Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Respect during meal time.

Some of the most beautiful and memorable moments early in a child's life are when they open their eyes, or when they turn their heads slightly at the sound of a loved one’s voice. By not making loud noises, giving them soft objects to touch and keeping them out of uncomfortably bright lights, we respect that they are still becoming accustomed to their senses and allow them the time they need to adjust. However, it is very common that we forget to show that level of respect for our child’s evolving sense of taste. 

When it comes time to introduce the first solid foods to a child we have to respect their right to taste the real food as it is. By projecting our own tastes and likes when feeding a child, we are taking that right away. For example, the first time, or times that you introduce, a plain potato to a child, they might spit it out. This does not mean that the potato was not born salty enough or sweet enough. There could be any number of reasons for a child to reject a potato at first. Foods come with textures, temperatures, odors etc. as well. Just because we like potatoes seasoned a certain way does not mean we have the right to deprive our child the real taste of that food based on our assumption that they only reject food based on flavor.

The same goes with the sugar. In many occasions when the child makes it more than clear that he had eaten enough, parents will refuse to accept that message and add salt or sugar in order to “bribe” the child into finishing the amount of food that the parent considers they have to eat.

Different, age appropriate food, should be introduced in honest and clear ways, calling the ingredients for the name they have, without the need to hide information. In some instances parents might blend, broccoli with eggs, or do other things to "trick" their child into eating vegetables. In doing so we are underestimating the intelligence of the child, taking away their right to know what they are eating and above all we are modeling dishonesty and manipulation.

Eating is a right. It should not be a reward or anything that a child should feel they have to "perform" for or "earn," no matter how delicious the treat will be. This is why it is so highly recommended not to use food as a reward for behavior. Or as a reward for the consumption of food that we lead them to believe does not taste good in the first place such as, "finish your veggies and you can have ice cream."

As with any other interaction that parents have with a child, eating requires us to be present and excursive patience. When a child is fed time and observation are essential. When a spoon is being used, waiting the amount of time the child needs to put a spoon in their mouth should be very seriously considered. There is no need for distractions to speed up the process and definitely no need for airplanes.

Safety is another fact we have to consider regarding cold, warm or hot food. Before serving a child we should drop a little amount of it on our own hand to feel it, explain to the child what are we doing and invite them to touch it with their finger. This demonstrates a sensitivity to their comfort level with the varying temperatures of food.

The continuous interaction during eating time in daily life, gives the opportunity to demonstrate respect and creates an special connection that gives real information based on honest and respectful approaches.

When children are introduced to real food, without interfering with our own prejudices, we are educating them to make the right choices. How can we expected them to grow up knowing the value of a balanced healthy diet when all healthy foods were hidden from them based on our own criteria?

Though many children have grown up in households where desperate measures (salting, adding sugar, hiding), were taken to get them to consume certain natural food, it really is never too late to encourage them to eat right. Of course this will be a transition, but in the worst cases it will simply require patience and resilience, which really is not asking much given the highly publicised long term affects of childhood obesity.

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