I blogged a bit about Bug’s dietary struggles (rather my struggle with his diet) and of the book our dietician recommended, Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming by Ellyn Satter. I’m about half way through the book now so once again, I’m no expert nor will I be when I’m done reading it, but I am learning so much about diet, nutrition and food.
Due to all of the fad diets that have come and gone in this country, our perception on nutrition is skewed. Bread and pasta is bad, potatoes are bad, fruit is “just sugar,” avocados are fattening, carrots are a “junk vegetable” as is corn. Fruit juice is no better than kool aid which is no better than soda. Eggs are bad unless you just eat the whites. Red meat is no good. Nuts…you have to be careful with those. Almonds seem to be ok but cashews and such are fattening. Plus someone is probably allergic to it so it’s best to just avoid those all together. Fish is full of mercury. Let’s see…what have I left off? Well, sugar. Obviously we should not have sugar or butter or salt or anything else that we like. Thank God they are still saying wine is good for your heart! So what CAN we eat?!
According to Ellyn Satter you can eat…what ever you darn well please. It’s not so much what you eat but how you eat.
There are some key things that need to happen when you eat. It needs to be planned, no grazing or running and running and running until you can finally grab some sort of lunch at 3:00. For kids, it’s important to have a sit down meal with the family. It’s not the food on the table that is important but the time with the family that needs to be quality. And it needs to be balanced. When she talks about balance it isn’t the food groups that she ticks off her list. It’s more like this: protein, starch, carbohydrate, fat, fruit and vegetable. We need protein. We actually NEED fat. And we NEED carbohydrates. We even need sugar. Complete elimination of those things does not allow our body to metabolize correctly which can cause weight gain. Or you get hungry sooner and binge eat. Your body needs those things together to work the way it’s designed to. You also need to eat food you like. Don’t eat food to punish yourself because you ate so “bad” all weekend and don’t eat a prescription, i.e. eating a certain way to eliminate weight from the middle or because eating this or that causes constipation or something like that.
Ellyn Satter suggests things that sound like magic to me but also cause great distress because it’s against everything that we’ve been taught. Things like put bread and butter on the table every night. Is my heart palpitating with joy, fear or is an artery clogging? And she doesn’t mean Wonder bread (though that is fine) but just whatever is your cultures choice of bread. Tortillas, a baguette, pita, whatever… Drink milk. Not skim milk or 2% but the real deal whole milk. That could count as the protein and fat in your meal! Serve potatoes. Even serve them scalloped if you wish. Put those veggies out there covered in cheese or in butter. That’s fine! You need the fat and you need the veggie so why not have it together?
I’ve been thinking of this example: What has more nutritional value, a plate of celery or a value meal from Wendy’s? It’s funny because as I’ve been pre-writing this blog in my head, a friend posted on Facebook that he hates celery. He had celery and hummus, I’m assuming, for lunch. First of all, that is a lovely SNACK. It should not be a meal. It could be part of a meal but I hope that was not my friend’s whole lunch. I’m saying this because I have had celery and hummus as a meal. Most of my friends know that I also like to have popcorn and wine…for a meal. They are light and I feel virtuous for my small “meal.” However, there is more balanced nutritional value in a Wendy’s value meal than in a plate of celery. There’s veggies, bread, protein, a little fat if you let them put on the mayo. If not, that’s ok because the fries have fat and starch. The best part of the Wendy’s meal is you will be full when you are done! Celery has fiber…vitamins, I’m guessing… The hummus is what saves my friend as it adds protein and possibly some fat. I think there’s some olive oil in there. The real problem though is you’ll be hungry within minutes of eating it. Plus the whole time you were eating it you were really wishing that you could have a burger and fries, so by the time dinner does roll along you binge eat. Or you reward your “good” behavior with a bowl of ice cream at 9:00 at night.
When your hunger is satisfied and your taste buds are satisfied, you won’t be consumed about when that next meal is and what it will be, or waiting for the day when you can just have some bread again or whatever it is that you are currently restricting yourself from.
I was having all kinds of stomach issues before I left for Paris last Spring. While there, I promised myself that I was not going to worry about diet. I planned to just relax and enjoy my vacation, including the food. I had no tummy trouble the whole time. I was eating out every meal. I had coffee every morning and wine every day/night. I ate cheese. I bought those roasted potatoes that were at the bottom of the rotisserie chicken tray collecting the chicken drippings. We had French fries and wine every afternoon for a snack. And oh the desserts! I ate foods that may not have been the healthiest according to our American Fads but when I stopped restricting myself and trying to make sure it was all “good” foods, my body was able to naturally regulate what I needed. I never ate a ton of fries or a ton of dessert or a ton of…anything. I ate what I needed and moved on.
