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Food fights

January 16, 2014

The Motherlode blog of the New York Times is currently featuring a six week experiment to help a family with a four year old who has come to dominate the family dinner table with his unwillingness to vary from a fixed and unhealthy selection of food. As all parents and people who work with small children and their families know only too well, food and mealtimes are among the most common arenas in which battles for autonomy and control occur. Sleeping is another that I will address in a future blog.

Nourishment is the very first currency of exchange in which a baby experiences his or her interactions with another human being. For this reason, food remains fundamental throughout life to human social experience. Food and eating behavior are a common area in which distress, anxiety, anger and many other individual and interactive problems can be expressed.  Yet food, the act of eating, of preparing, serving and sharing food can be among our most pleasurable experiences and a joyful center of family life.

Often I hear of  busy mothers, who may also be working outside the home, cooking several different meals to accommodate the various tastes of her family. Or they may have given in to their child’s willingness to eat nothing but pasta and cheese at every dinner. Junk food is better than no food, right? After all, he is impossible to manage if he is hungry, so he has to eat something, right? Not right. Unless the child is severely malnourished or failing to thrive, the answer is No! If there is a selection of healthy foods available for the family meal: protein, several vegetables, perhaps grain and fruit, then the parents can remove themselves from the battle. They have done their part of the job, to provide the healthy food and the mealtime together. It is the child’s choice whether to eat or not. But it is not the child’s choice to demand a separate meal. Pediatricians find themselves often telling parents: your child will not starve if they miss a dinner or two due to tantrums. Of course, there have to be preparatory steps if this means a vast change in parental behavior toward the child. And the best plan is to engage the child as part of the team. The Times Blog speaks to this aim –   encouraging the child to be interested in meal planning and food preparation, to participate in cooking, shopping. In this particular arena as in so many others where parents find themselves in battle with their children, the key to success is to find a way to empower the child, to limit humiliation and to give them positive reasons that make them want to own and work toward healthier realistic goals.

So to nip the food fights in the bud, I highly recommend the New York Times’ coverage of this issue.


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