The slippery slope of loving but misguided expectations 

It isn’t a question of whether or not a parent will say it during a consult, it’s a question of how soon they will say it …….. “I just can’t GET my child to eat  —–” …….

In my experience, parents ubiquitously take ownership of “getting” their children to eat a variety of foods.  Parents have told me:

“I don’t feel like a good mom because my son only eats  4 different foods.  How can he learn and grow?”

“We can’t even go for a meal at a restaurant or friend’s house… what would they think of me?”

It is not your job to GET your child to eat.  It IS your job to provide learning opportunities in the kitchen and at the table.  You are a  food ambassador.  A guide, model and teacher of taste.  Your role is to educate your child about nourishment, food and mealtime behavior.   What your child actually ingests on a daily basis is his responsibility.   That responsibility empowers him to listen to his body and eat mindfully.

I’ve also had parents tell me that it certainly is their job to ensure their child’s intake is meeting their growth needs…. unfortunately, short of force feeding, there is no way to make a child eat if they don’t participate in the process.  The responsibility of sleeping, pooping and eating fall on the child and the parents role is as a facilitator.  A parent can set a child up for success by providing consistent, regular learning opportunities.

Teaching your child about taste may look like:

  1. Introducing a new food next to a familiar food at a mealtime.
  2. Talking about the color, texture, temperature, taste, where and how food grows. Talk about what YOU like about a new food.
  3. Having your child put a beet on his plate, then look at it, touch it, smell it, bite it WITHOUT pressure to eat.  Encourage a “learning” side of the plate (where the food doesn’t HAVE to be eaten) and an “eating” side of the plate for familiar foods.
  4. Depending on your child’s age, you can talk about how food might be changed so it looks or tastes better.  You can talk about cooking it with a preferred taste (eg. orange vinaigrette or bacon dressing).  Talk about whether it would taste better cut into small pieces, strips or shapes.
  5. Set the expectation that the new food will be on the table in the future, prepared in a different way.  It takes time to learn our bodies and our tastes; just because we don’t like a certain food one time, it doesn’t mean we will never like it.
  6. Eating without distraction.  No toys or screens at the table.

A wise man reminded us to change our thoughts first.  Everything else will follow.   STOP THINK you have to get your child to eat.   The idea that we have to get our kids to eat translates  into constant pressure. We are typically unaware of the intensity of that pressure and unfortunately, it has opposite of the desired effect… it actually decreases what a child will try! That inner voice sabotages very good, loving intentions.  

 A child learns to happily eat when provided with consistent and supported food opportunities that gradually expand his food comfort zone.  Repeated, positive food experiences  facilitate skill development, confidence and the ability to listen to one’s body. 

In order for a child to feel confident around food, the parental desire to push intake needs to be quelled. It is a given that we don’t push a child to walk down the stairs on his own before he has acquired the pre-requisite skills.  Similarly, pushing a child to chew and swallow something they aren’t ready for leads to a negative feeding relationship between parent and child.   Learning to eat is a complex job that involves far more than putting a food to your mouth, chewing and swallowing.

You are doing an excellent job as a parent if you are offering the opportunity to learn about food.  PERIOD.

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Mealtime Rules

Love this from Sarah Remmer, RD…….

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The worst thing you can do for a picky eater

Time after time, I’ve seen parents respond to a child’s resistance to eat by nagging, cajoling, threatening or bribing with dessert.  And, next, out comes the big ol’ TIME OUT.  The child is hauled away from the table and plopped into a time out while the parent returns to the table and ignores the child.   No matter the setting or number of times I see it happen, I want to squirm out of my skin.

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Time out’s are a common topic of conversation in parenting circles.   Historically, parenting advice has moved from Watson’s cautions against sharing emotion with children to Bolwby’s advice to consistently respond in a sensitive way.  We’ve moved to a general acceptance of the spectrum of attachment-based parenting and positive discipline.  To confuse us further, our feeds are also filled with articles warning against helicopter parenting, permissive parenting and the “collapse” of parenting all together.   Whether or not you use time outs, be aware that your general parenting style, and fears, greatly impact the type of environment you create at the table.  Because it has a ubiquitous impact on family life, it is worth spending time reflecting on your parenting style and any changes you’d like to make.

Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute has a wonderful analogy illustrating time outs.  She describes a basketball coach calling a time out for a team playing poorly.  The coach simply pulls the team off the court, waits the prescribed time, says “are you ready to play yet?”, then puts the team back on the court.  How in the world is the team supposed to improve performance as a result of a “time out”?  The players were able to rest but they did not receive any constructive feedback on how to improve…. without the actual coaching part, it is very likely the time out only served to make the players feel worse about themselves.

I’d go as far as suggesting that in any scenario, time outs are useless without coaching.

