I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of eating, which makes sense as that’s where my studies began, completing a Bachelor of Psychology. Eating is so much more complicated than we realize. Think of the many factors involved in why our eating attitudes and behaviours are the way they are: genetics (were you an eager eater to start, or more selective?), your home environment growing up (were you forced to clean your plate, or did you have free reign in the kitchen?), your peers (what sorts of foods did they eat and bring to school?), the media (what shows or advertisements influenced you?), the environment around you….the list goes on!
But instead, I wanted to share a few things that I’ve learned from watching my kids eat from the time they first tried solid foods. Yes you heard that right. As much as I like to think that I am showing my littles the way through the world of food and eating, my kids really have taught me some valuable lessons that only they could teach.
- A bit less about emotion, a bit more about filling tummies. As a dietitian, I talk about the many reasons why we eat. Uh…cause we’re hungry, you say? Well yes that’s certainly one reason, but adults also tend to eat for reasons such as boredom, stress, comfort, emotions (positive and negative). My kids, however, tend to eat for one reason: they’re hungry! This changes gradually over time if parents fall into the trap of allowing kids to graze throughout the day, or offering foods as comfort, which is why I strongly encourage parents to stick to feeding kids at structured meal and snack times.
- New foods are a possibility. Adults (at least most of the ones I know) tend to stick to the foods they like and steer clear of ones they don’t. But with my kids, fortunately, it’s usually not quite so set in stone. Don’t get me wrong, my 4-year old loves to proudly declare when he “loves” or “dislikes” a food (“blehh!!), but I’ve seen these foods change from day to day, week to week, month to month. My kids also seem to be open to trying new foods, not always, but sometimes.
- When they’re done, they’re done. Not me. I’ll be the first to admit, I have a hard time not finishing what’s on my plate, especially if it’s something I love. Adults tend to eat beyond their need especially when distracted, which let’s face it, many of us are while eating these days. We live in a world where multi-tasking is expected and applauded. My kids, however, very clearly identify when they’re done and aren’t afraid to let everyone know (“I’m done!!!”).
- All senses on board. When I watch my kids eat, they experience their food with all of their senses. They examine it closely, feel it, smell it, taste it… their sensory systems seem to use all tools available to decide how they feel about it. Yes, this does mean things can get messy. But this is the first step in the transition to solid foods, sensing it with hands and mouths. Somehow, a part of this sensory process seems to get lost as we age, or perhaps it’s that we are just so damn rushed all the time. Our approach as adults when eating seems to be strongly focussed on the end result: getting the food into our bellies as quickly as possible, rather than the full sensory experience that good food so deserves.
- Nutrients schmutrients. If you haven’t heard of “orthorexia”, it’s an obsession with healthy eating and a condition we are seeing more of these days as trendy detoxes and fad diets abound. Things have swung a bit too far for some, from eating whatever we please to fixating on every single nutrient we put into our bodies. The day I hear my kids complain that they didn’t get enough riboflavin to meet their daily needs is the day hell freezes over. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware of the importance of meeting nutrient needs. It’s my job afterall. But we need to strike a better balance of being health conscious vs. health-obsessed. How kids eat can be a great reminder of the importance of relaxing around food and remembering that, ultimately, it should be a source of pleasure and enjoyment, not stress or guilt.
So this long weekend, do your kids a favour. Go get some ice cream and enjoy the heck out of it!