For the first few years of each of my children’s life, they have eaten healthily, enjoying balanced, nutritious food.
However I have seen a turning point where previously my broad eaters become fussy, where the snacks are desired to be sweet and no longer savoury, where old favourite dishes lie untouched.
Whether you too have witnessed this turning point, or begin from a base of your child’s narrow eating, or simply see troublesome eating from time to time, I have some insights and pointers for you.
First and foremost, eating is tied up with feelings. We can not stomach anything when we are nervous, apprehensive, afraid, feeling criticized, when we are in conflict with our eating partner, and more.
And so it is for our children; their eating is tied up with their feelings, and most importantly their feeling of connection with us.
So long as babies are gazing into our eyes with adoration, they are consuming. When babies are feeling our haste, our lack of attention, when they are feeling sleepy, grouchy, unconfortable in the high chair, or simply not hungry, then eating becomes a battle.
For children, food indeed becomes difficult when there is something on their mind. There could be some upset, worry, anxiety or fear that we have no idea about.
Children feel the sensation in their bodies physically, and this feeling blocks the impulse to eat. When such a feeling presides for a child, the only way to express the feeling is through what we see as off-track behaviour; aggression, agitation, restlessness, rigidity or defiance.
For the immature prefontal cortex of our young children’s brains knows no emotional regulation yet, only impulsivity. If all is healthy, emotional regulation is refined between the ages of five to seven.
We are the solution in helping our children move through their feelings, and come to eat easily. Here are the five ways:
When we meet their apparent horrid behaviour with empathy of what lies beneath, we can shift their anxiety and troubles. When we sincerely care, we can lead our children to the table willingly and have them eat free of numbered bites and controlled consumption.
When we let go of our own worry at our children’s fussy eating and simply cultivate the faith in their unfolding, we all make leaps. Then our children respond to the lack of pressure rather than fulfill our concerns, and will oblige to the open invitation to eat.
A picky eater is a child orchestrating their own plate, demanding certain ingredients and taking charge of their eating. This child doesn’t expect to be served, instead she assumes the lead in declaring the food she will or won’t eat.
When we work towards reversing these roles and take charge of our children’s eating, miracles happen. When we take the lead in our children’s eating, we demonstrate our care through food. Eating and connection are the two ways into the hearts of our children.
When we provide meals and snacks from a place of delighting in feeding our children, we take into account the foods they like and don’t like, we serve from a place of generosity and care. We present meals rather than asking open questions such as ‘what do you want for breakfast?’ We greet our children armed with the appropriate snacks rather than forgetting their vital fuel.
We allow our fussy eater to take charge somewhere else, but not over their own eating. So we invite him to prepare a sibling’s meal or his own snack, dessert or meal itself. We arrange the ingredients and equipment and offer guidance. In this way, he assumes healthy responsibility and will be naturally excited to eat.
We sit down together at a table, screen and device free. Preserving and prioritizing family meal times goes a long way towards upholding harmonious eating.
We take the focus off the food by generating happy chat, laughter if possible. My children love the game of one truth and two pretends. This is an effective conversation starter, plus a good tool in discovering what happened during your child’s day. Here each diner says one true statement that happened for them today and two lies, and the others must work out which is the truth.
Feeding our children, although appears like attending to one of their most basic needs, is actually fueling so much more. Through feeding we are displaying love, cultivating connection, illustrating family values, understanding the relationships between food and health.
We have so many opportunities daily, weekly to practice the giving of nourishment, to play with the food we offer our children and to persevere in feeding them.
Finally, I have a video for you! I would like to give you a taste and insight into the healthy cookery classes I have been teaching since 2009, with this film made by Sky TV.
I thank you greatly for reading my articles, I am honoured to be sending you them.
By the way the Gaia Gang is resuming next Friday 14th June and there are still a few spaces remaining on the Gaia Retreat - I would love to have you with us!
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Gaia Retreat on Saturday 29th June 2019. Get-away for the day and receive life-changing positive parenting tools, plant cookery and full luncheon.
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