People I have worked with will know that I am always banging on about the merits of the open cup. I often meet parents of toddlers with eating problems who still drink from a bottle with a teat. This is really common - it's extremely easy to get stuck with a habit that is comforting to your child, especially if it's part of your bedtime routine. Making transitions like this ( for example, ditching dummies / pacifiers) takes time and energy that are in short supply for most parents.Read More
When I was 14, my parents sent me to France to live with a family over the Summer, in the hope that I would learn some French and come back mature, well-rounded and independent (and I think they wanted a break from my teenage mega-strops). I did come back speaking French, so it half worked. Not only was it a linguistic journey, it was also a culinary experience that has stayed with me to this day.Read More
At the heart of my work with the parents of picky eaters is a secret. An idea that is extremely simple and yet can be very hard to accept. I call it 'The Feeding Paradox'. Here it is. 'The harder you try, the worse things will get'
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.
UK based Junior Chef’s Academy is all about helping young people to make smarter choices about healthy eating by making food education fun. I feel strongly that getting children cooking is a vital part of helping them form a good relationship with food (plus it's fun! ) so I invited Junior Chef's Academy to contribute a guest post about the value of getting children into the kitchen, handling and learning about food.Read More
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
Doing what you can to try to prevent your child becoming a picky eater does not start with weaning. It does not even start with how you feed your new-born (although there is some interesting research about the impact of breastfeeding on children's food preferences). It starts in pregnancy.Read More
Ever stopped to consider the myriad ways you try to get your child to eat? In this post, I'll be looking at what we do to encourage our kids to eat, why we do it and what effect it has.Read More
American sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert, Dina Rose PhD is the author of the fantastic 'It's Not About the Broccoli'.
I reviewed her book back in January and loved her approach. Like me, Dina helps parents understand that when it comes to feeding your kids, it's more important to help them develop a positive relationship with food than to simply focus on getting as much healthy food down them as possible. Here's how Dina answered my questions:Read More
I love it when readers get in touch with their questions about picky eating. It's funny how the same things come up again and again... It might feel like you are alone, but believe me, you're not. Despite unique situations and cultural differences, parents thousands of miles apart are going through the same things. When I got the following email from Sheila and Lisa about their two sons (aged 8 and 10) and then a client asked me the same question the very next day, I felt it deserved a blog post.Read More
Rewarding with food is standard parenting practice - for example, many parents use sweet treats to encourage their child to use the potty, or to recognise good behaviour. This gives the child the following message: "I approve of you, and so you can have sweet food" . To take it a step further, from the child's point of view, it equates eating sweet food with feeling loved. EAF is all about separating food from feelings so that children eat for physiological rather than emotional reasons.Read More
This EAF principle is all about the importance of your emotional reaction to your child's eating. Why is it important? Well, because your feelings have a profound effect on your child's eating behaviour.Read More
When I work with the families of picky eaters, I begin with an in-depth assessment. Parents are expecting my questions about how feeding progressed in the early days and about the transition from breast or bottle to solids. What they are not necessarily expecting are questions about their own food history.
Your food legacy
We all bring our own unique baggage to the task of parenting. Our attitudes and beliefs are very much shaped by our childhood experiences. Sometimes we unconsciously repeat how we were parented, sometimes we very consciously choose to do things differently. Either way, our own pasts are there in the background.
I call the thoughts and feelings associated with eating that we carry with us from childhood our 'food legacy'. Until you have spent time thinking and talking about your food legacy, you won't be able to fully appreciate how it impacts on your child's relationship with food.
Let me give you an example. In one of the case studies I did when I was researching War & Peas, I spoke to a mother who met my initial question about her relationship with food with surprise. She told me that she loves eating, she's a keen cook and has no issues with food whatsoever. After a little probing, however, she started to tell me about some painful childhood memories of meals where her very authoritarian father would make her stay at the table for hours until she had finished everything on her plate. She began to see that her attitude to her son's eating was coloured by this - she never wanted him to go through what she had and so if he didn't like his meal, she'd prepare him an alternative.
Another parent* I spoke to frequently went hungry as a child. As a result, she was very sensitive to her daughter saying she was hungry and would let her take biscuits to bed with her. Her daughter was a bright little girl and soon saw that she could pursuade her mother to give her snacks just by crying and saying she was hungry. Soon, she had no appetite at mealtimes and things went from bad to worse.
Three questions to ask yourself...
The following questions will get you started on the process of examining your food legacy. Take some time to talk through your responses with a friend or partner.
1) Was food used to punish or reward when you were growing up?
2)What food rules did your parent/s or carers have for you as a child?
3) How do these differ from the mealtime rules you have established in your house?
4) What is your happiest food memory?
5)What is your worst food memory?
Sometimes, your food legacy will be mostly positive - perhaps your parents were laid back about eating and you grew up enjoying food as a family. For others, food can be a life-long demon to battle. If you feel you have issues around food that you cannot manage by yourself, seek help. Eating disorders are really common, for example, a recent US study found that about half a million American teens struggle with disordered eating. There are many good websites in the US and in the UK , that can point you in the direction of further support.
Once you've gained some insight into your own relationship with food and have an understanding about where your beliefs and attitudes come from, you will be in a very strong position from which to work on your child's fussy eating. You will find it much easier to genuinely relax at mealtimes and to process the emotions that come up for you when your child refuses food.
* Note: Any cases referred to are reproduced with permission
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.
These days, my stock response to most of what life has to throw at me is "I've got an app for that...". I came late to the world of smartphones and the novelty still hasn't worn off. I'm repeatedly amazed that I can find my way around, find out what the weather has in store and do my shopping - all with just a finger-swipe. So when I discovered that there were several apps on the market for picky eaters, I was interested to see what they had to offer. Here's what I found:Read More
Jennifer is a speech language pathologist from the USA, whose goal is to guide parents, professionals and kids to strategies that help them celebrate their uniqueness while improving their lives & situations in the areas of: communication, picky eating and executive function. She is a parent to two teens who allow her to hone her skills on them.Read More