Eat­ing your fill

Di­eti­tian Aoife Hearne on the im­por­tance of let­ting your chil­dren de­cide when enough food is enough

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

THIS past week has been a bit of a blur. Zoë’s sleep seems to be my main fo­cus all of the time — the nap process is the worst. It goes some­thing like this: Rock her asleep in my arms on the rock­ing chair. Ever so slowly mov­ing from rock­ing chair to ly­ing in bed with dummy re­main­ing firmly in place. And just when the time is right mov­ing my arm swiftly from un­der her head in a move any ma­gi­cian would be proud of. Then comes the ninja-like ac­ro­bat­ics out of the bed, des­per­ately pray­ing I’ve been smooth enough not to wake sleep­ing beauty.

At this point, I’m ex­hausted but rather than sleep, I reach for cof­fee and en­joy the si­lence. Tell me I’m not alone with these crazy an­tics!

Fol­lowed by sleep, the next fo­cus is, un­sur­pris­ingly, food. Of course, Zoë is easy right now. She’s still feed­ing on de­mand and what she needs never takes more than 10 sec­onds to pre­pare, is al­ways at the right tem­per­a­ture, and she seems to love it. That’s more than I can say about my other two. It turns out that my two lit­tle ‘dar­lings’ missed the memo that I’m a di­eti­tian and are meant to fol­low my lead in this whole eat­ing busi­ness. In fact, Alva’s first full sen­tence was “I don’t like this din­ner mammy!”

Af­ter slav­ing away cook­ing a din­ner in be­tween the nap ac­ro­bat­ics and en­ter­tain­ing these two ac­tive lit­tle peo­ple, this lit­tle miss all of two years old de­cided it wasn’t to her taste. So yes, I’m just like any other par­ent out there fit to pull my hair out with the con­stant changes in food pref­er­ences. One of these days I’m go­ing to burst with all the deep breaths I need to take to keep calm. De­spite this, I feel pas­sion­ate that cre­at­ing mind­ful eaters is more im­por­tant than cre­at­ing 100% healthy eaters, so I grin and bear the new­found in­de­pen­dence.

I’d say my hus­band is fed up of hear­ing me ask the kids, “Is your tummy full?” It is prob­a­bly the most com­mon ques­tion I ask these days as Dy­lan and Alva try to jump down play­ing with trac­tors and Lego, any­thing but eat their din­ner. That, along with re­mind­ing them that there would be no more snacks be­fore bed­time, seems to be the script that goes with our din­ner time.

I do this be­cause teach­ing them to self-reg­u­late their own food — eat­ing for hunger — is an im­por­tant part of par­ent­ing. It’s not easy and there are many times I want to say “fin­ish your din­ner and you’ll get some­thing nice”, just to get din­ner fin­ished. But I re­sist the temp­ta­tion and trust that per­sis­tence, rather than per­fec­tion, with these things is key to suc­cess.

In many house­holds, meals are a re­ally stress­ful time. Re­mem­ber, fol­low­ing Elyn Sat­ter’s di­vi­sion of re­spon­si­bil­ity ap­proach is a good place to start. In ad­di­tion, I think a few ground rules can defuse the bat­tle, maybe even make it an en­joy­able time, but al­ways a great op­por­tu­nity to de­velop healthy habits for chil­dren and all the fam­ily. I would re­ally en­cour­age you to re­claim meal­times as a time to con­nect with fam­ily mem­bers and keep it as a tech­nol­ogy-free time from the start. Even if your small child does not seem in­ter­ested in food, dis­tract­ing them with TV or phones in or­der for them to eat is start­ing down a path that leads to mind­less, rather than mind­ful, eat­ing.

Hav­ing fam­ily rules can help keep

ev­ery­one on the straight and nar­row. Here are a few I use in our home:

■ In this fam­ily we try new foods — we don’t have to like them, but we have to try them;

■ Ev­ery­one must eat at least two bites of a new food;

■ We all must eat two bites of all veg­eta­bles;

■ We be­lieve in healthy drinks, so wa­ter and milk are the only op­tions

Many of us have grown up in a time where we had to fin­ish ev­ery­thing on the plate and thus many, if not all, of the adults in my of­fice who are there to lose weight don’t un­der­stand what full feels like.

I urge you not to sign your child up to the clean-plate club and think about how the lan­guage we use around food can im­pact on a child’s re­la­tion­ship with food. Aim to use pos­i­tive rather than neg­a­tive mes­sag­ing when it comes to eat­ing, like some of these ex­am­ples:

■ We eat un­til we are com­fort­ably full — not stuffed or un­til our plates are cleaned;

■ We eat to nour­ish our bod­ies — not be­cause chil­dren in other coun­tries are starv­ing;

■ We try new foods to help us learn to like new flavours — not be­cause you will go straight to bed if you don’t

As you prob­a­bly re­alise, this is a topic that I could talk about for­ever. Help­ing our chil­dren to de­velop into mind­ful eaters is a re­ally im­por­tant part of par­ent­ing to me and some­thing I am com­mit­ted to. That be­ing said, it isn’t easy. There are days I am worn out by it. And then there are days when I get a glimpse into the re­wards that this ap­proach to eat­ing can reap and I breathe a sigh of re­lief.

Pic­ture: iStock

FULL UP: Aim to use pos­i­tive rather than neg­a­tive lan­guage around eat­ing, and never in­sist on a clean-plate pol­icy.

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