Last week in my first blog entry I showed you what an ideal ‘Family Style’ dinner looks like. Complete with little ones serving themselves to the best of their ability when possible. I mentioned that it’s up to my kids to decide how much to eat from what I serve. But what does that really mean, practically speaking? What if all they want to eat is grapes and they haven’t even touched their fish? What if they want to hog all the raspberries? Do you really need to make enough spaghetti to feed an army? And let’s not forget dessert, don’t they have to earn it via bites of broccoli? I’ll tackle each of these frequent dilemmas one at a time in light of the Division of Responsibility:
What if All They Want to Eat is Grapes And They Haven’t Touched The Fish?
So you’ve put together a beautiful, delicious meal and made sure to include a bowl of grapes, a food you know your kids readily accept. Your 3 year old is gulping down grape after grape and hasn’t even touched the salmon! You might feel anxious about his absent protein intake and feel a strong urge to hold the remaining grapes hostage until he’s chewed on some salmon–or at least sipped a little more milk. I won’t tell you what to do, but I’ll tell you what I do.
I don’t hold any food hostage. If all they want to eat is grapes at lunch, it’s okay. If they only have eyes for buttered bread at dinner, so be it. It’s not necessarily easy, and definitely counter-intuitive, but I force myself to trust my kids’ appetites at meals. No one meal is going to make or break their nutritional status. And from my experience, although kids will sometimes invest their crazy appetites into the enjoyment of just one food from the table, that food changes from meal to meal and day to day. Over the day, days, week, and weeks they do balance out.
And really, will a couple bites of protein eaten under duress really change a child’s nutritional status? Not really. However, the power struggle over this could make the whole meal quite bitter and she’ll be less likely to want to try the fish (or chicken, tofu, beans, casserole). Kids who are pressured to eat (or to eat more) generally push back with resistance and want to eat less. The nerve of those little rebels 😉
But let’s say, that instead of grapes, I had put out a bowl of out-of-season, organic, imported raspberries–so they’d be about $1.00 per berry 😉 Then I take a different view.
What if they want to hog all the raspberries?
When your thoughts change from oh no he’s eating too much of this…it’s not healthy or balanced to oh no he’s eating all the raspberries and there won’t be enough left for me…ahem…the rest of the family, then we’re no longer talking about controlling a child’s eating. We’re talking about manners and etiquette. When there’s a true scarcity, then it is only polite and considerate to make sure everyone gets their fair share. Whether it’s a pricy cut of meat, rare fruit, or skimpy leftovers, controlling portions is not about controlling one child’s eating. It’s about etiquette.
So I try to talk about these kinds of food limits in this way. I emphasize that we need to be sure everyone has had some before we take seconds, thirds, etc.
How much should you put on the table?
The short answer is: enough. Cook or prepare enough of everything you’re serving so everyone can eat as much as they want of it. But with some caveats. On the Ellyn Satter Institute’s FB page a question was recently posed regarding how much spaghetti a mom should serve when she worried some would overeat it. Here is my answer as I posted in the thread (slightly abbreviated):
…if *every time* I made spaghetti one or more family members were hankering for more and we always ran out before they got their fill, then I’d try to make more in the future. But I wouldn’t prepare so much spaghetti that it meant we’d be eating leftovers for days *just in case.* Sometimes we have a leftover night where there’s bits of this and bits of that and not enough of any one thing for anyone to eat much of it, but there’s usually bread or fruit or something else that most people like.
If parents are controlling the food amount in order to manipulate what their kids eat (not serving much of X for fear their kids will overeat X) then that is not consistent with DOR because the food is being served with a controlling agenda. But if there is a limit due to true scarcity, cost, or other similar reasons then it’s not a big deal.
So I definitely am not going to peel and cut up 6 cucumbers to serve with a gallon of hummus at a dinner for my family of four. But I will try to serve enough of the foods I suspect will be popular so that when my husband and kids stop eating I can reasonably assume they’ve stopped because they are satisfied and not because we’ve run out of food. And of course, real life (time, money, availability) comes into play.
So How Does Dessert Work?
If it’s not a good idea to restrict portions of fruit or meat or bread or pasta…what about dessert? Do I really let my kids eat as many brownies as they want provided I’ve made enough? I think the answer to this question deserves its own blog post, so I’ll follow up with this in the near future!