One of the most enjoyable parts of being a parent for me has been watching my eldest daughter evolve into a happy and adventurous eater. The 5 year road to this point was not lined with roses and unicorns. There were many bumps and turns in the road, such as the 18 month extremely picky phase and the ‘I will only eat bread and cheese’ phase. But, we made it. And my 5 year old is the perfect example of how our mantra, relax about your food ,works.
It’s not easy. It’s not easy to stay relaxed as you navigate those extremely picky eating patches. And they will happen. Promise you. It’s a normal part of your child’s development. They are independent creatures and they want to exert control over every aspect of their lives, including what they eat. I mean, don’t we all? So, we have to give them some control, give them some responsibility over what they eat. And in turn, you get to let go of the stress and anxiety and relax. And let me tell you, it works!
When my eldest daughter first joined my husband and I at the dinner table a few years ago, it was damn hard to sit back and relax when she refused to eat pretty much anything I cooked. And I did what every parent would, I bribed, I coaxed, I put on the whole song and dance in an effort to get her to have just one more bite of chicken. Our family meals were just not enjoyable at all. I actually began to dread eating dinner with this little monster who seemed to have made it her life’s mission to refuse every single food I cooked.
My Light Bulb Moment!
And then, a light bulb went off. And I learned about the feeding philosophy called The Division of Responsibility developed by the great Ellyn Satter (you can read more about it in a previous post here). The basics – both parents AND kids need to share in the responsibility around feeding and eating.
And once I learned that I was simply responsible for what she eats, when she eats, and where she eats and it was her responsibility to decide how much she eats and whether she eats at all, I began to relax. I began to not stress if she didn’t eat a single vegetable at any meal or if she only ate bread and cheese three meals a day. Sure, I implemented some of our other fool proof strategies for feeding families, I always ensured there was one food on the table she usually gravitated too (we ate a lot of bread in those days) and I continued to not utter a word about what she did or did not eat.
Where We Are Now
Well here we are, a few years later. The world is still spinning and my daughter has continued to grow. And now, when we sit down to a meal as a family, she’s the first one to ask to try every single item on the table, without any coaxing or bribing from me. Her favourite foods continue to be bread and plain pasta with butter (they are pretty darn delicious), but roasted broccoli, grilled tilapia, cooked spinach and onions are up there too. Just the other night she scarfed down two helpings of our Ravioli Lasagna, spinach and all. Something that most definitely would not have happened two or three years ago.
So I sit here, swelling a little with pride, that my child has grown into a pretty adventurous eater and has developed a happy and healthy relationship with food. And I know this could change on a dime and tomorrow she could return to her picky ways. And I know this will get even more challenging as she faces the influences of peers, teachers, and the most frightening to me, social media. But I’m hopeful, that this relaxed approach to feeding and eating will help her continue on this path.