Kids and parents often have conflicts when it comes to food–it is not unusual to see parents forcing their children to eat. Our philosophy is a bit different, mostly based on Ellyn Satter’s work. Essentially, our strategy is to establish an eating routine. We don’t make special food for the children, but give them a variety of options at meals, including a dessert. Though the volume of dessert is limited, other than that, for every meal, our kids can eat as much as they want, in whatever order they want. Outside the meal, they do not eat.
The theory is that kids are self-regulating, eating both the quantity and type of food they need. If a parent decides that instead of the kid regulating themselves, should regulate them (e.g. by forcing them to eat or stopping them from eating), then they run the risk of messing up the systems that enable them to self-regulate. So, we sit our kids down at a table with healthy food, let them decide themselves what to eat, and don’t hassle them.
So far, this strategy seems to have worked. The parents are not frustrated and the kids haven’t died of malnutrition. Occasionally our kids do decide to eat nothing at a meal. And at many meals, they eat dessert first. However, it’s also true that sometimes a child will decide that they don’t want their dessert, but want more cucumbers instead.
My wife is away for a few days, so I thought it would be interesting to see what the children would pack in their own lunches, given the choice. This isn’t part of our eating strategy normally. The parent is supposed to decide what food goes on the table, not the child.
But really, what’s the point in having kids, if not to experiment on them? So what the heck….
I went shopping with the kids. With a few exceptions (e.g. no soft drinks), I allowed them to pick up what they wanted for their lunch. Then we laid it all out on the counter and they chose themselves what they wanted.
As the photo above shows, the results were skewed towards sugar and unhealthy foods. In fact, even carrots and raisins–two foods I’d consider healthy–are fairly sweet. Nevertheless, I found it noteworthy that, though they like sweets, the children still seemed to recognize that having nothing to eat but sweets for the entire school day might be a bad idea. They didn’t have to choose carrots and seaweed, yet they did.
So what can we conclude from this experiment? Nothing major, except the experience was fun for all of us….