Thursday, May 26, 2011

More food for thought

This is another issue I've been thinking about since the presentation from the dietician at Y Neighbours the other morning...

Supper time can be a challenge around our house (and I'm assuming at most houses that eat with a toddler).  Annika can be a great eater one day, and then super picky the next.  Usually breakfast and lunch aren't too difficult, because most of the time I serve her foods that I know she will like (and she seems to be more consistent with those foods, as opposed to supper foods which can suddenly switch from the "favorite" category to the "yuck" category without warning).  So she eats a lot of the same things for those meals.  Breakfast is usually milk, bananas with peanut butter and cereal or toast.  If we don't have bananas, she'll have applesauce or canned peaches.  There's a little more variety at lunch time (especially if we're eating at my parents' place or my in-laws' place), but it's usually pb&j sandwiches, grilled cheese, or Annika's favorite - cheese, crackers, ham and pickles (we call it a "snack-y" lunch).  Sometimes I'll eat leftovers for lunch, if I can't stand another day of pb&j.  However, when it comes to supper, I like to make a wider variety of meals, as Carey and I would go crazy if we only ate the foods we knew for sure that Annika would eat (we would probably have to rotate between mac n' cheese and perogies).  So that can lead to some conflict at the dinner table.

We have never been the "you must clean your plate" type of parents, but we do want Annika to try some of each thing on the table (even if it's not a favorite - the only exception I'll make is if I know she's tried something several times and really doesn't like it, then she doesn't have to eat it), and to make a decent effort at eating most of her food.  Oh, and what's on the table is what's for supper - I will not make a separate supper for her.  The exception is if I know something is really not going to go down well, I will occasionally put buns on the table, so she can have those as well.  Like I said before, some days she eats really well, and some days - not so much.  On the "not so much" days, Carey and I do what we can to get her to eat more - we threaten to take away toys (and do it, if needed), we set a limit for how much time she has until her plate is taken away (which can sometimes be strangely motivating - she doesn't want to eat the food, but she doesn't want it taken away!), we bribe her with a small treat or juice, we tell her "3 more bites" - we have a bunch of different tactics we pull out when needed.  However, I'm wondering if we're doing the right thing.

One of the things the dietician told us (and I've heard it before) is that parents are resposible for...
choosing the food
making the meals
deciding when to serve snacks/meals
presenting the meals
making meal times pleasant
helping the child to participate in family meals
teaching the child how to behave at the table
...but ultimately it is the child who is responsible for how much is eaten. 
(Seems like a bit of an obvious statement, but I think it's something we often forget).

Here's a few other quotes from the pamphlets we were given that have also made me think:
"Never force a child to eat or punish a child for not eating."
"Do not use dessert as a bribe to get your child to eat the rest of the meal."
"Do not react to how much or how little your child eats."

I'm not quite sure what to make of this.  It seems very different from the general attitude I think most parents take towards food - clean your plate, don't waste food.  While I agree that we shouldn't encourage letting food go to waste, are we perhaps doing our children a disservice by "strongly encouraging" (I won't say "forcing") them to eat?  Is the reason that obesity is so prominent in North America due in part to the fact that generations of children have been taught to clean their plate?  Are we teaching our children to overeat and setting them up for health issues later in life?

In reading the pamphlets we were given, I also learned how many servings a 3 year old child should be getting each day - 4 servings of fruits & veggies, 3 servings of grains, 2 servings of milk products and 1 serving of meat & alternatives.  That's really not that much, and when I think of what Annika eats in an average day, I think she pretty much gets it covered.  Perhaps part of our problem is that we're expecting her to eat more than what she actually needs.

So we're going to try to make a few changes to our supper time routine.  I'm going to start giving Annika smaller portions, so not as much food goes to waste if she doesn't finish.  If she does finish what she's given, then she can always have seconds.  With some foods (like raw veggies which she loves), I'll also let her serve herself.  We're going to try to be more positive during supper times, and encourage her to eat without threatening punishment.  We'll also try to set a good example for her to follow.

I'd like to hear from you, though.  If you have kids, what's supper time like at your place?  Or what was it like for you when you were growing up?


LaughingLady said...

First off, I think teaching a child to clean their plate has absolutely nothing to do with obesity rates. That comes from the switch from hard physical labour (when everyone used to live on a farm) to sedentary office jobs and allowing our kids to be entertained by TV, computer, and video games. How many kids do you know of that play road hockey every night till the street lights come on? How many do you see running around your neighbourhood, chasing each other, making up games, and riding their bikes all day long? My guess is almost none.

