Sometimes in a bid to just get food into our children, we forget that our real desire is to help them create a positive relationship with food. Are we trying to just get children fed? Or, are we trying to help them develop a love of food; be happy to try different foods and enjoy a variety?
If you’re searching for the latter, the strategies we need to use are different from conventional ‘tips’ around feeding children.
At Foost, we believe if children have a positive relationship with food, they will become more adventurous and ‘healthier’ eaters. So how do we help children have a positive relationship with food?
As parents, educators or aunts/friends/carers (influential influences on children), we hold our own set of food beliefs. These have been formed over many years and many experiences. Without judgment, some of these food beliefs may not be encouraging the children in your care to have a positive relationship with food.
Here is a list of common food beliefs that I would like to challenge (re-phrased from psychologist Jo Cormack’s book: Helping Children Develop A Positive Relationship with Food).
– Food waste is wrong (when some children are starving)
– Children should finish everything on their plates
– Finish all your dinner and you can have dessert
– It’s fine to use food as rewards
– It is an adult’s job to get food into children
– If I get a child to eat, I have done a good job
Take a moment to think. Again, no judgment, but do you follow any of their beliefs? The above beliefs need to be let go of if you want to help the children around you develop a positive relationship with food. Let me explain why.
In order to try and protect our children in this world of eating disorders (1 in 20 Australian adults) and obesity (1 in 4 Australian adults), we need to be encouraging them to have positive experiences with food. The key to this is for children to have internal control of eating. Meaning, we need to let a child listen to their own body hunger and fullness queues and have ownership over their eating.
Now that is not to say children have full control over their eating and we become short-order cooks in a kitchen that is always open. We want to establish with children is shared control. Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility In Feeding helps us learn shared control to help our children have a positive food relationship. It states:
It is the adult’s responsibility to choose what, when and where food is served.
It is the child’s responsibility to choose how much to eat and whether to eat.
Understanding that internal control is needed for children to have a positive relationship with food and we share feeding responsibility with our children, let’s go back to those food beliefs.
All of the above food beliefs use external factors to try and control a child’s eating rather than internal. Eating because other children are hungry, eating to have dessert or eating to impress adults are all internal and don’t empower a child to eat according to their own hunger.
So what can we start to think and what language can we use instead?
– I trust my child to listen to their hunger and fullness
– it is my responsibility to serve food at regular intervals
– it is fine for food to be left on the plate
– I can ask my child “is your tummy full?”
– stickers and praise are better for rewards
– rather than focus on what my child is eating, I should create a nice, relaxed, pressure-free eating environment
Try giving these new food believes a try and let us know how it goes? Remember it can take children a little while to adjust to change.
If you would now like to read on to ideas for increasing food exposures (the other piece of the puzzle), click here.