Time outs at dinner time ARE THE SAME THING.  Without coaching and mealtime skill development, time away from the table on it’s own, will not improve your child’s mealtime behaviour.  Your child will simply learn that the behavior garners loads of attention and gets you out of her face.

Another thing to remember:  an increase in stress and cortisol levels will knock out any appetite your child may have had.  Stressful mealtimes = kids who don’t feel hungry!  What a vicious cycle.

Time outs are tempting because they may get your kid to take a couple of bites.  It’s the same reason that parents force feed a bottle to a baby who is cuing “NO”….. the sole focus is on the intake at that moment.  We need to think beyond the immediate caloric intake and set the stage for a healthy relationship with food.

Do a little self-reflection.  Are you giving your child a time out from dinner because you need a break? Are you at the end of your rope after a rough day of tantrums or a long day at work with adults that may as well have been tantruming?  Are you doing it because it’s what your parents did?

Eating is a learned process.

You are a food coach and your job is to teach your child how to eat, not punish them for not eating.

Things you can try instead of a time-out:

  • talk about appropriate mealtime behaviours away from the table, outside of a snack or mealtime.
  • set simple table rules such as:
    • we all sit at the table together
    • there will be one thing you like at each meal
    • outside of snack and mealtime the kitchen is closed
    • you are expected to interact with the food in some way even if it is to smell, touch or lick it
    • use polite requests and refusals (we don’t say “yucky”, we say “no thanks”)
  • division of responsibility  (you get to decide what food you offer, where and when you offer it while your child decides what to eat and how much)

If you are at the stage where you are using time-outs as a primary strategy, it’s time to seek out help.  Check out picky eating courses available through the health region or privately.  Contact me and I can help you find the best resource for your situation.

 

 

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Hiatus

I’ve been missing.

Mama Village has been severely neglected and I feel like I’m just coming up for air.  My ability to remember things is returning and I’ve started meal planning again.  It sounds incredibly silly but meal planning is a dashboard of well-being in my life.

The reason: Our 4th baby is a spirit baby, delivered still in December after a roller coaster diagnostic journey.

Let me just say that I REALLY don’t want to write this or publish it in a post. I’m forcing it because my gut tells me that the process will be healing.  I’ve never appreciated how many women deeply understand these agonizing, dark feelings.  Another woman’s eye contact and hug quality now reveals who has lived these feelings in their own story.  I’ve learned there is healing in connection and I want to honour our baby by helping to make someone else’s journey just a little more bearable.

While there are moments I feel I SHOULD be back to normal, I remind myself that normal does not exist.  There is no “supposed to be.” I am living what is meant for me and my choice is to adapt or be paralyzed.  I may falter but I won’t sink, I choose swim.   Swim hard.  Our baby may not be in our arms, but he is in our hearts as we slowly navigate a new normal.   I’d even venture to say he’s encouraged us to be better humans, kinder and more grateful humans.

I’m learning how to feel when someone asks me if we are going to try for a 4th, or when they say we have too many girls and should try for a boy.  I’m learning how to keep it together when my girls whisper that they need me in private because they miss the new baby, or when they have nightmares about not being able to save him.  I’m learning that “grief attacks” are part of healing and they might knock me down but they also help me become strong enough to carry this pain.  I’m so grateful to have people who don’t believe me when I say “I’m okay”.  They hug me tight and whisper “I know you’re not and that’s okay.”

This is a long-winded way to say that I’m present again.  We have been supported and hugged so very tight as we adapt.  Whole heartedly, thank you.

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Better grilled cheese

I always feel slightly guilty making a quick grilled cheese for my kids ……..  because I know I make it far too often.  Despite good intentions,  the utter chaos of picking up one kid from preschool, getting home to throw food at them and then getting out the door in time to get the big one on the bus precludes multi-step lunch preparation.  I DON’T MAKE ENOUGH CHANGE to grilled cheese each time I prepare it.   And I know I need to!

Low and behold, I came across this lentil cheese toast idea!   I adapted it to grilled cheese/quesadillas and went over like a charm.

Now I feel better!

Should your toddler use a sippy cup?

Many parents assume a sippy cup is the natural transition from a bottle.

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But should it be?

Are you causing harm? 

Sarah Remmer, RD, tackles the subject here.

 

Why won’t he eat the fig bars he’s eaten for the last 3 weeks??

Food jagging seems to be a recurring theme in my conversations with families.  Yesterday, I was told three times (different versions): “He ate those fries for three weeks straight and LOVED them.  Now he won’t touch them.  I don’t know what to do!!!”

We call this food jagging….. your child repeatedly eats the same food, the same way for a prolonged period of time.  ?Hello? Could you imagine eating a hard boiled egg for lunch every day, for a MONTH?!  Sounds pretty boring to me.  It is very likely that I would take a LOONG break from eating an egg for lunch after that month.

