Thursday, 27 November 2014

our family food policy // growing happy, healthy eaters... for life!

I don't know about you but to be honest, I didn't care or think too much about healthy eating until my sweet kiddos came along. Something about being solely responsible for the nourishment of little humans does that to a person, huh?! I have to say they have transformed my whole outlook!

So, I have been wanting to write about kids and food for quite a while. After all, what our kids eat takes up quite a lot of our time and energy.... I feel like I am hardly out of the kitchen these days, constantly sending food down the conveyor belt to my ravenous horde!

My idea for this post is to put together the principles, ideas, tips and policies that form our 'family food guide' - basically, the how's and why's behind our work to create healthy happy eaters in our family. So, it's probably going to be a preeeeetty long post ;) With three kids aged 6, 4 and almost 2, we have done quite a bit of feeding already... with many more years to come. I am thankful to say that thus far our goals are pretty much on track, with three healthy, happy, adventurous eaters. So, I'd love to share what's working for us, and how we got here - and what we are still working towards as it is always a work in progress. Love you to share your tips too :)

Now this is not some kind of bragging post about how our kids are the best eaters in the world and can we please have a medal!! ;) Ha! Not at all. They are just real kids and we are real parents. It's just a place to collate the information and guiding principles I have gathered along the way from food experts and of course - other mums who have been there before! I'm such a bower bird, picking up info from everywhere, I just can't help it! My friends do call me the Research Queen, haha. This topic is important to me so I wanted to compile it all into one place. I eagerly I soak up tips and tricks from others, so would love to 'share the love' here about what I've learned along the way. Needless to say (but I will say it anyway), this is just about what has worked for us, and why we do what we do. Pick and choose what you like and leave the rest. So here we go!

Smashing down some spinach from our veggie patch. 

When I thought about the relationship I wanted my kids to have with food, I always knew my aim was to create happy, healthy, adventurous eaters. For myself, I grew up an extremely picky eater. Food was also a battle ground and I knew I didn't want that for my kids. I wanted to enjoy eating with my kids, I wanted them to have a healthy relationship with food through their lives. At the same time, it was important for me to raise kids who weren't fussy, who would try new foods and also be polite around eating non-preferred foods, both in the home and most especially when they were guests. Being respectful and appreciative are really important values in our family, as is eating a good, nourishing, varied diet... but without being too obsessive about it either. Eek! How to get to this place?

Well, here are a few of our 'family food policies' that guide us to our 'happy medium'.

(Please note - they are always a work in progress and there are always exceptions! Apply your own logic and circumstances, of course)

From the very beginning, our kids always eat what the family eats. All three of our kids started solids at six months through the Baby Led Weaning approach and I can't rave enough about how well this worked for us, making food introduction stress-free, easy, fun and of course gloriously messy. They all enjoyed food from Day 1, more or less (some took more time to start really eating than others, which is fine) and the approach made it a natural introduction to REAL food in a manner that allowed them to take on what they were ready to consume. We started as we meant to go on. We also gave them healthy food options, and trusted them to eat what they needed and low and behold... they did :) (More on this to come).

We have never (at least so rarely that I can't remember it!) bought or prepared 'special kids food'. Mostly because anything branded for kids just seems like an expensive marketing ploy, generally more processed and just a rip off to my frugal mind ;) The kids eat what the family eats, that's all they know and they are happy to do so. I don't want to have to wean them off kiddie food onto adult food - so they just happily eat the real stuff now!


This little saying comes from Ellen Satler's 'Division of Responsibility in Eating.  This has been the primary principle in our food approach. *I* choose a healthy and varied diet, *I* choose appropriate meal times and places, and *they* choose how much they eat. Toddlers in particular go through all sorts of growth spurts, one day eating little more than two sultanas and the next day wolfing down three bowls of curry. It all evens out! If they choose not to eat much one meal, they tend to be much more amenable to the next meal time, I find ;) This little mantra takes away sooooo much stress about food, because at the end of the day, you can't force them to eat. As my clever friend Wendy put it, 'I spend a lot of time thinking about what they will eat, and very little time thinking about how much'. 

Our general policy for meal times... (and this is a core issue in daily life, isn't it) is that the kids are not required to eat everything they are served. I serve small/appropriate portions and then trust them to eat as much as they need. However, I'm not running a diner. They must eat enough to tide them over till the next meal time. And the catch is that if they can't finish what they are have, that is fine, but they cannot have anything else either. So there is no leaving all the beans and then asking for fruit or more meat. I do gently encourage them to eat what they are served, but I don't push it. They can eat what they are served or not. But nothing extra if they don't want to finish what's in front of them. That is just the way it goes around here! We do generally require that they have at least one bite of everything served. But no stress, fuss, cajoling or pleading. This is also because I want our family meal times to be a pleasant time of togetherness and conversation. Yes, because we have small kids meal times can often be chaotic anyway, haha, but I did not want them to be a meeting place for endless negotiations and battles. Though the kids sometimes try to draw me into these ;) I just try to let them clearly know the boundary and the choice is theirs. 

