Packing up the house for shifting, revealed some truths ,that whacked my presumably grounded brain to the top floor of temper. Behind all the storage bags, under the washing machine, top of the inverter battery, inside the crockery boxes, I found the cockroaches along with the stale, hardened , mossy pieces of wholewheat chapatis (Indian flatbread) everywhere. They had been dumped by my then 9 year old son over a period of 2 years. I am a strict mother when it comes to finishing food on the plate. My self-perception is also of being a mother who does not force feed. It was a perceptions blast moment for me. I became vindictive for a while and made him finish his food in front of me , only to discover later ,morsels tucked under the rug on which we sit and eat. He was simply outwitting me with his clever fingers. Needless to say it made me think about my approach to my kids meals.
Was I serving them more than they could eat? Maybe
Was I cooking sub -par tasty meals? Sometimes
Was I forcing my will on their appetites? Yes
This line of questioning led me to more questions
Do I trust my kids to realize /understand their own hunger?
Do I trust my kids to eat the right quantity?
Do I trust my kids to make the right choices when they eat?
Am I exerting my mom authority to feed them what/how much I want?
Let’s look at some conversations that are part of every household having kids , witnessed by all of us.
Kid – Mom this is spicy , I cant have it.
Mom – Right , you find this spicy, but not the noodles we ordered at the weekend.
Kid – Mom I am full , cant have another bite
Mom – Sure , you are full, have another bowl, that’s what the kids of your age are supposed to eat
Kid after gulping down all the salad , refuses to eat rice/daal. Mom’s reaction –
Beta , why don’t you watch some TV (tries to feed this bowl with the child too busy to notice while glued to the screen)
A new mother breastfeeds 18 month old child, then immediately after ,tries to feed a banana and when the toddler refuses , feels frustrated.
Most of us have been there, done that, or are undergoing it currently.
When we force feed our kids, we are indirectly telling them that they should not trust their own intuition. What they feel about their hunger and satiation is not right and they need not listen to their bodies and inner feelings. This is the first step leading them to unhealthy relation to food and their own bodies. This is a tough path to follow with all our motherly love, care and concern wherein our intention is to keep them healthy and “chubby”.
Recent incident at home on a weekend evening
My 10 year old son came and complained of a stomachache, I brushed it aside citing it might be due to hunger. He insisted that he is not hungry but I distracted him mentioning that we are going out for dinner. He again requested if he could skip out of this dinner but I insisted that he cannot and so he went. All of us had pizza, pasta, pastries and more junk . Next morning he woke up with multiple rounds of loose motions.
Lesson learnt yet again that trust your kids when they express something. This will teach them to trust their own instincts and that will be their guiding force for the rest of their life.
Every time we dismiss their feelings about their body and food , we are teaching them not to trust their intuition. We are telling them not to understand their hunger and thirst , thereby disconnecting them from their bodies, setting them up to fall for body image issues when they don’t know how much or what to eat. We are making them vulnerable to experience inferiority complexes due to popular perceptions of being fat or thin or muscular .
As toddlers most of the kids have phases of eating certain food items for a certain period of time. When they move on to something else and look at their most favourite item of the last meal with monstrous hatred, it baffles most of the caregivers.
Ayurveda explains it with the growth phase of our bodies. As per the need of the phase the child may exhibit food preferences may it be for fruits, grains, lentils, eggs , fish ,dairy or any other “natural grown produce”.
It can also be explained through the taste buds development in an infant. Breast milk is naturally sweetish in taste (so is cow’s pure milk). The first taste which infants take on are simple sweetish ones like banana, apple, mango progressing on slightly salty /non sweet ones like rice, porridge, lentils.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to introducing new tastes and meals to toddlers. One school of thought believes in cooking separate meals for babies with milder, simpler tastes. Second school of thought believes in feeding family food to them. There are some families where spicy food is the norm and hence it makes sense to make separate food for the babies. French families are known to offer table food to babies, so are many families I know who do that (including me).
Once the toddler stage is over, young kids start expressing their specific preferences of taste and likes/dislikes. There are 2 major factors which work at this stage. First is their body constitution and related taste buds telling them what they like and dislike. Second is the influence of adults food behaviour around them. The closest example to this would be from my own 2 kids. My elder took to eating and liking karela (bittergourd) since he was 3-4 yrs old whereas my younger eats only the onions from it. My elder one runs away from sour taste things while my younger one revels in it. All this is derived from what their bodies need as individuals.
How we as adults influence their food preferences?
When one adult in the family turns up his/her nose to a certain meal, veggie, fruit while eating with the child or in the vicinity, kids are quick to pick up these perceptions for themselves. A friend’s husband prefers to eat only potato. She faces a permanent struggle to teach her kids to eat veggies. When an adult reacts to a papaya with a yuck or complains about having bottlegourd (lauki) for dinner, we are passing on these dislike legacies to our kids. There are a lot of families where a lot of vegetables have never been bought, cooked or tasted ever as a result of one adult in the previous generation not liking it. In my family I’m the culprit for not buying and cooking whole or split black urad lentils. When my kids had it at a friend’s place, they loved it and now it’s my turn to cook it.
From the age of 4 onwards or wherever we are currently there could be baby steps to be taken to teach ourselves to trust our babies to feed themselves.
- Give up feeding the smallest meal and delegate it to the child, typically an evening snack where you can compensate at dinnertime if they haven’t eaten properly. It could also be a mid-day fruit or any such small bowl.
- Appreciate the child for having it on his/her own and refrain from commenting on how they are eating / how much they are eating and so on.
- Start building up patience for the days when kids will refuse to eat a particular serving or won’t eat properly and will be cranky or crying later because they are still hungry. On those days, give them a chance to experience that hunger and let them eat snacks of their choice intermittently till the next meal time.
- Move on to a major meal maybe lunch or dinner and for a few days give them time to eat with a lot of strewing on the plate, table and do not reprimand them for eating shabbily, too little or too slow.
- With growing kids like mine (10 and 6 yrs old) this is what I did to loosen control. In order to make them feel responsible for their own hunger and the quantity they need to eat, I asked them to make rotis for themselves under adult supervision. I stopped serving them portions on their plates totally. There were days when they ate lesser than their hunger and I saw them munching away on something or the other just half hour after the meal but I kept my mouth shut in the hope that they will realize sooner or later , how much they need to eat .
Disclaimer – Snacks do not mean chips/cheese slices/cookies/cakes/ maggi/bread. Any homemade small eats like ladoos,chakli,khakhra,mathri,chiwda, bhel ,parantha, fruits, dry fruits are eligible participants of this community.
My elder one who is now 11 is in a boarding school where food is available in certain time intervals with no provision for food otherwise. He told me how once he did not eat his dinner properly because of his dislike for the meal . He woke up famished in the morning and since then has sworn to eat his dinner properly irrespective of whats offered on the menu. On the other hand my younger one who is at home shows tremendous appetite especially when she is bored or has nothing to do. Needless to say , the struggle continues.