Monday, April 21, 2008

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense

Seems like everyone I know who has read this book, by Ellyn Satter, just loves it. I've heard lots of rave reviews, which is why I was so surprised when it turned out I didn't really like it that much.

Don't get me wrong. It's not complete trash. It's just that Ms. Satter is very judgmental and quick to make snap judgments and use her position of authority as a nutritionist to make sweeping statements that I don't believe she has the right to make for me and my family.

But first let's review the good pieces of this book, because I think it really does have some great and valuable lessons, especially for parents who are prone to worry about "making" their children eat well. This book explains a very important principle, the division of responsibility in feeding. This basically means that you the parent are responsible for what foods you will offer your child and when and where to offer them. Your CHILD should be responsible for how much of that food he or she eats, even if that means no eating at all. This is SO important for parents who think that somehow they have to make their children eat or eat a certain amount. They need to hear it! Excellent.

Let me share with you a few other good tips from the book. First, you shouldn't ever have a "no thank you" bite. There should be NO pressure to eat anything the child does not want to eat. But if you want them to eat a lot of vegetables, the secret is to expose them to a lot of vegetables and to EAT THEM YOURSELF. Second, we are obsessed with eating a low-fat diet, but this is bad for kids! They need fats to grow well, so don't ever limit the amount of fats they want included with their food, although of course you are the one to choose whether that fat will be in the form of nuts, meats, butter, oil, or all of the above. And don't serve dessert last. Serve it with the meal so your children don't get the impression that dessert is somehow better than other foods, or they will always ask you for more of it and not more of the veggies, instead of listening to their palates and appetites and asking for the foods they need, which is what they will normally do. And don't say things like, "Why aren't you eating your cheese? You LOVE cheese!" because this could give the child the impression that there are only a few things they like to eat and that can actually induce picky eating.

I could go on. Suffice it to say, there are quite a few good tips and things to consider when helping your children to establish a healthy relationship with food.

However. Now let's talk about some of the things I didn't like. As mentioned above, my main problem with this book is the way the author continually passes judgment on things that are outside her scope, or at lesat things that individual families have to decide for themselves, rather than a One-Answer-Right-For-Everyone formula. (Here's my tip: when you see the formulaic parenting advice that doesn't take your own personal situation into away!)

For example: she randomly throws in that you shouldn't cosleep, it's dangerous. Really? How would you know, Ms. Dietician? Was that covered in your training? Didn't think so. And explain to me again how it's MORE dangerous than crib-sleeping? Aha, you can't. Thought so.

Or the presented "fact" that there's no reason to be vegetarian unless you morally object to killing cows. Really? Because I have my reasons for being mostly vegan, and they don't include cow considerations, and I resent the fact that you pass such easy judgment on me with no clue as to what my reasons might be.*

Or how about when she says eating organic is no big deal because, while modern agricultural practices *might* be hard on the earth, the pesticides just wash off in the sink. Uh....what? No matter what you personally think and feel about eating organic or not, you have to admit that the pesticides don't always wash off. Again, not her area of expertise! And something that I think parents probably need to examine for themselves to discover what their personal best choices will be.

So, all in all, this is an okay book. It has good tips, but I'm afraid it will shove impressionable parents into opinions that are not their own, and that might not be the best for their families, simply because the information is all presented as "expert." I hate the idea of "experts" anyway, but that's a topic for an entirely different post.

* If you're interested in some other reasons why one might want to follow a vegetarian diet, how about this book about the health benefits? Or this article introducing some of the ways it's ecologically friendly?

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