Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Food is on my mind...

Food. I have been talking to so many people about food lately, that really I just have to write about it. I don't know where to start, so I'm thinking back to the table I left at home going to work the other day. A little table with a finished breakfast. Well, finished in our definition of what it means - there was still some food on the plate when Antek took his bib off, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, smiled and walked away. A few mouthfulls of scrambled eggs. A couple of bites of bread. Some tea on the bottom of the glass. Breakfast is finished. We don't go for 'One more spoon? For Mummy?'

My husband and I have been struggling with this ourselves for months now. We love eating, we love food, and we love spending time in the kitchen. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that, quite a while ago we realised that our eating habits are not what we want them to be, and that Pawel's portion of pasta would really shock you (and the fact that you can't see him from behind all this food). How can we know that enough is enough? How can we know if we're eating because we're still hungry, or because we simply don't know when to stop. Neither of us has a problem with obesity, but healthy eating habits are about more than that, you'll agree. So we mindfully worked through our eating habits, we slowed down and started listening to our bodies more. And we let our son do the same. Just so he maybe doesn't have to go through the same thinking we are doing right now, in the future. Fingers crossed.

Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat. (from an interview with Emmi Pikler, reproduced on Little River School blog)

As always, we have found that it's all about trust and respect. Trusting your child to know how much he needs, and respecting his decision to stop. Trusting your child that he knows his body better than anyone else, and respecting this body enough not to want to impose your will. All of this, if practices early, can lead to life-long benefits.  But recently I have been talking to so many people about food so many times, that it has led me to believe it's not only these kinds of benefits we are talking about here...

Know when to stop

The first years of life are all about learning. It's all one big experience (not that it changes much after that) and also learning how to learn. Learning what we like and what we don't like. Learning what we are comfortable with. Learning what is and what is not acceptable to us. But, as ever, this kind of learning needs to be done by the child himself.

In letting Antek eat  as much or as little as he wants, we hope to let him learn how his body feels about certain things. When he has enough, he gets up, takes his bib of and sometimes says thank you ( 'degyeeee') and hands me the plate. Or just smiles and walks away. Letting him stop when he wants to stop we are letting him walk away when he's had enough. And this does not only apply to food.

We want our children to know when to stop. To know when to say 'no' and walk away. I can imagine that when our son is a teenager, we will want him to know all of this even more. But for them to be able to do that comfortably, we also need to respect when they say 'no' to us. Especially, when it is about things they know better than we do - when it is about themselves.

Emotional experience

Just like anything else that goes on between our children and us, eating and feeding is an emotional time. For all those involved. I remember how hard it was for Pawel when he prepared a meal and Antek would not eat it. And of course 'I've made all this for you and you are walking away' is definitely something that was on his mind. But he never once let Antek know that he thought that, and learnt to trust Antek, and let go of the expectations. And that always pays off :)

We have this thing in Poland, where parents will sit down with babies and feed them spoonfulls that are always for someone (now, I have no idea if this is a universal thing or not?). 'One for Mummy. One for Daddy. One for Granny....' The list goes on, the child gets fed, nobody knows how much or how little he really needed to eat. But this, again, is not just about food. It's a pretty heavy load, now that I think about it, for a child to stop even when he is full. After all, if he's had one spoon for Mummy, will he not have one for Daddy?

Pawel has recently told me an adult version of this, which really is just the same. When you go out and don't want to have a drink with someone (and by drink in this situation we usually mean a shot of vodka) the 'normal' response is: 'Come on. You won't drink with ME?' well.... (beautiful recent post by Nadine about being able to comfortably say 'no' is here).

Trust me, you'll like it

Antek had a couple of months when he would not touch a carrot. That was just it. We didn't worry about it, but unforunately we mentioned it to someone, who seemed to find it a bit problematic. The advice which followed included things as varied as giving him only carrots so he had no choice, through to giving him other things mashed with carrots, so he would not notice. Now, needles to say, we did neither.

First of all, we don't think it's abnormal not to like something. We usually don't see it as something unusual when it comes to adults (think about having all your friends over for dinner at once... I would probably have to serve water). The problem with children is that we tend to worry that they will not get what they need, or that they are becoming 'picky'. Since we tend to trust Antek that he will know what he needs, we didn't worry about the first one. And we kept offering him carrots once in a while, and then patiently ate them ourselves. Until, of  course, one day he grabbed one, ate it, and has loved carrots since.

There are several important things we wanted to remember with the carrot 'situation'. It's ok not to like something, so if he ended up just not liking carrots in the end, we would also not have a problem with that. But more than that, we disagree with cheating anyone into doing anything - and in our ears 'mashing everything so he doesn't know carrot is there' is cheating. We don't want our son to  lie to us. We will not lie to him. And that goes far beyond carrots.


  1. so wonderful and sensitive for child's personality
    dziękuję :)

  2. It absolutely goes way beyond carrots! Thank you for this beautiful post today.

  3. Brilliant! Thank you so much- I will share this in several places in the hope that more people see the light.

  4. Saw this through Aunt Annie's sharing...this is great to read. I struggle with accepting my skinny little 3 year old's appetite for what it is, and am realizing that the "issues" with food are all mine! Reading that one more parent is letting their child decide when enough is enough is encouraging and motivating.

  5. @Agnieszka: wielkie dzieki :) za czytanie i za mile slowo...

    @Aunt Annie - thanks again, as always, for reading and sharing. PLease pass on if you think this will be useful for anyone.

    @Anonymous - I was a skinny little girl, I had huge issues with eating, so it is hard for me to just let go of my own stuff really. Antek (our son) is small. But he's healthy, happy and is developing well. As much as it is a struggle sometimes seeing him leave the table after just trying something, I let go not to have him struggle in the future, like I am right now. Fingers crossed for you guys, good luck and enjoy the journey!!!