This was a day when Miles suddenly decided he didn't want to eat his avocado rice cake. He was hollering for crackers, banana, and anything else he could spy in the pantry. I just calmly informed him several times that avocado rice cakes was what was for lunch (he had eaten several other things already too) and went about my business in the kitchen. After ten minutes, he suddenly picked up the rice cake, shot me this HUGE grin and happily munched down the entire rice cake!!! Cheeky boy - putting me to the test?!? :)

We talk a lot about 'listening to our tummies'. I encourage them to listen to their bodies, to be aware of that 'full' feeling or how they feel after eating certain foods. I don't want them feeling compelled to eat everything in front of them (finish their plate), even to the point of feeling sick. I hate waste, but have come to realise even for myself that cramming down food you don't need is just as wasteful as throwing it out (of course we don't throw it out anyway, it's saved for later or fed to the chooks!). Finishing your plate no matter how you feel is not really a healthy eating approach. So, they will often pipe up that their tummy says they have had enough. And yes, this even happens when eating a 'treat' like very rare lollies or ice cream. As you can guess, I am just thrilled when that happens, to see that even when eating a 'treat' food, they will listen to their tummies and stop when they have had sufficient. Three cheers for self-control - this is the kind of understanding I hope they will carry with them through adulthood. No prizes for gluttony in this life! Yes, sometimes their tummies do have some rather questionable messages, haha ;) (eg 'my tummy says it needs ice cream for dinner'!!) but I love that they are learning to tune into how their body reacts to food (including food that just doesn't feel good). Mindless compulsive eating is not something I'm aiming for.

We don't serve dessert on any regular basis. Partly because I don't want kids sugar loading before bed (or, actually, any time), partly because I don't want them to build a lifelong habit of needing 'sweet' to follow 'savoury', and partly because I want them to eat their meal for it's own sake. I don't like to bribe them to eat dinner (forcing food down) just to get something seen as 'better', especially as I think it tends to elevate sweet food too much. In the last few months we have instituted 'Friday Night Treat Night' which wards off requests for treats at other times - they now know they can look forward to it one night a week :) A happy medium that works for us right now. It is really important to me to keep sugar at a minimum in their diet, knowing its effect on the body and the cravings it sets up for life. I am not one to cut out entire food groups, so I don't plan to ever fully 'quit sugar' or anything (life's too short not to eat cake, haha) but keeping it minimal seems right for now.

My approach towards food, from the first morsel they ate in BLW has been to take a relaxed, no pressure, no stress, no emotion or 'hovering monitoring every bite' type approach. There is no power in food! Kids read and absorb your anxiety so I keep well away from that. I guess I never felt much anxiety anyway in terms of how much they were eating or if they would eat. I just give them foods I'm happy for them to eat and let them take care of the rest.

How often does this phrase come out of your mouth 'Oh, you won't like that!' ? It's all too easy to say! But hold up. How do we know what they will and won't like? Ok, maybe they didn't like it last time but maybe they will this time! I try really really hard to not project any of my own food biases, preferences and ideas on to the kids. Let them decide what they like. They might just surprise you! Let them decide what is too strong, too spicy, too gross. When the kids want to sample the raw garlic I am chopping, I just warn them 'It's a really strong flavour' and give them a tiny slice. Then they turn around and say they love it! You just never know. Kids can be weird, haha.  I am admittedly still a fussy eater in many areas unfortunately, thought I have gotten a lot better, I promise!! (I can't handle raw tomato, cucumber, avocado etc). I just LOVE however that the kids cheerfully eat all these things and they also have no idea that I don't like them as I try not to mention my own issues. When Eli requests peanut butter, vegemite, sultanas AND lettuce on one sandwich, I bite my tongue except to cheerfully say 'Sure' and let him at it. I love for them to try as many weird and wacky food combos as possible, it all helps with varying their palate. So, let them try whatever they want to try, and let them decide what they think. Any show of food confidence and adventurousness (is that a word?!) is a good thing in my book. 

