Here is a sampling of Beverly's articles:
Food attitudes vary. Culture, religion, geography, socioeconomics, and family dynamics all play a role in how we value, prepare, eat, serve, store and share food. Having been molded by these factors, we as parents or care takers of a child all have a sense of what we believe is proper and improper when it comes to feeding and eating with a child. I would like to share some of the most common phrases that I would like to see eliminated from meal or snack time.
You need to clean your plate. This phrase usually comes from the value of not wasting precious food resources, and a respect for food is a fine lesson for children to learn. To keep from having to use this phrase, let your children put food on their plate themselves. If they are not old enough to do this, give them a teaspoon full so if they don’t eat it, the waste is minimal. If a child seems to be putting too much on his plate, remind him of the possible reasons why he might reconsider. Perhaps if he takes too much there will not be enough for others, or he will not be able to eat it all and we don’t want to waste food. There are good lessons to be learned here. If you put food on a child’s plate, the responsibility for the food is yours.
Haven’t you had enough? How do we know how much food a child needs to eat at a meal or snack? Their caloric and specific nutritional needs can vary by days, weeks, months or years. Growth spurts happen and a child instinctively knows they need to eat more. Let your child know that you trust their internal sense of hunger and fullness.
One more bite. I hear this phrase a lot. A parent requires that a child take one more bite of something before they can leave the table. Is this requirement made to insure enough calories or nutrients that the child needs? That may be the intent, but the reality is that the amount of calories and nutrients in that one last bite will not make or break a child’s health. So what this decree of one more bite says to the child is: I (the parent) know how much you need to eat, not you, but I (the parent) am in charge here and you don’t leave until I say so, or perhaps, I (the parent) have the power here, so eat if I tell you to. All of these messages leave a child with mixed messages about food and an opening for a power struggle with a parent.
You need to eat your vegetables before you can have more bread. Many parents believe that certain foods need to be eaten at each meal. Some of us are concerned that if we let our children fill up on one food, they won’t eat the other foods offered. There is some truth to this, but if all of the foods offered are healthy foods, why do we care which foods they eat more of? Even if they choose to fill up on bread, don’t worry. They will eat vegetables or fruits another time. You can also discourage over eating of a fun food by only put enough of the fun food on the table for everyone to have a serving. When the bread is gone, it is gone. If your child says that they are hungry and they want more bread, calmly point out that the bread is gone but there is still chicken and carrots. If they are hungry they will eat, they may even try a new food!
What about all the kids starving in …. This is usually about not being thankful for their food and food waste, with the added bonus of guilt. This really means “you shouldn’t waste food, you should be grateful for what you have because other children aren’t lucky enough to have food”. Again, there are learning opportunities for children here. Awareness of one’s ability to provide food and the awareness that not everyone has the same resources and opportunities as your family is a great topic for families to talk about and explore. However, let’s not get that confused with whether we need to force our children to eat. Their eating doesn’t help others, and they know it. Older children may point out that the less they eat the less food for the family will cost, leaving money to buy food for others.
Children can and should learn to be grateful for food, but by eating more than they need or want is not the way to show it. So instead of implying that children that don’t eat everything on their plates are ungrateful or causing starvation elsewhere, let them to chose how much food goes on their plate and whether to eat or not. Help them learn to show their gratitude in other ways.
Bribes, punishments and rewards are all disciplinary techniques we use to get our children to eat. Bribes and rewards are really the same. We promise X if the child will eat Y. The flip side of this technique is punishing a child for not eating. Many parents have told me that they have had success with these techniques and I don’t doubt that.
But these techniques produce children who eat for the wrong reasons. These children are eating to either avoid or gain something else. That’s not an emotionally healthy reason to eat. A healthy eater is a child who eats when they are hungry and stops when they are full. Forcing a child to eat with bribes, punishments and rewards allows the parent to feel better; they got their child to eat some “healthy” food, for their own good. The parent may feel like they have done a good job, but they actually did their child’s job. For long term results it is best to let a child to decide whether to eat or not.
Creating a healthy eater includes creating a child with healthy life long eating patterns. A child that is eating for a reward or bribe or to avoid punishment will certainly not choose to eat those foods once on his own. And children are on their own earlier than you might expect. Some schools have kindergarteners going through the cafeteria line. A child who has the opportunity to try new foods when they are ready will gradually widen their food choices. These children, once they decide they like tomatoes, will always like tomatoes. A child forced to eat a tomato will likely avoid them, not because of the taste, but because of the memories associated with eating tomatoes.
