I was tasked with writing an explanation of my business and why it is I do what I do for a business group. Then I was asked to share. This is what I said:
I want you to look down and imagine you have a plate and that it’s filled with spiders, worms, maggots or whatever really pushes your buttons. Now listen to your mother saying “eat up Julie, they’ll make you big and strong”. “Hurry up and eat John or you’ll be hungry later”. “Martine, you’d better eat these or there won’t be any dessert”. “Steve, why are you being so naughty and not eating, your little sister has already eaten all hers”.
This is the way that many of the children from the families I work with approach new food. To them it seems like spiders/maggots/worms. Whatever a parent says is not going to get them to eat it. Would you?
It’s also the reason that I really despise the term picky eater. It’s because it seems like a blame word to me. You’re choosing to not eat the food. Now that may be the case but many children are not choosing or not consciously. They have done studies on babies that show that those who go on to be selective eaters have a different suck pattern to other babies. There is something there right from the start.
Picky also says “you’re rubbish at eating”. We don’t do this in any other area of our parenting. You would never hear a mother say “oh you’re so bad at reading”. And yet we do it all the time about eating. “You’re so fussy, why is my daughter so picky, how come you can’t eat like your cousins?”.
The reason I bring this up is probably part of my greater why. I am so passionate about what children eat because I truly believe food is super important for all of us but more so for children with their developing bodies and minds. I know how much better I feel when I eat well. And yet I work with children who may never have felt great in their lives.
Because I’m so passionate about getting all children eating from a place of safety and joy not fear, I am sooo frustrated with our culture. We have such little support for parents who struggle getting their children to eat. Have speech challenges or difficulty reading and we’re all over that. But have a problem feeding a child over 2 and suddenly there is this big void.
And yet, feeding is something we do as parents 5 times a day, 7 days a week. When things are going wrong it’s HUGE. Not only is it frustrating, guilt inducing and stressful but for mothers it hits us in the really vulnerable bits. We are biologically hard-wired to feed our children and when that goes wrong it often makes us feel inadequate as a parent. I’ve had so many successful, intelligent women tell me “I can do anything I put my mind to so why can’t I feed my child properly”.
Thinking that your child is not getting their proper nutrients is the stuff of nightmares.
And yet, we go to the doctor and often they brush us off and say it’s a phase, our child will grow out of it.
And they may. However, stats show that there are probably about 10% of children with feeding issues they are just not going to grow out of. I see these every day so I know how many there are.
I am currently working with a family who have a teenager with a really restrictive diet. It’s affecting him socially as he turns down camps and other social events – even sleepovers - as the food is such a concern.
This is not an unusual story. Many families have been pushing for support for years and not receiving help. Or getting referrals that don't lead to an improvement in their child's eating.
This is how I got into this. I found more and more parents who needed support but no services to help them. It’s something that I love. Nothing lights me up more than being able to give a parent the support they need to get their child eating variety. I often feel like I have golden tickets to give away and am just waiting for someone to get in contact.
I also love to work with families where feeding is OK but parents know it could be better. They find themselves in a rut offering the same meals on rotation or shudder a little when they look at what goes in the lunchbox. Often smaller problems take a lot less effort to fix. Some quick tips can get a parent back on track like that – snap! This is so much fun to do. Being able to reduce the stress around eating and return the joy to meals.
However, human nature means that we rarely look for outside help unless our hair is on fire. We wait as we think it will get better. We see a small advance and pounce on it as proof things are improving. We come up with a million excuses why it’s not a good time. Then we realise that not only has the eating not improved but we have added an extra year of bad habits to unpick.
Eating is a funny thing as it’s so wrapped up in culture, family habits, psychology, our genetic make-up and so knowing how to separate what’s innate from what’s imposed can be so freeing. Knowing we are setting things up so there is the best possible chance our child learns to eat confidently and pleasurably is huge.
Which is why I also love to work with parents who have young children just to educate them. Give them all the information they need so they don’t fall into the common pitfalls and eating just happens more naturally and well.
Judith is passionate about good food and is even more passionate about enabling other people to enjoy the wide variety of fresh food available today.