Don’t get me wrong – when your child shows enjoyment of very few foods, it is a completely natural response to give them the thing he  actually enjoys.  And I know in many cases, you just don’t have enough preferred foods to have something different for lunch everyday.  Even so, you need to find a way to minimize the risk that he is going to cut that food from his repertoire at some point.

Now, how the heck do you do that?  

Introduce that food in a slightly different way each time.  For example, if your child loves strawberries, you can introduce them:

  • in a different bowl or cup
  • with a fork or toothpick
  • cut into big pieces or whole
  • dipped in yogurt or PB
  • in a strawberry smoothie
  • as freeze dried strawberries
  • frozen
  • in a strawberry crisp
  • as a strawberry fruit roll up
  • as strawberry salsa with crackers
  • in pancakes
  • as a jam spread on crackers, pancakes, waffles etc
  • And so on!

It seems like a significant amount of work to introduce the food in a different way each time but trust me, the investment will pay off in spades!

Mama’s Helper : The HAPPY MAT

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Wow!  Am I ever impressed with this product!  In my experience, suction bowls have been a total and complete waste of my money.  They work for 3.5 seconds before the suction releases and bowl is victoriously tossed to the floor, or simply as far as possible.  I am a firm believer in touching food and making a big ol’ mess to learn how to eat sometimes the disaster is just a little much.  The game of “I toss and Mama picks up” also gets old really, really quickly.

This little number is a placemat and a dish all in one!  The suction is unbelievable.  The only way my little one has figured out how to move it, is to peel up one of the corners.  Otherwise, it has stayed in place FOR THE ENTIRE MEAL.  ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS!!!

Pros: great suction, comes in a divided plate version or bowl version, easily fits in the dishwasher and is big so it catches a lot of mess.

Cons: Cost. It is expensive.  It may not fit on the tray of a highchair because it is meant to be used at a table.  Takes ++ surface area to store flat.  It’s big.

Available at West Coast Kids for $29.99.  The bowl version is $23.99.

Let me know what you think if you try it.

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Best words ever: More please!

I feel ridiculously awesome when my kids say: “Mmmm.  Mom, this is SO good!  Can I have some more?” I think most of me loves the fact that they are savouring and enjoying the food.  My hope is to whet their palate so they keep coming back for family dinners after they leave our nest.

In the past, I would have been happy that they asked for more because it erroneously reassured me they were taking in enough calories, vitamins and nutrients to grow and learn.   I’ve worked really hard on developing trust in my kids and have successfully reached a place where I could care less how much they eat from the dinner I’ve provided.  I don’t say much as long as they tell me, “Mom, may I be excused?  My belly is full.”  Of course I still have the normal regressions but overall, this has lead to more enjoyable mealtimes for everyone.  They now know that the kitchen is closed after lunch and will re-open for snack. Dieticians and feeding therapists commonly accept Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility.  Her ideas about the feeding relationship are based on trust.  Trust that a child can recognize hunger and satiety cues and has the ability to self-regulate intake when they are offered structured eating opportunities.

My job:  to choose when and where I offer food.  To choose what I am going to offer for snack and meals.

Kids job:  to choose whether or not to eat.  To choose what order to eat things in.  To choose how much to eat.

This model is about respecting their choices and giving them autonomy with boundaries.  Ellyn Satter’s work suggests that children who are trusted to regulate how much to eat develop positive self-esteem, learn responsibility and self- care skills, appreciate their bodies, and do not become preoccupied with food.   Now, I appreciate how challenging this is to put into practice when you have a child who eats a total of 15 (or less) different foods and has a difficult time growing.

My other innate response to hearing those beloved words “Mom, can I have more?” is to offer that food repeatedly.  This response rings true ten-fold for a family whose child has a narrow food repertoire to start with.   It only encourages parents to offer that food every single day until the rest of time.  When you offer the same food on a frequent basis, prepared in the same manner, you are reinforcing rigidities.  Food jagging is when your child eats the same food, prepared in the same way every day or every meal.  Eventually he will get tired of the food and more often than not, loose it from his food repertoire all together, permanently.  Quell your inner desire to give your child the same foo, prepared in the same way at every meal, even if they only have a total of  5 different foods in their repertoire!  Make a very small change to the way you present or prepare it.

If your child loves peanut butter sandwiches:

-cut it differently each time (half, quarters, diagonal, cookie cutters)

-prepare it with a different type of bread or tortillas (peanut butter roll)

-mix peanut butter with almond butter or cashew butter

-add cinnamon

-add sliced bananas

You may need to make even smaller changes, depending on how particular or sensitive your child is.

Good luck!