Helping your child overcome issues with food is no different from tackling the other myraid of parenting challenges that life throws at us. The real beginning of the journey is about acknowledging that you have a problem. If you have a picky eater in the family, there are so many reasons why you may not yet have sought help. You may be unsure of where to go for support, you may have complex feelings about your child's eating, perhaps secretly suspecting that you may be part of the problem - facing up to these emotions is not easy. This post is about how to begin to turn things around.Read More
For the most part, children's mealtime behaviour happens behind closed doors. However, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or a feast day from another cultural tradition, big family meals mean eating in front of many people - often a time when parents of fussy eaters feel judged. Many parents tell me that they avoid revealing the full extent of their child's restricted eating because they are embarrassed about it or feel that it's some kind of reflection on them. At big family meals, there's nowhere to hide.Read More
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.Read More
Since ancient times, eating has been a communal business. We celebrate with food. We use food to mark significant cultural occasions. We re-group at the end of the day and share a meal along with our news. In recent times, however, there are so many demands on our time that the family meal is no longer the institution it used to be.
It was a huge pleasure to work with Michelle - I wanted to share this video so that other parents can understand that they are not alone with their concerns about picky eating. It is a really common problem and can cause a huge amount of stress to parents and children alike. Luckily, there are some straightforward changes that you can make to family life which will make an enormous amount of difference.
I have a two year old. This means that a lot of my time is spent picking food up from every visible surface (and some less visible ones... it's amazing what the underside of a booster-seat can harbour). Sometimes this is frustrating, sometimes it's plain disgusting. It is, however, essential. Here are three reasons why messy mealtimes are so important:Read More
This month I will be publishing a series of posts summarising the EAF rules. If you don't have time to read my book about picky eating, or you prefer your parenting advice in small bites, this series is for you. Although it is based in psychological theory and research, EAF is a straightforward and practical philosophy that can be reduced to a few simple rules and principles. Here is the first :
'Never praise or criticise how or what your child is eating'
Mealtime criticism comes in many forms. It's very easy to compare your child's eating to that of siblings "why can't you be a good eater like Isobel?" This makes your child feel labelled and will actually make picky eating worse. It's amazing how children will live up to your expectations, both positive or negative.
Sometimes parents criticise manners - it's fine to work on the finer points of eating behaviour like finishing a mouthful before talking or improving cutlery skills when your child is eating well and enjoying meals. Until that point, concentrate on making meals as relaxed as possible. This is not achievable if you spend a lot of time telling your child what they are doing wrong.
If you give your child attention that is related to how or what they are eating (whether through criticism or praise) you are conveying a message that eating is a behaviour you want your child to 'perform' for you. This immediately gives them an opening to use it as an emotional lever. You can read more about why this is unhelpful here. Of course, if you are worried about your child's fussiness, your natural instinct will be to praise her when she eats well. Don't! It sounds counter-intuitive but ignoring both good and bad eating is one of the keys to solving it.
If you praise or criticise your child for what goes into her mouth, you are bringing the focus sharply onto her eating. This piles the pressure on. Let her make her own decisions about how much she eats (within the context of appropriate meals and snacks offered by you) . Instead of concentrating on what's being consumed, concentrate on the social side of eating - research tells us that the happier and calmer meals can be, the better your child will eat.
It matters because everything you say around food and everything you do around food, is being absorbed by the living sponge that is your child. What we tell our children forms a tiny percentage of their learning, whether we're talking about how to treat one another, how to cross the road safely or how to behave at mealtimes. The real influence is...... US. If you raise your voice to tell your child not to shout, you're actually giving her the opposite message. Ditto if you smack your child for being aggressive (but that's another debate) . The behaviour we demonstrate, or 'model' to use the technical term, sends our children thousands of messages about how to relate to the world. It starts young - picture your toddler trying to copy you as you go about your day. Children are hard-wired to imitate.
In 2012, almost a quarter of US adults said they were on a diet at some point during the year. Older data from the UK placed the figure slightly higher, with more than one in four adults on a diet "most of the time". Millions of parents will be controlling what they eat because they want to loose weight - what does this mean for their children?
Three things to avoid if you're a parent on a diet:
- GUILT - guilt is a destructive emotion. If your child hears you talking about food guiltily, she will learn to connect eating and emotions
- SELF LOATHING - If your child hears you saying you are fat, you don't like your body, etc, she will learn to feel disgust at her body too
- TEMPTATION - If you describe how much you want to eat something 'forbidden', your child will absorb the message that sweet or unhealthy treats are to be aspired to whilst the healthy stuff is hard work. This is something I've written about elsewhere.