Restricting yourself or your child undermines our body’s natural ability to regulate itself. We don’t believe that it can because really, no one has eaten that way since the 1950’s probably. The sit down meal and the planned meals and snacks are so important because then you know that food is coming. Especially for kids. Kids need structure, habits and schedule. Most all parents know the value of this rule of thumb in discipline and many other facets of parenting. It is a great comfort to a child to know that things will happen the same way they always do. This does not mean to be strict and ridged in your schedules, a child needs to learn how to be flexible too but when those uncertain times come along they can rely on your past behavior to know that food will come.
Besides restricting, this is probably where I’ve hurt Buddy and Bug. If I’m not hungry I don’t think about getting lunch out or a snack out. We’ll eat breakfast and before I know it it’s 1 or 2:00 and the kids are starving. Then they eat like they may never get it again because really, I’ve been unreliable so how DO they know when they’ll get it again. The body is saying “get it while the gettin’s good!”
This weekend I was on top of our feeding schedule. I thought that Bug would never leave the table if I set out a snack but instead he ate some of it and left to play. Then he came back and had a little more and left again never to return. He had only just had breakfast 2 hours ago so he wasn’t really hungry. He ate enough to satisfy himself and moved on. After he had lunch, he didn’t ask for seconds like he usually does. He also used to ask for dessert after every meal but now that he has a snack between his meals he’s stopped. He’s satisfied. The boy who was a bottomless pit has found the bottom! That wasn’t even hard! His morning snack is usually fruit. Cantaloupe, cherries, grapes or sliced apples. No reason, it’s just what I’ve got. I may add hard boiled eggs or cheese or something. His afternoon snack has been vegetables and hummus. I also include pita chips. Chips and salsa has been another snack, popcorn, or even cookies. Just something to hold them over to the next meal. This has stopped him from badgering me about the next meal, it has stopped him from asking for a snack that I’ll not approve of, and best of all, it’s stopped him from over eating at meal times.
I’ve notice that even when Bug does not make “good” choices, he doesn’t really follow through with it. For example. He bought a huge box of Junior Mints at the theater two weeks ago. He chose them because he said they were the healthiest of the candy options. I mean, there IS a green leaf on the box. I cringed but allowed the treat because The Book says allowing those sorts of treats every now and then will keep him from going nuts on candy when I’m not around like say, at a party. He ate some of the candy during the movie. He had a few with lunch another day. Today he finally polished them off, using them as betting chips in a game of cards with his buddies. So, technically he shared the rest! A box of Jr. Mints over a two week period of time is fine. If I had a firm “no candy” rule for my sons then come Halloween or Easter they would consume the whole basket of goodies in a sitting. Possibly. Likely.
There are great tips in the book for picky eaters too. You know, that kid who will only eat mac and cheese or chicken nuggets? What do you do? Many parents just make themselves a delicious and balanced meal and make their picky eater a bowl of mac and cheese. This is putting the one person in the family who has the least amount of knowledge of nutrition in charge of his nutrition. Makes no sense! Satter suggest making your yummy delicious meal for everyone and include mac and cheese and or nuggets. It will take some time but eventually the child will want to try the other foods being offered. This is also where the plate of bread and butter come in handy. If they don’t like what you’ve served there is at least bread and butter. They’ll likely eat that and that is a better meal than none at all. You feel better because you know they ate something and the child feels better because there was no stress to eat the things she is not yet ready to try. The food still needs to go on their plate. Nothing needs to be said about it. No coercing or begging or “no thank you” bites. Just provide the options and then let her choose.
Shutting up is the biggest part of this. I have had to shut up about “good and bad” choices, shut up about appropriate portion sizes, shut up about whether or not Bug has had enough to eat.
“My job is to provide what he eats, it’s up to him to choose how much,” I told my mom. “It’s stressing me out because I want to tell him, that’s enough. No more chips or no more whatevers.”
“Well, maybe you can just help him subliminally,” she suggested. “You know like when you’re full you can maybe say, ‘well, I’m good. I’ve had enough.'”
“No mom. I can’t. That’s manipulative. I just need to SHUT. UP.”
It’s only been about two weeks and I’m already seeing changes in Bug’s attitude toward food. He still loves it! I mean, the boy wants to be a chef! He still talks about his ideas of things he wants to prepare and cook up himself but he’s not asking about eating, he’s happy at the table. We’re talking about our day and table manners and not about what we are eating or how much we should eat of it and no, you may not have dessert. I still feel like I’d like to have his growth chart with me in my purse so I can show friends, relatives, strangers who are eyeballing my sons plate that he’s developing beautifully and perfectly, but I think that will improve with time as well.
Oh and I forgot the other important part of the plan: Only eat what you like! Don’t eat foods you don’t like. If you don’t like celery, don’t eat it. if you don’t like broccoli, don’t eat it. I hate fish and I will not eat it! Eat good food! Enjoy your meal and the company with it. Eat how much you want. Over eat sometimes and eat fries and wine for a snack sometimes and be OK about it. That’s what I’ve got so far….