Allowing a child to have dessert if they eat their dinner is a bribe or reward. Withholding dessert because a child did not eat dessert is the same as a punishment. So, what should you do it your family likes to have a fun dessert after dinner? I recommend any of three approaches. The simplest is to have the fun dessert at another time, either a snack earlier in the day or later in the evening. Another is sometimes harder for parents to do, but more effective in the long run. Whether a child eats dinner or not, let them have a child sized portion of the dessert. If this child has been offered a variety of healthy foods during the day, they may not really need dinner. If the child eats the dessert instead of dinner, they will be hungry very soon after dessert. Now hunger will teach them why they need to eat dinner. Do not give them any other food when this happens, but feel free to explain to them that they are probably hungry because they only had dessert for dinner. Your last choice is the hardest for parents. Put the dessert out with all of the other dinner foods at the beginning of the meal. Yes, your child will likely eat the dessert first, but as it is just for fun and only 1 portion is available, they will be most likely still hungry after having this fun food. Then they will probably eat dinner.
Celebrations and holidays are times we associate with fun foods, but these celebrations can also be just as successful with foods that are either downright healthy or at least, not a nutritional disaster. Sometimes the snack can also be a fun cooking activity. The suggestions below are great for home celebrations or when celebrating your child’s birthday at school.
Feeding a new eater is not just your job. Your child has a major role in this as well. Feeding will go best if you follow their lead. Watch your child, you will soon become quite good and realizing when they are hungry and when they have had enough. Don’t worry about them needing to eat a certain amount of a certain food at a certain time of day. New eaters are still getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula. They are just learning to eat. Closer to 1 year their solid food provides much more of their nutritional needs, but by then they will be much better eaters, eating a wide variety of foods in greater amount. Use the list below to keep feeding focused on your baby’s needs, not yours. You do your jobs and let them do theirs.
Choose appropriately textured foods
Choose 1-2 foods, if rejected- meal is over
Baby strapped in high chair
(Hold baby in lap for beginner eaters)
Keep baby upright to avoid choking
Have baby face forward looking at you
Talk calmly to baby, don’t entertain
No toys, TV, games
Allow baby to explore food
Use spoon or let baby self feed, or both
Follow baby’s lead for hunger and satiety
Follow baby’s lead for tempo of eating
How much to eat, by signaling fullness
Whether they eat or not, whether they open their mouth or not
Paying attention to each spoonful
Touching food in dish or spoon
Set tempo for feeding
Self feed if they want, with which ever hand or both
How Often to Feed
Feed on demand the first year. Start with one feeding per day, when baby takes in 2 tablespoons of solids, add another feeding. Eventually you will have 3-6 feedings. Formula or breast milk can be fed with or separate from solids.
Where to Feed
At the table and in a baby safe chair
In an adult’s lap
Sitting on a blanket or floor
Never feed in a reclining position.
We all want our children to eat healthy foods and there are many ways to allow this to happen. Our first job is to offer healthy foods often. A hungry child will eat, so the more often healthy foods are offered, the more of them will be eaten. But children are sometimes fearful of food, not hungry, or more interested in trying to get you what they want instead of eating. All of these actions can lead to the same disastrous result: a power struggle of over who gets their way.
We can avoid this struggle by not over managing how much and what our child eats. Remember, you offer what you would like your child to eat. Then the rest is up to them. They can eat and nourish their body or choose not to eat with the consequence of hunger coming very soon. The beauty of this is that you were not the “bad guy” in this scenario. Hunger caused the discomfort, the result of them choosing not to eat.
But some parents can not let go of this managerial stance and let hunger and fullness do it’s job without them. They micro-manage a child’s eating. These are the parents that you see deciding for the child what food should be eaten first. Supposedly this ensures that nutritious foods will be eaten first when the child is most hungry. Perhaps, but a child given a variety of food over time will in fact choose foods that meet their nutritional needs. Telling a child what they need to eat first undermines their need for some independence and their reliance and confidence in their own internal cues that guide them naturally.
I often hear “you need to take one more bite”, as if that last bite guarantees the exact amount of calories or nutrients necessary at that moment in time. Or a parent who requires that a child finish a certain amount of a food. A child instinctively knows how much food they need, the more we trust them the more they will make good decisions.
Interestingly, there have been several studies that show that the more we manage our children’s eating decisions, the more likely they are to become over weight and have emotional problems with foods. The study observed parents eat a meal with their child. Immediately after the meal the children were put in a room without parents. There were activities in the room as well as a variety of snacks. It was observed that the children whose parents had over managed their child’s lunch where more likely to eat again, right after lunch. These children where also the ones who where already over weight.