Jill Castle and I (my coauthor) just finished the final edits of the second edition of Fearless Feeding. Going through the book got me thinking about how much great advice I’ve received through the years. I’ve had the honor of interviewing some of the best experts and have incorporated their teachings into my own parenting.
So with feeding kids fresh in my mind, here are tidbits of advice I’ve received that stand out the most.
1. Food and learning go hand in hand
I interviewed Pediatric psychologist Kay Toomey years back and remember her distinct way of talking about kids and food. She emphasized how they are learning about food and their classroom is the kitchen table. Children that are more selective — often with sensory issues — need more time and steps before taking a bite of food than others.
She talked about trying a learning plate for kids that are reluctant to eat what is available. Basically, this is a side plate where kids can put food they aren’t ready to eat yet. They can learn about the food by touching, smelling and even licking it.
And to this day the lesson of “food learning” has stuck. I work hard to help my kids have a food growth mindset, and remember they are learning about food just like they are learning other important things like math, reading and cleaning their room!
2. Kitchen closed/Fruit is a yes
In Fearless Feeding and my other books, I recommend structure and rhythm to meals and snacks at home. This means no eating between. I remember when working on the first edition of Fearless Feeding, my coauthor Jill Castle introduced me to the “Kitchen is closed.” This is a nice way to explain not grazing on food to older kids. And if they are still hungry, keep that fruit available and say “Fruit is always a yes.”
Basically, when kids get hungry between meals they can use fruit as a tide me over. This keeps kids from eating out of boredom or habit, instead of true hunger. Although it is possible this could happen with fruit, it is much less likely.
3. Make (wherever feeding takes place) the place children want to be
Before I understood anything about feeding children, I experienced my first hiccup: breastfeeding. Because my daughter wasn’t efficient at sucking, breastfeeding sessions often went on for an hour and it wasn’t fun for her or me. When she stopped gaining weight, I started to pump and offer her breast milk in the bottle. After a few weeks, she chose the bottle. See this post for all the gory details.
During that time a lactation consultant told me to “make breastfeeding the place she wants to be” (AKA enjoyable for her). But I didn’t know how to do that because I was so anxious about her weight, my milk supply, and sleep. Looking back I can see that her refusing the breast was the best thing because it allowed me to feed her calmly and lovingly. I kept offering the breast without pressure and at four months she actually breastfed again. I think I cried! (tears of joy)
Enjoyment is a cardinal rule of feeding and eating. Above all, meals should be associated with a pleasant atmosphere, not stress. This is true for adults too. When I feel that negativity creeping into family meals, I course correct and focus on enjoying food and family. Even if that means I vow not to look at my children’s plate (that when feeding isn’t going so hot).
4. Go ahead, play with your food
As noted earlier, most parents want kids to take that bite. But eating food is actually late in the stage of discovery. There’s so much information children can gather about food from its texture (touching), what it might taste like (smelling) and what happens when you’ll chew it (playing). In Fearless Feeding, Melanie Pottock says, “Kids need to experience food with their entire sensory system; this is how they learn about all varieties of taste, temperature, texture, and more!”
Melanie has a new book called Adventures in Veggieland which is about helping kids learn about different foods before actually eating them. Of course, cooking also helps kids discover the properties of different foods and can serve as a creative outlet.
5. Parent and child have different jobs
When I started this blog and my kids were young, Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding was something I talked about frequently. As they’ve gotten older, I talk about it less but it still matters. It just changes.
For example, parents take the lead with food by helping kids make their own meals/snacks with guidance. That’s why we have templates for making lunch in Fearless Feeding. Kids can make choices on their own but they do it with guidance. Sally, from Real Mom Nutrition, just posted a breakfast-making template.
Nutrition education becomes important but you want to do it in a way so that children actually listen. Family meals are needed as kids get older and have more outside activities. It’s where you can touch base, connect, and find out what’s going on. Fearless Feeding is one of the few books that tackle feeding kids of older ages.
But there’s more…
These 5 pieces of advice just skim the surface. Fearless Feeding is a comprehensive resource for feeding children from high chair to high school. I’m amazed we took that on! It goes into detail about how development relates to eating (the WHY). It explains how to feed so children can develop a healthy relationship with food (the HOW). And it is the only resource I know of that troubleshoots nutrition — including challenges like ADHD and food allergies– in such detail (The WHAT).
The new edition is finally here and I’m feeling that excitement all over again.