“The parent chooses the time to eat, the food choices,
and the feeding environment.
The child chooses how much to eat, if at all.”
The Division of Food Responsibility by Ellyn Satter
In the beginning, it was so easy to trust my daughter’s eating competence. When feeding her rice cereal or yogurt, I found myself relishing in Satter’s theory and confidently ending the meal after she had 1 spoonful or 2 cups…when she let me know the meal was over, it was. No questions asked.
Then, things got interesting.
Fast forward a few months and we were introducing cookies and crackers which are two of her favorites. Still, whenever I offered these foods, I sat back and watched her enjoy them. I didn’t doubt the process one bit.
One simple afternoon, I prepared our lunch: burritos with black beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and sour cream. I rolled myself a burrito and gave her a bowl with all the ingredients inside (at 18 months she’s not too good at holding burritos yet). She dutifully inspected her choices. With a furrowed brow she clutched her spoon in one hand and dipped her other hand in each food item. Historically, she has enjoyed beans and cheese so I assumed she would dive into those. Nope. She took one lick of each and communicated “yuck!” or “bleeeech” to each. I didn’t think this was such a big deal considering maybe she just wasn’t hungry. Nope.
Her hand slid into the sour cream and she studied her slimy hand. After considering the feeling, she took a lick. “Mmmmmmmmm!” Suddenly, she seemed to zero in on the sour cream and with much gusto finished up the glop I gave her.
After she finished, she let me know she wanted more sour cream. I dutifully gave her more which she immediately finished off and asked for more. Then more again. And again.
That’s when the process got a little tough to trust. How can I let my beautiful baby JUST eat sour cream? Will she ever stop? Will she only want sour cream from now on? Maybe I should insist she try some black beans? Or cheese? Or maybe I could break out some crackers?
My monkey mind considered the options and stopped when I took a deep breath in. I remember the research by LL Birch that has found preschoolers’ food choices have much variability from day to day yet even out in calories, macronutrients and micronutrients when averaged out over a week. Her research also finds if we mess with a child’s intake by putting limitations on them or making some foods forbidden this system goes berserk. The more parents mess with it, the more kids learn to distrust hunger and eat past fullness.
I thank LL Birch for her research while recollecting my daughter’s intrigue with the sour cream. It was one meal, one day, one week. She eventually DID stop eating. The next day’s lunch included grilled cheese and tomatoes…and she only wanted the tomatoes.
The sour cream and tomatoes remind me my daughter came into this world fully prepared to survive on food. As long as I don’t mess with the system. Or her sour cream.