For dinner last night my daughter ate approximately forty-seven bite-size pieces of roasted lamb, several fistfuls of Syrian bread, a lick of a tomato, a nibble of potato, and the barest hint of cucumber.
And I’m okay with it.
Letting go of attachment to what my daughter consumes at every meal is one of the most freeing parenting decisions I’ve made.
Don’t get me wrong: we have plenty of limits, rules, and boundaries around food and mealtime, (not putting our feet on the table is one of the current daily discussions). We’ve also had meals that I couldn’t wait to end, but there is no battling and wheedling involved. We don’t bribe, beg, or coerce. And we all seem happier and healthier for it.
I got most of my wisdom regarding food from Bringing up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything. The Montessori philosophy of “following the child” and trusting that she will eat what is needed has also played a huge role in my parental decision-making. Please note: my child is not French; in fact, at the moment her palate seems to be narrowing rather than expanding–however, this is not worrying, but rather developmentally normal.
Some of the boundaries/routines that I’ve discovered and found helpful in this approach:
- Only serve food that you want your child to eat. We serve mostly whole, natural foods, and if my child wants to eat a ton of a certain thing and none of the others, I can then be okay with it. We keep the junk food out of the house and let her choose within those constraints. I’ve found that she will often eat lots of fruit at one meal and then next will dish up on a bunch of protein, which I think gives her balance overall rather than at every meal.
- Eat at mealtimes and designated snack time only. This is one I’ve quite stolen from the French and while it is a struggle to uphold in the American culture, it has made it a lot easier to ensure that she’s eating good amounts of non-snack foods. Also, only eat at the table. Amen.
- Model good eating habits. We work to eat lots of variety, lots of vegetables, to enjoy our food and mealtimes together.
- Have firm limits on when a meal is done. If you throw your food, the meal is done. If you get up from the table, the meal is done. This is done in the most loving and patient way possible: “Oh, you threw your food on the floor; looks like you must be done eating. We keep our food on our plates or in our mouths when we’re eating.” Then quickly and quietly clean it up. Of course, this has resulted in some meals that were two bites big. Because of our whole overall philosophy I wasn’t worried and knew she could eat more at the next meal.
- Try everything on your plate. After initial servings of each item at a meal, if she wants more of anything she has to try one bite of the other foods on her plate before she can have a second serving. I usually serve one to two things I know she really enjoys and one to two things that she’s never had before or that she isn’t so fond of. This way we are continuing on a path of trying (and liking) new foods while still having a satisfying meal.
I believe that keeping with all of these habits has made mealtime infinitely more pleasurable! (not that I enjoy every meal with a toddler, but you know what I’m saying). I think the not-worrying-but-seeing-the-big-picture is hugely helpful, and being affirmed by her pediatrician that offering lots of healthy foods will encourage the growth of a healthy child has made all the difference. So looking forward to the time she wants to sit down to eat foie gras with me, but until then, bon appetit on the fruits-veggies-meat routine!