By Simone Emery from 'Play with Food'
My master’s degree in food studies, my certificate in child’s nutrition and my additional studies in feeding therapy almost make it harder for me to trust my gut when feeding my children. This week when attending Ellyn Satter’s workshop in Sydney, I did ask for her opinion on party foods. Ellyn’s answer may surprise you.
However, before I get to that, here is some more information about Ellyn Satter. Ellyn Satter has pioneered a range of researched feeding models for families throughout her career as a dietitian. Her most recognised research is the “division of responsibility”. This is where she helps families understand their individual roles in the feeding dynamic. Parents are simply to be the provider and that the rest of the feeding process should be controlled by the child (the what, how much, how long etc). Ellyn endorses the family meal as the tool to enable the division of responsibility. By understanding and playing out their roles effectively in family meals, children are raised to be competent, healthy and joyful eaters.
Without trying to go too much further in explaining her models that span numerous books, workshops, journal articles and a comprehensive website, I will talk to you specifically about her answer to my question.
Ellyn’s response was that food is to be treated like food. So, if my daughter’s behaviour at parties or occasions where she sees food-we-don’t-have-at-home is abnormal, I need to address how she sees that food. The examples of behaviours she said were “abnormal” included; only staying by the food table and not playing with the other kids at the party; striking out at other kids that had jelly cups; trying to take jelly from other kids; hoarding or trying to sneak extra jelly cups. Ellyn said that to effectively address abnormal behaviour around food, I would have to normalise the food by having it at home. So, this left me thinking pretty hard. My daughter’s behaviour isn’t that extreme but was a touch abnormal for her. Where do I go from here? My head and heart don’t want to start introducing foods at home that we don’t usually have just for the sake of a few parties. And even if I wanted to, how would I ever manage to introduce such a huge variety of foods “just in case”?
The answer dawned on me! Easy! I would go back to basics from my other feeding therapy training and ensure we always offered a variety of sensory inputs at mealtimes. I will continue making sure my daughters are exposed to a variety of colours, textures, smells, temperatures, sounds and visual representations of their foods. In party situations, they can choose what they want to eat and I will try not to flinch. However, I will know that they are familiar with similar foods from a sensory point of view and I will just have fun with them. They are kids after all.
If your child is particularly fussy with a smell, texture, temperature, sound, colour or any other visual aspect of a food increasing their exposure to it via the family meal will help you iron out the root cause. Here are my tips for holding a successful family meal that appeals to even the fussiest of kids.
- Engage the child in some movement before the meal to help them organise or reset themselves.
- Everyone should sit with a 90o angle at the hips, knees and ankles. Foot rests and booster seats may be required.
- Decide on the environmental cues that will help your child concentrate on eating (eg. turn TV off, sit in a well-lit area, use a familiar placemat).
- Family style meal serves where everyone takes something from each plate provided – they can put it on their plate or onto their learning plate. Do this instead of plating up for the child in advance.
- Try to offer a preferred food, a carbohydrate, a dairy, a fruit, a vegetable and a protein.
Simone is a mother of 2 little girls and lives in Sydney. She runs Play with Food. Play with Food offer food experiences to children and their families that aim to delight the taste buds and imagination. Her aim in these classes is to help families have happy mealtimes. Get her guide “The ABC’s to happier and healthier family meals” via her website www.playwithfood.com.au