they don’t have a choice. Ok, so they may have eaten that amount and more at the same time yesterday, but that was yesterday. Don’t you have different degrees of hunger at the same time on different days? So why shouldn’t your kids?
Do You Ask Your Kid, “Are You Full?”
Fullness is not a good thing. If you’re full then you’ve overeaten. I’m referring to the Ayurvedic guideline here: It says that after eating your stomach should be only up to 3/4 full. Yes, there should be some empty space in that tummy of yours after a meal. “Are you full?” is something I never ask Joshi. Instead I ask “have you had enough?” and remind him not to eat until he’s full. I sometimes say, “If you don’t want to eat all the food on your plate, it’s okay.” And if he doesn’t, I make a mental note to serve him smaller portions next time. I can always give him more if he still hungry.
Final Food For Thought
Research now shows that kids who are forced to eat often land up with eating disorders. Arg! Another reason to be even more mindful when we’re with our kids at the meal table. Read more about how forcing children to clear their plates could lead to eating disorders and how if you force your children to keep on eating they may never stop!
So Now It’s Your Turn: Do you insist your kid eats everything? Was it what your parents did with you and if so, how do you think it effected your eating habits? How are you around food with your kids?
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