It is rather an exasperating endeavor trying to get your child to eat. Ask me, I know. Some days I only get him to eat two spoons of yoghurt and some of his pouch. He doesn’t like the puree I made for him. He cries when I try and put him in the high chair. I have now officially given up on breakfast. I just can’t take the stress and the crying. I try and get him to snack on my muffin later in the morning.
Reading “My Child Won’t Eat,” I felt a whole lot better. Again, I was reminded of the child’s perspective and how important this main rule is:
NEVER MAKE THEM EAT.
The result of making someone eat can be seen in the author’s father who was forced to eat vegetables. As an adult, he refused to eat them. Gonzalez points out that in the early 1900s vegetables and fruits were only introduced at 2-3 years. Children were fine because they were obtaining the nutrition they needed from breastmilk. Since artificial milk was introduced, it was necessary to introduce it sooner. But children have small stomachs and can only eat so much.
(Talking the early 1900s, Gonzalez uses the appendix to give some history. The first menu he quotes has breastfeeding at 8-9am, 4pm, 7pm, 11pm and later. The only solids are at noon – a gruel made with flour. Breastfeed for desert. This made me feel better as well.)
My own father was forced to eat porridge in boarding school, and to this day will not eat it.
As a teacher our policy was to make sure the pre-school kids ate at least half their lunch. This was often a battle of wills. I remember kids who used to sit the whole of break with their food, unwilling to eat. They would miss out on their play time too. At the time, as a child who had been brought up to only eat until I was full, and it was fine to leave left overs, I knew this was not right, but it was not my school. I had to go with it.
Kids know when they are hungry and how much they need to eat.
I was encouraged to hear that many stop eating at one year because of the slowed growth rate. Many children remain small eaters until puberty when they “eat you out of house and home”. (p30).
Gonzalez also disputes the importance we place on growth charts, saying: “weight charts are not road maps to be followed, but more accurately, they are mathematical representations of complex statistical functions. The percentile curves do not correspond to the weight gain of one particular child…” Read his book for more on graphs.
I know a fellow mom whose baby was born in the same month as Nicky who is depressed about those weigh in visits as her child is petite and the nurse just makes her feel inadequate. I also know the nurse at the class I went to would be horrified at how little solids my child is getting now. It is sad when we cannot turn to health providers because they just make you feel like you are a bad mother when actually you are doing your best to be in tune with your child.
Babies (and children) don’t eat because they are full.
They have 3 defenses to tell you this: (p43)
1) Turns head and closes mouth
2) Takes it in and chews it a bit and spits it out
I am embarrassed to say I have witnessed all these cues in Nicky. Having read this book now, I will be more aware of what he is trying to communicate and listen to him.
As much as Gonzalez advocates breastfeeding on demand, he suggests that we follow this practice for solids and quotes a study done by a Dr Adelle Davis who offered a variety of food at every meal. Although they varied between eating “like a bird” or “like a horse”, a consistent amount of calories were consumed overall.
The author also cautions against bribing kids to eat, referring to studies where the bribed group ate less a few days later.
Here is an excellent extract which illustrates the child’s point of view:
(My parents) keep insisting I eat food I don’t want. And no longer just one more bite as before; now they expect me to eat twice of three times as much as before. They are acting very strangely; one minute they are euphoric, making fools of themselves with a spoon, yelling, “Look at the airplane, brrroom!”; then they get mad and start trying to get me to open my mouth or they get emotional and weepy. I wonder if they caught the virus. Whatever it is, mealtimes are a huge ordeal. Just the thought of them makes me want to throw up and I lose what little appetite I had.
Gonzalez recommends an experiment, if you are really worried about your child not eating. Weigh your child, and if he or she has not lost 1kg (2.2lbs) after a few days, then you know they are ok.
He recommends breastfeeding on demand and says breastfed babies will not accept solids as well as bottle fed ones. Another relief.
In summary, Gonzales’ rules for food are: (p112)
- Never force a child to eat
- Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months
- Offer solids at six months, after breastfeeding. Non-breastfed babies should have 500ml a day.
- Start small, without too many new foods together.
- Limit gluten. (tiny amounts)
- Drain cooked food.
- No hurry for allergenic food like dairy, eggs, fish, soy, peanuts etc
- No salt or sugar
- Breastfeed for 2 years or beyond.
You’d have to read the book for more detail on each of these points.
There is more in this book, but I have just highlighted what was interesting to me.
Right at the end of the book Gonzalez writes a fictional piece “What if we were forced to eat?” which reminds me of a Big Brother / George Orwell situation. People are forced to eat certain foods in a certain way by the Nutritional Police. The most heartbreaking image that stayed with me here was of a thin young woman forced to eat food she did not want to, tears falling down her cheeks.
I hope this review was an encouragement to other moms who are in the midst of the food wars, to have a reality check of what a child not eating really means. I highly recommend this book: you really will feel a lot better after reading it.