Another phrase I love which I read in a kids' cooking magazine article (which I could remember more specifics!) was 'You don't have to like it but it would be good if you could try it'. I think kids naturally become wary of new foods, especially around age two where even old favourites suddenly get cast aside (I think the taste buds and appetite does change around this age, it's been amazing to see the transition in all my kids). They are wary and think 'but I might not like it'... so just matter of factly letting them know you don't have to 'like' everything you try takes a lot of the fear away. Just one small taste! One day I invented a silly song to celebrate when the kids tried something new. We sing to the tune of 'Johnny works with one hammer' (no idea why this random tune is in my head!) 'Lily tried a new thing, a new thing, a new thing. Lily tried a new thing and she........' then let the child chime in with 'LIKED IT' or 'DIDN'T LIKE IT' or 'SORT OF LIKED IT' haha. This lets them be allowed to form an opinion but focuses the celebration on trying something new.They now sing this for themselves or each other and even Miles can sing the chorus :)

We don't reward or punish for eating and I also try to avoid threatening over food. So there is no 'finish your meal or you don't get dessert' type thing. I want them to eat because it's good food there to be eaten. Not only do I feel like rewarding for eating is getting stuck in a cycle I sure don't want to be in, I also don't like the message it sends to the kids, of forcing down one 'bad' type of food in order to get a 'good' one. It also feels like it elevates 'treats' too much?? There are logical consequences, as mentioned, of having to eat what is before them before they have something else, but I don't 'lead' or cajole with that as an incentive or punishment, it's just a matter of fact.

Don't let it be set in your mind that they don't like something, 'cos taste buds change! They say it can take 17 tries for taste buds to come around to a new food. I have seen myself a certain veggie be placed on a plate day after day and then all of a sudden become a favourite. It can happen ;) Don't stress about it, just keep offering.

We talk about food as 'every day' foods, 'sometimes' foods and 'party' food. Not good/bad food. For a while I tried to take the approach of all food being neutral, only focusing on the nourishment purposes and not the differing pleasure in eating - the idea being to take the emotional power out of food....but I got over that as it just felt inauthentic. While I don't want to build up junk food, let's be honest, it's more fun to go out for ice cream than a cucumber!! ;) There is joy and community and pleasure in eating and I felt fake pretending like food was nothing more than fuel. We can also take pleasure in the bounty of food God provides us, right!?

My overall goal is a good start to a healthy relationship to food for their lives. To be able to understand their bodies, how food is like medicine that either nourishes or harms, to enjoy eating good food but not to be consumed by it (I am not one to stress about every morsel - I follow the 80/20 rule - eat well 80% of the time and don't worry about the other 20%). To listen to their bodies in relation to what they eat - what feels good, what doesn't, when their tummy is truly hungry and when it has had enough. Kids won't stave themselves, so don't stress too much about them eating more or less at different times. If they get hungry enough, they will eat! So we just try to make sure what they do eat is as nutritional as possible (most bang for your buck!). Admittedly my kids have always been pretty big eaters so I have never had the 'sparrow eater' challenge but I think the rule still applies, and they certainly have had meal times where they have chosen to eat very little or even nothing. And that's ok.

In Summary.... (you still with me??)

My kids are encouraged to try everything on their plate, but they don't have to finish the plate. Appetites waver, this is just part of life. I don't stress if some meal times (or even days) they don't eat much at all, and other times they are ravenous. It all balances out. Again, just keep presenting healthy options and don't micro manage the intake. It makes life a whole lot less stressful for everyone ;) 

Now, do my kids sometimes complain about certain foods? Have foods they don't really like? Yes. And yes! They are human after all ;) Do I sometimes cajole them to eat just a bit more? Errr... yes, that happens sometimes too! If they are just being distracted (eg children!) at meal time, I might ask them to take five more bites before they leave the table. Cos I am also human, haha!! Sometimes (gasp) I have even said to hurry and finish so they can have a treat. Real life, folks. They aren't robots and neither am I! However generally, the principles laid out above are what we follow in our family and are working for us so far. We don't stress about food in our family, I just try to be intentional about giving them nourishing foods and let it unfold from there. I should add that we also talk a lot about gratefulness, good manners, trying your best to eat what's before you especially when you are a guest, to show appreciation for Mummy's cooking (complaining about the meal is not okay), and so on. We talk about how every meal does not have to be a 'favourite', we can still eat food we don't prefer, with thankfulness. It's important to me that my kids gratefully receive the food before them and recognise where it comes from. It's ok to not love everything you eat, but it is not okay to be ungrateful for it. This is a work in progress, of course ;) But my trio meanwhile happily eat everything from curry to relish to olives to kale chips.

Lily having fun with black bean wraps!

At the end of the day, some kids will just naturally have wider palates than others. One child of mine can happily swig a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar and barely flinch (sour!!!!) which I can barely tolerate! Not so for another child. But I truly believe that children can appreciate a much wider range of foods than just sultanas and chicken nuggets. These early years are so crucial in setting them up with a diverse palate, a healthy appetite and an appreciation for good nutritious food which will hopefully go with them for life.

