Children are often chided for the poor eating habits and we as adults often pile on to those habits our own idiosyncrasies. How many parents spend their time trying to get kids to speed up while they’re eating? In many ways this habit makes complete sense. Children are often either too distracted or fidgety to eat at a grownup pace that it can be nerve wracking to make it through a meal with them as the spectre of the morning’s traffic, day’s list of chores, or the start time for their ___practice looms over your head. I’ve probably sprouted more gray hairs trying to usher Singing Biscuit through his breakfast before school than I have via any other activity in my life.
And don’t get me started on dinners. Forget water torture, if you want to get a suspect to cooperate, make them sit through a stream of dinners with a seven year old.
Needless to say, my impression/approach to breaking bread with children has been in dire need of fine tuning. So one day I made it my mission to change my approach to how I interact with Singing Biscuit at the table. What I learned was that not only is the kid capable of completing a meal without me wanting to drown my
self sorrows, but in fact, I had a lot to learn form the kid about how to eat properly.
One of the biggest mistakes that we as adults often make when serving children food is that we serve them on regular sized serving plates. At one time this might’ve been okay, but most American plates are huge, they’re virtually indistinguishable from a car tire. Salad plates are actually more attuned for a child’s visual and physical appetite. You see, most children feel as bad about holding up the line at dinner as we do about them moving at a snail’s pace. The sight of everyone else slushing through dinner as they pick away at their meal can be deflating. Therefore, by serving a child on a smaller plate, s/he is likely to feel a greater sense of accomplishment as their food disappears from sight.
Smaller plates mean smaller servings. A child should not be taught to throw away what they don’t want, instead, it’s better to get them accustomed to eating smaller portions. If they’re able to fill up on the smaller portion then they’ll feel full and accomplished. But once s/he gets into the habit of dumping whatever’s left from that heaping serving, then they risk conflating being full with discarding things just because they don’t like them. It’s much easier to get a child to eat three pieces of broccoli than to let them discern how much they can or can’t eat of a much larger serving.
Family meals are great, but often children can’t wait to eat when everyone else is ready. Instead of making Singing Biscuit wait until 7pm or 8pm when everyone else was ready. I’d serve him his dinner at 5or6pm. To my surprise he was not only more deliberate with his eating, but he often asked for seconds. It seemed that by making him wait until later in the evening he’d either eaten too many snacks by the time dinner was ready, or was too hungry to have any interest in food, much less any capacity to sit still at the table.
Without knowing it, as I worked on transforming Singing Biscuit’s eating regimen, I was also reworking mine. Just as I was doing a better job of monitoring his portion sizes, I also paid greater attention to mine, and you know what—L learned that smaller plates were better suited for me as well. In time I went from simply having his meals ready by 6pm and then chatting with him as he ate, to having my own meals ready by then and eating alongside him. And with nothing else to rush off to, I was often able to sit back and enjoy my meal as he entertained me with a recanting of his day’s activities. Before I knew it, I had lost 30lbs and feeling healthier than I’ve felt in years.
Oh don’t get me wrong his flights of fancy in the mornings when we’re trying to get out the house still drive me up the wall, but the lessons that I have learned in creating a healthier food eco-system for him has made his antics tolerable–if not at times enjoyable.