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Healthy eating: what's the right way to feed your child?

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Healthy eating is an emotive topic. Everyone has their viewpoints on what constitutes a good diet and it’s rare these days for anyone to agree.

What is best? Vegan? Dairy free? Low carb? High fat? It’s a minefield and it’s guaranteed to cause an argument. In the old days we were warned not to talk about politics or religion unless we wanted a row but in 2018 you can add ‘healthy eating’ to the top of that list.

I’ve had a whole lifetime of disordered eating and I don’t want to pass that onto my son. I don’t want him being unhappy with his body whatever its size and I don’t want him dieting as I firmly believe that diets not only don’t work but that the diet culture fuels obesity and body shame. I desperately want him to have a healthy relationship with food and that’s something we as a family try hard to pursue.

I don’t allow negative body conversations around him – he’s not even three but it’s amazing what he picks up on so we try where we can to highlight that all bodies are good bodies. It means that when he asks me to ride his tractor made for a toddler, rather than say “mummy’s bottom is too big” I opt for “the tractor is too small” – it’s subtle but it switches the focus.

When it comes to dinner time, we provide the food but let him decide if he wants to eat it and at no point force him either way. I cook one dinner for us all and put it on the table – staple meals in our house are things like spaghetti bolognese, salmon steaks, vegetable risotto, sausage with potato and vegetable mash – fairly standard foods. Each time we make sure there is something on the table that we know he will eat happily. What we tend to find is that first of all he will put the item that he likes most on his plate and then over the course of us eating he will choose to try everything else.

Some things he likes and others he doesn’t and we point out that that’s ok too, we all like different things. If we’ve decided to do a dessert with dinner which maybe happens once a week then it’s just treated as any other food. He can have it if he likes and there’s no forcing him to eat his veg in order to have it as that just sets him up to believe there is something nasty about the broccoli or green beans. It might sounds a bit pretentious but for us it really works. It turns out that he loves roasted carrots, which previously when we forced him to eat them he told us he hated. He will also happily eat an entire packet of salmon if we’d let him but wouldn’t touch chips with a barge pole. It’s stopped tears and stress at dinner times and on several occasions he’s chosen not to have dessert because he’s full on his main and I swear it’s because we’ve never turned it into a treat or reward it’s just a piece of food like anything else. We’re actually finding that we could learn a lot from him.

He loves exercise. He doesn’t do it so that he can have a chocolate bar or because he ate too much cake the other day, but he does it because it brings him joy. He’s rarely happier than when we stick our £3 B&M disco bulb in the kitchen light and put some tunes on and he dances his little heart out. It’s lovely to watch and as an adult it’s easy to forget that moving can be fun. The other morning I received our usual email from his nursery saying that that day they were going to be discussing healthy and unhealthy foods and it made me feel really uncomfortable. I don’t want him thinking that any specific food is unhealthy because in broad terms it isn’t. I don’t want someone else pushing that some foods are bad because that means they’re also pushing shame and guilt if it’s consumed, if a chip passes the lips or God forbid an entire packet.

I don’t want him to be part of a culture that believes he needs botox cheek implants in order to be accepted. Hopefully we’re a long way off that though and fingers crossed it’s only in my wildest nightmares that he returns home one day to declare :“Mum, I’m off to get my lip fillers done and then I’ll be appearing in Love Island.”

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