Updated: Jan 9, 2019
As a dietitian, I realize I probably think about food way more than most parents, but feeding my child and helping her learn to feed herself comprised most of my brain power as we ventured out of the "breast milk/formula only" ages and into the wild west of "real food" eating. This required not only brushing up on my knowledge and understanding of anatomy development (I never realized how much I take the pincer grasp, having an esophagus wider than a grape, and more than 3 teeth for granted) but a firm pep talk to myself that I am capable of doing this.
After all, millions of mothers around the world have transitioned their kids to eating real food for thousands of years. This is nothing new. And yet, how I'm going to do it with my child sitting right in front of me still feels like blazing new trails.
I think this is why we parents are so receptive to the packaged offerings of stage-by-stage processed foods, because we are just not sure what to feed our babies or sometimes even ourselves. So, we figure, best to leave it to the professional food companies.
But this can affect our kids' relationships with food from the very beginning: food prep is more complicated than we normal people can handle.
Here are some tips I've found helpful as our family dove into the deep end of feeding and eating in this day in age:
My confidence in my capability to feed my kid started with my confidence to capably feed myself.
My journey has been long and winding, like many in their relationships to food, but it is called a journey for a reason. It is ever-progressing and ever-changing. And yet, I am further along than my daughter is, and I can share with her what I know now. Regardless of how you have treated your body in the past or where you stand with it now, you can teach your kids what you have learned thus far. Your body is amazing. Dynamic. Impacted by the foods you eat. It gives you clues to how it's doing based on your digestion, mood and health. Follow the clues.
Michael Pollan's quintessential phrases hold true when feeding ourselves as well as our kids: Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
If I start with that, both she and I will keep moving forward in this journey.
What did that look like practically? Well for us, it looked something like sweet potatoes, black beans and tomato sauce. sometimes smashed together, sometimes cubed, sometimes nicely plated, sometimes spooned, sometimes by the fistful (her fists not mine).
Sometimes and some days I'm more hungry than others.
If this is true for me based on the varying requirements of the day, it's probably going to be true for my kid as well. This is what is meant by saying our bodies are dynamic. shifting. changing. the idea that we all need the exact same caloric amount of food every single day is a fallacy. Your body is not a machine. It's a living dynamic being in a living dynamic world. The same is true for your kids; even though they are tiny, they are dynamic. If my daughter eats every meal and snack one day and then picks at things the next day, it doesn't mean I need to start labeling her as "picky" and shove supplements at her. It might mean she is responding. adapting. listening to the cues her body is giving her. Just as I do when i eat more on some days and less on others. It's a process. She's learning to listen.
As much as we tout variety in foods, there is also something to be said for familiarity, rhythm and routine.
I love that every morning I know exactly what I'm having for breakfast with my cup of coffee. We are all creatures of habit to some degree. It shouldn't be surprising that there are certain foods that my daughter decides she prefers over others:something that is stable in her ever-changing and developing sense of the world. Does it makes sense to let her have the same thing every single day at every single meal? Of course not. That is rigidity. There needs to be balance in finding a rhythm that allows for a bit of flexibility but is consistent. The context can change but the concepts are the stable piece.
What does that look like practically? In our house, it means we always have breakfast within an hour of waking. It usually varies between one of two or three options. There is some variety. But mostly consistency. She knows that she is getting food regularly and it can vary depending on her mood or desire but it is mostly the same options.
There is so much to this complex relationship with food and feeding ourselves that we are really just scratching the surface.
The more I lean on my own understanding of my body and its needs the more I can help her listen to her own body to not just fuel but nourish it beyond the food she eats.
If you find that feeding your kids has been particularly difficult because you don't feel capable or confident in feeding yourself, this might be the perfect time for you to shift your self care towards this area of your health. I'd love to help you figure out what that looks like for yourself and your family.