Once, at a therapy visit in a family’s home, a nutritionist I worked with laid out mealtime responsibilities so perfectly that I find myself sharing her simple wisdom almost daily. Here it is: Parent/Caregiver Mealtime/Snacktime Responsibilities:
- what to eat
- when to eat
- where to eat
Child’s Mealtime/Snacktime Responsibility:
- How much to eat
That’s it. Children don’t know what foods their bodies need. They don’t know how to structure a day of meals and snacks to get the energy and nutrients they need, so the adult chooses what gets offered when. The adult also chooses where we eat, optimally in a calm environment with few distractions, at the table or in a highchair, somewhere with optimal positioning and foot support.
We, as adults, know about all these things children need to eat well, so we make these decisions. Looking at it this way, we can see these choices we are making for kids as gifts we are giving them. Even if they protest, say they want a different meal or want to eat in front of TV, we can feel confident that we are giving them eating habits they need to learn rather than depriving them of endless helpings of a favorite meal or a favorite TV show. We can see mealtime rules and boundaries as a positive rather than a negative. something you’re doing for your child rather than something you’re taking away.
The child’s responsibility is their body. Your child is the only one who knows how his body feels, if he is hungry or if his tummy hurts. We ultimately can’t and don’t want to take away a child’s control over what goes into their bodies. We want to teach them that food is safe and fun and delicious and can make them feel good and their bodies work.
That’s it, so simple, so profound, so true.
I hope this framework helps take some of the guilt out of your mealtime rules!
Happy food play!