My last post was all about what research tells us about the importance of eating together as a family whenever possible. When I came across a study earlier this week about the impact of feeding children the same meal as the rest of the family, it seemed like the ideal follow on. Eat together - eat the same. My model, EAF, is based around a few key principles and rules. One of these, which I have written about elsewhere , is "Serve everybody everything". The logic behind this has several strands to it.
1. The factor that has the most influence on how children eat is how the people around them eat. This is what psychologists call modelling. It makes sense then, that if children are given the same food as the adults in their family, they are more likely to consider more foods and flavours acceptable than if they are given separate, blander dishes.
2. If your child knows that everybody is served everything, period, it removes the possibility that complaints or special demands for personalised food will be used as a means of getting attention. Once your child understands that this rule is non-negotiable, mealtimes will automatically become more peaceful. ( coupled with the rule about not being rude about your food!)
3. Exposure and variety are the big guns in the fight against picky eating. Put simply, the more children are exposed to a certain food, the more likely they are to accept it. The wider the range of food a child is exposed to, the less limited their preferences will be. And yes, this is still true if your child is served something and chooses not to eat it. If you want to know more about the value of exposure and variety, read my post on encouraging children to try food .
The study (via FoodTank) that prompted this post was conducted By Dr Valeria Skafida amongst 2000 four year olds in Scotland. She found that children who eat the same food as their parents have a healthier diet, with less salt and fat and more vegetables. They also snack less. This is fascinating. It supports what we already know intuitively; that feeding toddlers and pre-schoolers bland 'kid food' is not good for their health.
When I talk to parents about about starting to feed their toddler the same meal as the rest of the family, they often have questions about safety and what to do when. If you want to know more about what is age and stage appropriate, this article from parents.com is very informative.
If you are the parent of a fussy eater you are probably wondering how to cope with the fall-out that will probably ensue if you suddenly start to serve your child the same foods as the rest of the family. In my book, I talk you through how and why to make changes (this one included) to how you feed your family that will have a profound impact on your child's eating.
It may seem like an unattainable goal, but with persistence and an understanding of what you are doing and why you are doing it, calm mealtimes with everyone eating the same food can be a reality. Better for you, better for your child.