Stress free mealtimes - it's all gravy...
I used to dread serving Rose her dinner. I would spend ages cooking a little meal especially for her and when I placed it in front of her she would sometimes taste it before spitting it out, or refuse to taste it at all. I would inevitably end up just breastfeeding her and then worry that she must be starving and get upset putting her to bed, thinking she must be still hungry. Often, I would try her with something I knew she loved just so she'd be full like yogurt and raspberries - sometimes she'd eat it, sometimes she wouldn't.
This was when she was very young and the stress caused by my upset that she wasn't eating what I had lovingly made for her, and the thoughts in my head that she must be starving made me search for a better approach. A kind friend offered me a book "My Child Won't Eat" by Carlos Gonzalez and with that meal times changed in our home. It completely changed how I approached mealtimes and made me realise that I was the problem and my expectations of Rose were ridiculous. I was stressing myself out needlessly! I began to research more into the idea that the problem was not my daughter (as always...) but my notions of how and when a child should eat. I was led to Ellen Satter and her "Division of Responsibility" approach and things changed even more.
So what changes were made? Well, for a start I stopped worrying about whether Rose was getting enough food. I realised that if she was hungry, genuinely hungry, she would eat what was in front of her. And if she wasn't, well, she wouldn't. There would, of course, be foods she just didn't like and that was ok too. So long as I served a few things I knew she liked along with maybe a new food, and something she had rejected before I could be sure that she was getting enough.
I also stopped making special dinners for Rose, she couldn't always eat what myself and my husband made as we're huge fans of spicy foods but when she could I served a bit of what we were having, again with something I knew she loved. And I also stop caring about whether Rose ate a "dinner" and by that I mean the classic meat, vegetables and rice/potatoes dishes like spaghetti bol, curry, roast dinner etc. Instead I would often give her almost a snacking dish with bits of smoked salmon, rice balls, carrot sticks, raspberries and/or whatever was in the fridge.
I also stopped labeling foods as "good" or "bad" or "healthy" and "unhealthy" which was really difficult for me after years of doing this. Ask any of my workmates I was the one getting irate over sweets in the preschool, treats in lunches etc. I came to realise that my attitude was totally wrong and only made things much worse, placing foods like chocolate, biscuits, even crackers etc on some sort of twisted pedestal whereby you had to "work" or "earn" these foods, or just avoid them completely for fear of gorging. I did not want Rose to grow up thinking like that! I want her to enjoy all foods guilt free. This does not mean I serve her chocolate buttons and sticky toffee pudding for breakfast and lunch - but it does mean that I don't bat an eyelid when she eats these tyes of foods. I make no comments like "you've eaten enough of that" or "only take a small bit it's not good for you" etc. And I find when you take this attitude children don't see these foods as forbidden fruit, treat them the same as all food, and just eat what satisfies them. As opposed to binge eating what I once thought of as "junk" thinking it was making me happy (if even just for that few seconds I was doing it). And then inevitably feeling miserable for having failed myself again!
I mentioned Division of Responsibility above - this is when you decide what and when a child eats and they decide how much or whether or not to eat at all. It is a HUGE mind shift form what I am used to but once I made the shift I felt so completely relaxed and FREE! Trusting Rose to eat what and how much she needs means I never have to coerce, force or push anything on her. I just let her decide and we move on to the next meal. There is no "one more spoon" no "finish what's on your plate" no "you only get dessert if you finish your dinner". In fact, if you think about that last sentence it makes ZERO sense - you only get dessert if you eat more food first. What a way to get children into a habit of overeating!
So this journey in eating has not just been a game changer for Rose's eating but for my eating too. All of those years of punishing myself and thinking I had to do better, eat better - what a waste of my time and effort. Both myself and Rose are so much happier at mealtimes, all thanks for this new found knowledge. So if meal times are a challenge in your home, read the resources mentioned above and see if you can change your way of thinking about it all.
As always if you have any specific problems relating to this topic that you need help with - please do message me or post below!
x Hazel - The Hands Off Parent.