And so... this was my hodge-podge of collated thoughts and experiences... I hope some of it may be useful or helpful, or inspiring - feel free to cherry pick as you please :) Also - add any of YOUR tips and thoughts below!



  1. I love this so much, thank you! We haven't had the best start to solids with roman. I think some babies do BLW better than others. Roman couldn't get the food down his throat quick enough, which lead to a lot of gagging (which I could handle), but then made him vomit. Every single time. He would then cry because he was hungry and I just found it very stressful. He refuses to eat anything I cook for him!! His diet is currently organic puréed food pouches, weatbix, sandwich with avo, yoghurt, whole banana, and rusks! Haha he is getting better at BLW, but he is a guts and doesn't want to chew- just like his dad! I find myself getting impatient when is distracted, so just learning to chill even if I have 100 other things I need to do! I'm all for limited sugar too! You're the best mum!

    1. So true, it's all about knowing your child and doing what you feel is best for them! Hope roman comes around to your cooking soon as I'm sure its delicious!! :) Just keep offering the other foods and Im sure he will dig in soon. You are a wonderful mum too, we are all just doing our best xx

  2. I love this so much, especially the everyday sometimes or party food definitions, I might have to borrow that. We've tried talking about whether food is nourishing or not but I'm not sure even our 4 year old can get her head around that one!

    1. Thank you for reading all the way through Carie :) I didn't invent the everyday, sometimes and party food definitions, just picked them up along the way... but they are great huh! I think they help not demonise or elevate foods but also easily explains that there are some food we dont eat all the time. Hope it helps w your daughter xx

  3. Another great post Kate! I always enjoy your measured, thoughtful approach to parenting and this post is no different. I was just wondering the other day if you ever thought to share your daily/weekly rhythms/routines on the blog? As another mother of three little ones and attempting to incorporate all our responsibilities of school pickups/house duties/toddler activities, I'd love to hear your approach:-) I know best laid plans often fall by the wayside due to the unpredictability of life with kids, but you seem to achieve lots of goals, slowly but steadily and I think I might learn a thing or two if you ever felt so inclined to share! I've tried various approaches over the years and am still learning - I love to read about other mums way of doing things :-)

    1. thanks Sarah! Hmmmm thanks for asking about that. Goodness I have to admit it often feels like their is more madness than method in our home, lol! But we do try to keep a few stable routines/intentional rythyms in place, so I will try in the new year to put something together. Oh I am just like you, I try different things too, and always love hearing about how other Mums approach things as it both encourages and inspires me... or just makes me feel ok to not have everything together all the time too ;) thanks for your lovely comment, it was really nice to read xx

  4. I love this, we have done eat what the family eats because I can imagine how tiring it would be to cater for different tastes, cooking different meals and baby led weaning worked so well for us, both my kids arent fussy at all and eat healthy good food as we do together as a family so I think its paid off for sure :)

    1. Oh I know what you mean, catering for every preference would be exhausting! So glad BLW worked out well for you too, it's such a fun approach huh!

  5. Oh this is the first time I've heard someone else reference the Ellen Satler Institute in Australia I think! I used to be the begging and cajoling parent but that was exhausting to me. We began following a Paleo style of eating (but including raw dairy when we are all healthy enough to eat it) and started to borrow the DOR principle from Ellen Satler and dinner has become much less stressful. But Baby-led weaning did not work for us. We followed the Traditional Food way of introducing food based on the premise that an infants tummy and digestive system just doesn't produce the same enzymes as a grown up does and that's needed to digest chunks or raw food. My son has a slow digestive system and always as a bub could not handle foods other than well cooked purees. He lived only on egg yolk, home made unsweetened yoghurt, mashed bananas and he loved to gnaw on kimchi pickled cucumbers until he was about 10 months. My daughter was similar but with the addition of pureed meats because I was slowly discovering the downside of being vegetarian. That being said, once they were a year old, we would take our dinner and puree it up or steam the veg/meats till really soft. We have never done separate kids meals really. These days, I feel like they are offered a wide variety of sugar and grain free options at mealtimes through out the day (we are working on cutting out grazing all together - my daughter is a notorious snacker!) so come dinner, if they don't want to eat much, I'm not worried about them not having had anything healthy to eat today etc. Its working for us anyway!

    1. thanks for your comment Rachel, really interesting! So fantastic that the DOR principle has made meal time more enjoyable for you all. Sounds like you have found a good place you are all happy with. That is really interesting about the traditional foods concept, I only know a little about it, will have to read further. SO true that if they eat well all day there is no need to stress about dinner! It's only our culture that makes it the main meal of the day - brekkie or lunch work are good too! x

  6. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was
    doing some research on that. And he actually
    bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that:
    Thanks for lunch!

  7. Thanks for helping out, wonderful information.


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