Recently, we attended the birthday party of a friend’s child. We got to the food, and, wow, what chaos! Granted, the food wasn’t food I would choose to serve like pizza, processed chicken and fish, but there were also veg sticks. We have always used baby led weaning. There have been no purees in this house, no forcing food down our daughter’s throat. We have firmly believed that she knows better than us what her body needs and when it needs it. She gets offered the same food as we eat. If she doesn’t want to eat, she doesn’t eat. It is not unheard of for her to go over 24 hours with just water and breast milk and then start eating again. Does it make me anxious? Yes, of course, it does. I am her mother, and, despite the fact she remains happy without the food, I worry that she’s ill or going to get ill. But I choose not to force the point or make an issue out of her refusal to eat or project my worry onto her because I know she will eat when she feels the need. She has never had a screaming fit over food being forced into her because we have always given her control over what goes into her mouth. We don’t make a deal over how much she chooses to eat.
Here we are at this party, and Miss E was given her food and tucked in right away. The other kids (many of whom were a lot older than Miss E) screamed and fussed like crazy, parents were shoving them back in their seats saying things like “eat your dinner!” They were bribing them with ketchup,trying to push the food into their mouths and all sorts just to make them eat. But nothing doing. All that was happening was parents getting increasingly frustrated and children starting to associate food with bad memories. Miss E ate with a very bemused look on her face the whole time.
We want our children to grow up with a healthy association with food. In order to do that, we need to provide them with nutritious, good quality, well balanced meals and leave the rest up to them. They will eat when they are hungry, and they will eat as much as they need to eat. If we don’t leave that decision up to them, we may well be building the foundations for eating disorders and unhealthy eating habits in the future.