Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Picky Eater and Food Freedom Part: 1

For many, the thought of giving children food freedom, is one of the hardest things to let go of next to perhaps the video game and electronic devices. Sometimes it is just so drilled into our heads that a child must eat what is put before them, without other choices given simply because that is how we were raised as children.

Fears range from "I will create a picky eater or make my picky eater even pickier " to " We are on a very tight food budget, we can not afford to give choices or let them eat what they want, when they want!" to " Oh gosh, my child would eat only junk food if they were allowed!" "A child must eat what I cook and that is it, it would be wasteful to do otherwise or This is NOT a restaurant!"

Peaceful parenting and radical unschooling is about building connections with a child in a healthy balanced way. It is respecting the child enough, to treat them as a human being and realize everyone is an individual with different likes and tastes. It is about trusting the human body knows what it needs ( the reason behind cravings, such as consuming large amounts of orange juice in the winter months or when having a common cold.)

Threatening a child that if they do not eat what is put before them, they will not get anything else the rest of the day, or no dessert, or have to go to bed early does a number of harmful things. For one, it upsets the child and when one is tense and upset their body can not digest food properly. It also can do the very thing a parent is trying to avoid and actually deepen food aversions and create a life long dislike for certain foods!

Think about it, do you like everything you eat? When do you eat, by a clock or when your body tells you are hungry?

Many things go into why we like what we do, and sometimes in children this is magnified. There are many reasons why they may be picky or not want to eat what you cook for them.  They may not like the smell, sometimes it is texture and some can be very sensitive to textures! They may not like the color as certain colors can be unappetizing! They simply may not be hungry when the parent says it is time to eat! They may not like their food touching other types of food on their plate.

As far as money being a concern, is it more frugal to make a plate for a child who does not want to eat what you created and will sit there until it is cold and thrown out anyway, or crying the whole time they are eating it ( I don't know about you but I can not eat when I am crying!) or would it be cheaper to actually let them make a peanut butter sandwich or mac and cheese or any other number of .50 cent alternatives that they WILL eat?  I found for my family it was far cheaper to let our picky eater have the cheap alternatives.

Food is meant to be nourishing and enjoyable, when a power struggle takes place, this is lost and the chance to make good connections , happy connections with our children is also lost. Here is another thing to consider, most families in the USA are eating a S.A.D diet (Standard American Diet) and this is really quite an unhealthy diet. Essentially then, your food choices that are being forced or coerced for your child to eat, is no healthier than perhaps what the child wants to eat! If they are not hungry, by pushing them to eat, you are perhaps encouraging over eating that can lead to the obesity problems that is such a huge problem in the United States.

By allowing the child choices of what to eat and when to eat, he is being allowed to listen to his own body which knows best. The parent can not tell if the child is hungry or not, but the child sure knows! By allowing them to choose the foods they like, you are acknowledging they are individuals.

Dinner does not have to be full of power struggles, fights, yelling and crying, it just doesn't , why would one choose to make meal time miserable for their child? There is no reason to guilt, shame or threaten a child simply cause they don't want what you cooked. This came from an era where you ate everything on your plate because it was the Great Depression! Now I almost gaurantee is is stemming more from a "I cooked it, you eat it" mentality and if the child does not want it, the cook and perhaps the spouse too, take it all too personally and there fore use their size from a place of resentment to bully a child into eating.

Many perents are not aware this is essentially what they are doing, they are simply using the tools that was taught to them. It is time to question where and why we use the tools of our parents. Sometimes this means changing the tools we know, learning new methods, perhaps better methods.

Making your children happy, is not spoiling them! It is building connections, learning to understand them and celebrate them for who they are, not what we want them to be. It is helping your child listen to their own bodies and trusting that the human body knows what it needs and when it is hungry.

While I am addressing the issue here of the harms of forcing children to eat, my next post will offer tips on ways to make meal time enjoyable and dealing with the picky eater.

In the meantime, don't just take my word for it, here is some further reading for you!

What Forced Eating Looks Like 20 Years Later

Forced Eating Leads to Eating Disorders

Pushing kids to eat may cause Obesity later

Mealtime Atmosphere and Eating Behavior