Instead, try to serve the whole family the same meal as far as possible. I'm not suggesting you put your entire family on the cabbage soup diet, but if your children can eat what you are eating without compromising their well-being, why not get healthier together?
Talk about wanting to be 'healthy' as opposed to 'thin' and if you want your children to enjoy their food, show them that you enjoy yours.
It's baby-led weaning week on the EAF blog and to start us off, I am excited to be posting an interview with Nutritional Therapist Kathryn Barker. Kathryn runs 'BabyBites' baby-led weaning and infant nutrition classes in the East Midlands, UK. Kathryn trained as a Nutritional Therapist when her eldest child was a baby. She is passionate about baby-led weaning and started teaching other parents about it when she realised that there was a huge demand for more information on the subject.
Here's how Kathryn answered my questions:
1) What made you want to train as a Nutritional Therapist?It was because of a personal interest in nutrition and wanting to learn more. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I went to University but as I got older I became more aware about what a difference having a good diet can make and how important it is to all areas of our health. When I had my first child I wanted to make sure I was equipped with the knowledge to ensure I could give her the best start in life in terms of her development.
2) You teach baby-led weaning classes - what is about baby-led weaning that appeals to you? Baby led weaning appeals to me for many reasons. When you look at it logically, it makes complete sense to let a baby learn to chew food before they learn how to swallow it. The fact that a baby’s gag reflex is much further forward in their mouth when they are young, and moves back as they get older, suggests that this is the way mother nature intended babies to move onto food from milk. It also helps to develop a healthy relationship with food because there is no pressure placed on the baby around mealtimes. It’s wonderful watching a baby develop the skills needed to eat different foods and enjoy a wide variety of tastes and textures.
3) If you could give one piece of advice to new parents about weaning, what would it be?
Try and relax about it and don’t panic if your child doesn’t want to eat at every meal or every day. That’s normal. It’s far better that you allow your baby to make those decisions than to force food on them. I think people worry too much that their baby isn’t eating what they expect them to but it’s important to recognise that every baby is different, and that everyone has days when they lose their appetite for one reason or another.
4) What question do parents most frequently want an answer to in relation to food and feeding?
The main concerns people have are what their baby can and can’t eat and when. There seems to be a lot of mixed information out there which can overwhelm people. Advice keeps changing too in line with recent research so it can be a bit of a minefield and people worry they are going to get it wrong.
5) Do you have a 'nutrition hero'? Which writers / thinkers have influenced you in your work?
I’m not sure I have a ‘nutrition hero’ but I find the work which they do at the Brain Bio Clinic fascinating. I watched a lecture from them about nutrition and mental health which was very inspiring. The effect that changing the diet can have on conditions such as schizophrenia can be amazing and far more effective than the traditional drugs often used. I wish there was more awareness out there for people with mental health issues (and also carers) that a more holistic approach might be effective for them, and have less side effects than some of the medication given.
6) What are you up to at the moment? Any interesting plans for 2014?
Until my youngest starts playgroup at the end of the year I don’t want to take too much on. I’m happy continuing with the classes and spending time with him. I’d like to get more into foraging though and get creative in the kitchen. I made some lovely elderflower champagne last year and loads of cherry jam. Hopefully we’ll get some sunshine eventually and we’ll be able to get out round the woodlands and hedgerows to see what we can find!
Thanks so much to Kathryn for generously sharing her thoughts and experience - you can find out more about her work and
classes via her
and you can also keep up to date with her on her
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that it is good thing to encourage children to try new foods. Even parents who don't put any pressure on their children to eat often tell them to "just try it!" . There is even an entire picky eating programmed based on the idea of trying small amounts of new foods - of which, more later.Read More
"Don't praise or criticise your child for what they eat" is one of the principles central to EAF. This may seem surprising. Most parents would agree that the way to get your child to perform a desired behaviour is through the use of sanctions and rewards, whether that reward is something tangible or comes in the form of praise.Read More
One of the time-honoured tools in the parental kit-bag is the reward chart. Often, parents reach for the gold stars when tackling picky eating. If your child eats well, you want to encourage that behaviour so you reward it. So why is one of the central principles of EAF the idea that you should never praise or criticise how or what your child eats?Read More