Feed like you read™
Feed like you read has become one of The Confident Eater™ catchphrases. It is something I often speak about when working with families.
It all started way back, when worked with a lovely family where some things were going well, and others were a bit of a disaster.
Mum had done an excellent job of providing nutritious food for her son, but mealtimes were really stressful for all of them.
Mum dreaded evening meals and I’m sure the same was true for her son.
On the other hand, Dad had taken on the responsibility of reading stories every night. Unlike dinner this was always a warm and relaxed time. It was that perfect mix of bonding and snuggling and learning.
Mum was suitably miffed that her time was a roller coaster of negativity and dad got happy hour!
If this sounds awfully familiar, do not beat yourself up. Many of the families who work with us have got to the point of uncomfortable meals and they can’t seem to find a way forwards.
Fortunately, fixing this is a key part of all our programs. If you work with us one on one, this is something that we can turn around almost immediately.
Yes, even for the children who only have one or two dinner options!
Looking closely at the family who couldn’t have pleasurable meals but had lovely reading time, got me wondering about why. How can the same child experience two different family activities in the same night and one be a source of joy and the other be a trial for everyone?
Anyone who works with me will hear me say “look for the things that go right, figure out why they were a win and then see if there is any way to replicate that in other situations”. This was one of those moments for me.
And for once, I took my own advice 😉
We looked to see how we could replicate as much of the feeling around reading as we could whilst at the table and how to learn to feed like you read.
How to feed like you read in 4 easy steps
When we read with our child everything often seems to come together perfectly:
Quality time – our child wants to spend that time with us. In fact, if your children are anything like mine were, it’s tough to get away (short books for the win).
Bonding – it is a nurturing time when we are both bonding and teaching/learning.
Relax – we are often able to tune into the moment and just enjoy those shared moments with our child.
Highlight – our child is looking forward to it and we’re confident we can deliver.
When we feed, can we replicate the positives from reading?
When it comes to meals, many of these same elements can be used to make dinners a more harmonious and pleasurable place to be for everyone.
Quality time – there is no reason that dinners cannot be quality time. If we sit together, it may be the only time in the day that all members of the family are in one place at the same time.
We can capitalise on that. I love meals with my boys as it is one of the few times when we are all free of the noise and distraction of our busy lives. I know in our house (with teens) it’s also one of the rare occasions we’re all ‘unplugged’.
Rather than thinking about work and other commitments it’s a place where we are able to talk and catch up with each other. Which brings us nicely into the next point.
Bonding – mealtimes are primarily about bonding, not eating. I know that seems like an odd thing to say, but spending quality time with our child is more likely to lead to competent eating, than focusing on mouthfuls.
Think of how little we would want to eat, if someone was counting our mouthfuls at an extended family dinner! Rather than the broccoli being the main topic of conversation, let’s make it about the people at the table.
When we are reading, yes we are speaking the words and looking at the pictures, but reading is about so much more than just the words. We are communicating all sorts of other messages about how we feel about our child and how invested we are in them.
Relax – studies show that the more relaxed we are, the more likely we are to eat.
If we get at all fluffed of feathers we are unlikely to want to eat. If I’m angry or stressed or upset I am not thinking about eating the food on my plate.
In fact, even physiologically, we are less likely to eat if we are arguing or upset or stressed. The body’s response to these triggers is to go into flight, fight or freeze mode. When this happens, non-essential functions like digestion shut down.
If we are fighting over the broccoli, then it will not get eaten. Yes, we want to ensure our child can eat vegetables, but pushing them to do so rarely ends in long-term wins.
As the parent we create the atmosphere for our child. If we are relaxed and enjoying the meal then it’s more likely that our children will too. We set out to model the behaviour we would like to see.
Highlight – meals can become the highlight of both your and your children’s day.
Ensuring we all look forward to meals makes a big difference.
If our child is feeling pressured or anxious they will not be excited about coming to the table.
How can we feed like we read?
There are some really practical ways to support this process:
Start small – begin with one meal and consciously choose not to comment on how much is being eaten or mention anything about foods your child decides to eat (or not).
If it is only one meal and they decide not to eat a lot, it is not a disaster in the swing of the day/week.
Provide a comfort food – if we always serve a food our child is able to eat they are more likely to come to the table happily. They are also able to put something in the tummy so we can worry less about pushing them to eat.
The food you serve does not have to be a favourite, or a requested food, just something that you know your child is capable of eating.
Role model calm – take some deep breaths before the meal, and approach the table feeling (or projecting) calm.
Smile and talk about things that interest your child. Tell them how lovely it is to spend time with them at the table. Show them how to have a relaxed meal through your words and actions.
Share the food – even if you are not eating with your child, have some of the same foods on a plate to nibble on. Sharing rather than staring makes for a better meal😊
If you set out to feed like you read I know you will find meals more pleasurable and so will your child!
Judith, MA Cantab (Cambridge University), Post Grad Dip Psychology (Massey University), is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/