Recently, numerous studies have shown that feeding your child when they want and how much they want has many virtues.
A child whose eating is controlled in some way by her parents loses her ability to self-regulate, and her desire for the “forbidden food” increases.
- Teresa Graham Brett, Parenting for social change
When my daughter was 5 months, she got all excited when she saw us eat a papaya. There was no way beyond letting her suckle it for a while. That’s how her free food journey started.
Purees were never her thing, and eating on our timetable either, so we ended up doing something like Baby Led Weaning, without knowing such a thing actually existed. By the time she was one, she was happily munching away at the foods she picked out herself. And this has set her course for the rest of her little life until now.
When she was a little older, I read about free range or unschooled food, and even though we had never been very restrictive, it made me rethink some of my attitudes towards food, especially unhealthy foods. So we gave it a go and had an open fridge (and cupboards) for the little one, and stocked up on the things she would occasionally ask for, like cookies or candy.
|Image: Beatrice Killam on Dreamstime|
There are days when she seems to eat a lot of cookies, but then again, there are days where she binges on bananas or tomatoes.
Not only has this free food been liberating and has made us rethink the way we feel about food, it has made for a happy, well nourished child. We never have any food struggles at our house, not about the times she eats, where she eats or what she is eating, because we trust that she knows her body best to make the right decisions.
For family meals we eat paleo, which she most often joins in eagerly, and most of our food is free range, organic or homegrown.
She is known to amaze us when we are in the store, declining grandmother’s offer for a chocolate croissant and choosing mushrooms instead (which indeed have to be eaten as breakfast).
So how do you do it?
- The most important thing is to change your knee-jerk reactions to food issues. Define where your problems lie? Is eat eating healthy? Finishing food? Eating together or in a specific room? Try to pin point these objections and release them. Many of the eating problems that affect children and their families have their roots in issues of control. (Rapley, G. Murkell, T. 2010)
- If they are little, the best way to start is Baby Led Weaning (or Baby Led Solids), have the child initiate the journey into solid foods, allow them to decide what they eat and how much of it they eat. Prepare your meals with them in mind and have them join in as much as possible.
- Take your child to the store and have them choose. If they have been fairly restricted food-wise, you should not be surprised if what they choose is everything you disagree with. Stop disagreeing, when they find out that the world is their oyster, they will moderate bad eating habits and regulate themselves to what their bodies need.
- Do not place emotion into foods. Don’t speak of food as bad, or use it as reward or as an emotional fix. This does not mean that you can’t discuss the quality and nutritious benefits of some foods over others. Just don’t demonize certain foods.
- Leave your cupboards and fridge open to your children, place food at their level, make it known that they are to eat whatever and whenever they like.
- Have a variety of snacks at home, both salty, sweet and healthy ones.
- Involve them in your cooking and grocery shopping (growing) process.
- Don’t be afraid of bingeing, these happen. When you introduce free foods, this may simply be a reaction of disbelief (get it while we can), and later on, they may binge on foods because they get to know them, because they haven’t had them for a while, or because they contain a nutrient their body is in search of at that specific moment. These flares of interest pass.
Parenting for Social Change, Teresa Graham Brett (2011)
Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods - and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater, Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett (2010)