Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Learning to Eat

How many parents do you know who make separate food for their children? Who bargain with their kids at mealtime ("If you eat one piece of broccoli, you can have dessert")? Who are constantly struggling with trying to get their kids to eat anything?

I feel like I see this everywhere: parents making one delicious, gourmet meal for themselves and chicken nuggets and mac 'n cheese for their kids.

It doesn't have to be this way! I often wonder how much this is a uniquely American phenomenon -- kids in other countries or from other cultures eat what their parents eat, and it's not a big deal. It's not an absurd notion in Latin America to think that kids will eat the same foods their parents eat, no matter how "sophisticated" or "non-kid-friendly" the meal may seem. In fact, one of the bloggers I read and love, CityMama, has written about how her kids eat everything she eats, and how often people are in shock and awe when they see it happen.

My dear friend Robin is a school garden educator. In other words, she teaches low-income kids about food and where it really comes from -- from growing their own food to cooking it and then composting it and completing the garden-to-plate cycle. She recently shared with me the work of Ellyn Satter, who helps parents learn how to feed their kids appropriately so kids learn how to eat appropriately.

Ellyn's rules are so simple, yet so genius. I share them with you here -- happy eating for everyone!

The Five Responsibilities In Feeding & Eating

Parents are responsible for:
  • What food is served
  • When food is served
  • Where food is served
Children are responsible for:
  • How much to eat
  • Whether to eat or not
How genius is that? She also emphasizes: Don't get your responsibilities mixed up with your child's responsibilities.
  • If you don't do your jobs, your child will eat poorly and not behave at the table.
  • If you get bossy and try to do her jobs, she will fight back and not eat.
I love this. Even though it can seem hard to do, if we do our part -- serve an array of foods that are healthy and tasty on a reliable mealtime schedule where we eat together -- kids will do their part: eat as much as they need. We can stop worrying and start trusting.

There's a wealth of information on this topic on Ellyn's website, but these five key responsibilities seem like keystones to establishing healthy eating habits (and peace of mind for parents!).

What about you -- if you have kids, do you follow these five rules? If not, where are you faltering?

(Another great thing about Ellyn's website: estas responsabilidades estan en su sitio del red en español tambien!)

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