We're reading through the Little House on the Prairie series with our girls and we just finished the "Farmer Boy" book. I tell ya, the amount of food those people ~ including the children ~ ate is absolutely astounding!! NONE of us eats like that! And yet none of THEM were obese. I think it has far more to do with the fact that we just don't burn calories with our everyday lifestyle the way previous generations had to.

BUT, that being said, young children are generally more active, and much better at listening to their bodies than adults are. It doesn't seem to matter how much they like something ~ when they're full, they're FULL. Somewhere along the line, we grown-ups have learned to ignore that message! I think we need to encourage our children to continue listening to their bodies, being mindful of keeping a balanced diet at the same time.

There are times we force (I'll come right out and say it!) our kids to finish because we KNOW if they don't, they'll be asking for a snack in half an hour. Other times we let it go, though we usually remind them there will be no snacking to replace what they SHOULD have eaten at mealtime! It's a bit trickier when they're younger, like your kids, but it gets easier.

And we totally use dessert as a reward. We don't often have desserts, but when we do, they don't get any unless they finish what's on their plate. In our minds, if they've got room for dessert, there's room to finish their "healthy" food! Because let's face it, there's STILL always room for dessert after that!

To me, it sounds like you're doing a great job, Pam. Don't let a bunch of academics change your thinking just because they have official titles. Using common sense is always the best method.

There. That's my opinion!

Kristin said...

To start, I totally agree with LaughingLady on everything she says. It's nice to see someone else agrees with my line of thinking, even when it goes against what the 'experts' are telling us. So yeah, go with your gut (no pun intended).

Smaller portions are a good idea. I think it's less intimidating to see more of the plate. "I have to eat ALL THAT?!" Something we've been trying (with limited success) is putting Wee Man's plate aside if there is dessert and he hasn't finished an acceptable amount of food. He can revisit his supper if he would like dessert. But all that is pretty much out the window if we happen to be at the grandparents…!

At mealtime, I will remind Wee Man that if he doesn't eat enough of his meal, then there's nothing else until snack time or supper time or whatever we're calling the next time we eat. I make it his choice to eat 'enough'.

My advice to you (which I'm trying to follow myself) would be to not make a big deal of how much kiddo eats. It's all about control, right? Think about what a three-year-old can control in his life and it becomes clear why eating and food are such an issue.

Gin said...

You are very wise mothers to not make an issue of eating. You're right, Pam - there are some things that kids may just not like. When I was a kid - could have been 4 or 5, I was made to sit at the table until I finished all of my peas. I didn't like peas but I was forced to eat them. This one time I remember like it was yesterday. Everyone had already left the table, the dishes were finished and I was still sitting at the table. It still upsets me but that's another issue that at some point I'll deal with.

To this day, I won't eat peas if they're on their own. I'll eat them in a soup, a casserole or anything else but not just plain. They bring back awful memories for me.

Kristen, I appreciate your comment about the limited things that kids can control in their lives so don't make eating and food a control issue.

Pam, I think your idea of smaller servings and Annika can have more if she is still hungry is a great one. I think you're absolutely on the right track.

Andrea said...

Our issue a lot of the time is forcing the girls to eat a BALANCED meal. For example, if they want a second helping of noodles (or whatever), they have to first finish their veggies before they get more(usually we have a variety of raw veggies on the table that they choose from). And by the same token, they can't JUST eat veggies. I know they're healthy and all that, but in order for them not to be begging for snacks 15 minutes after mealtime, they need the "meat and potatoes" portion of the meal to sustain them too.

We do also sometimes FORCE them to finish their food like Laughing Lady said, for the same reason she said.

Dessert is a rarity at our house, but again, to go along with LL, if we do have dessert, they need to finish their meal to get it. Like she said, if they're hungry enough for the sweet and unhealthy stuff, they're not too full to finish their main meal.

I have heard the obesity claim too, where they talk about a connection between forcing your kids to finish their food and the bad habit that instills in them. While I agree that most of the obesity problem has to do with the laziness of our generation(s), I do see some truth behind that. If they are taught right from toddler-hood that they HAVE TO finish what's in front of them, they may continue to do that their entire lives. And how often as adults are our "eyes too big for our stomachs" and we give ourselves a larger portion than what we end up needing/wanting? I know I do it! And if I were to feel like I *had* to ALWAYS finish what I took...I can see that becoming a problem.

Lots of 'food for thought' here. But you're not alone in wondering if you're doing the right things. Food can have such a big impact on people in so many ways, and we don't want to start our kids off on the wrong foot...

LaughingLady said...

I agree with Pam and others here who address watching portion sizes. I think that's the key to not creating any bad habits when we force our kids to clean their plates. We need to remember to "eat to live" rather than "live to eat" ~ for ourselves AND to teach our children. (I struggle a LOT with this concept!!)