Eat Like a Baby


*I wrote this post before the move. Otherwise, it would not have made it to this space. It’s rather a jumble of disconnected words, so maybe it shouldn’t have been published. Ah well. This week (and I realize it’s only Tuesday) has not unfolded as I planned. More of my sob story (and my chance at growing in holiness!) at a later date (actually, the way things are going, I should say a much later date). :-)

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk About Food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


My girls recently had the pleasure of eating ice cream cones at a friend’s house in honor of a little one turning two. They smacked their lips as peanut butter frozen yogurt (yum!) dribbled down their chins. Those happy girls savored every lick. Their eyes were big and full of glee. The girls gobbled up the creamy goodness, and they enjoyed every bite without a side of guilt.

On this special day, my girls were enjoying what I’d call a “fun food.” I’ve found that most of what we eat falls into one of two categories: Nutritional food and fun food. Nutritional food is our fuel; it’s what nourishes us with the nutrients we need to lead a healthy, active life. Fun food is, well, fun. It may be lacking in nutrition, but it serves the purpose of giving us pleasure.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in fun food from time to time – especially when you’re celebrating a sweet, little friend’s two years of life! Eating should be pleasurable. While ice cream and frozen yogurt is more of a fun food and isn’t something you should gulp down by the pint (even if it does have calcium), it’s also not something you should associate with guilt, anxiety, or therapy. (Not that I’ve ever wallowed over a bowl of ice cream when my heart has been bruised. Ahem.)

When I was recovering from an eating disorder, I had a really hard time with the fun food category (and sometimes I still do). It was very difficult for me to eat anything like brownies, chips, or ice cream sundaes without some anxiety. But seeing how my girls mindfully enjoy their food – whether it’s veggies or a chocolate chip cookie – is helping me to rethink how (as well as sometimes what) I eat.

My 15-month-old is the luckiest one of all in our family since she gets to nosh on a fun and nutritionally-rich food when she breastfeeds. Food is love to her and what a beautiful thing that is. I used to believe equating love with food was dangerous because it could lead to overindulging or eating just because you wanted to make someone you cared about feel appreciated for serving you delicious food. However, my little nurslings have shown me differently. Food can be pleasurable. It can be an expression of love. And yet, saying, “no thanks” to food (or a nursing session) when we are on the receiving end is not the same as unrequited love.

Neither is my kids looking at the dinner I just slaved over like it was poison. I’ve learned to not take it personally if my kids don’t like something I cook although we do have a rule about being polite about anything that ends up on their plates. And I think my kids – at least my oldest who is five-and-a-half – get it. Not only is nursing for both comfort and nutrition a way to show my daughter how much I love her, but preparing food for my entire family is a sign of love, too. My work in the kitchen is an important part of my vocation as a wife and mom. When I cook with joy and choose wholesome ingredients, I’m showing my love for my family. When they try what I cook and thank me for cooking it, they’re showing their love and appreciation for me.

The kitchen has, in fact, become a perennially satisfying place to gather. It’s by the stove, side by side, our hands dusted in flour, where my daughters and I share memories. We share good food, too: chocolate truffles, zucchini muffins, and whole wheat yogurt pancakes. Whatever baked goods we’re whipping up together, my five-year-old likes to say she’s adding sweet pills as we’re mixing the ingredients, and there is something sweet about the bread, cookies, and muffins we make.

When we hover over the mixing bowl together, I’m also teaching my children important skills. Knowing how to bake a delicious batch of cookies or understanding the difference between finely chopped and just plain chopped carrots will serve them well later on in life. Then there’s the actual product of our labor in the kitchen, the giving of ourselves and our time. We don’t finish off the entire batch of cookies or muffins on our own; we share them with others as an offering of our love.

We recently moved into a new home and there’s an older gentleman who lives alone next to us. The girls and I are planning to make some muffins for him. Sharing food is a wonderful way to show kindness and to make new friends. (This week’s baking menu also includes brownies for Daddy’s birthday.)

But food can quickly become a source of angst if we’re not careful. Food used to be something I feared. It was the enemy. It was what threatened to make me feel like I was no longer in control. Mealtimes were to be avoided. I preferred eating alone rather in a communal setting. I pray my daughters maintain a healthy approach to eating. I don’t want them to have a misguided relationship with food. I do want them to eat healthfully and to be able to enjoy treats on occasion with gladness – not anxiety.

Yet, I also don’t want to be so concerned with how or when they eat that I start controlling their appetites instead of letting them listen to their bodies. This helps explain why I allow fun foods in our diet and yes, even permit some nutritional losers like lollipops to slip into my children’s mouths. My wish to let my girls be in control of their appetites and cravings is also why we spend a lot of time in the kitchen baking recipes they have handpicked. It’s why I nurse on demand, not by the clock. It’s why when my five-year-old leaves the tiniest crumb on her plate and asks me to save it for later, I don’t chuck it but instead stash it in the fridge.

I’m learning that I have and should have control over what to offer them to eat, but it’s up to me to allow my children to have control over how much they eat, when they want to eat (within reason; when my preschooler started asking for a snack every night in bed as a ploy to postpone going to sleep, I refused her), and even if they don’t want to eat at all.

Mealtimes can quickly turn into battle zones for a lot of parents and children. I understand why. It’s difficult to watch your child turn her nose up at everything you offer her. My first two daughters have always been great eaters, but my third is more of a food snob and often eats very little (thankfully, she makes up for it in the nursing department). It’s difficult to not worry she’ll waste away if she doesn’t eat more of her meal (except for the fact that she has more rolls than the Michelin man), but I’ve learned to respect my kids’ cues. Healthy children won’t starve. Their bodies won’t physically let them. If they say they’re not hungry or if they push their food away (or fling it off the high chair tray), I don’t force them to eat even “just one more teeny bite.” I give them permission to skip a meal.

And while I encourage adventurous eating, I don’t punish my kids for not liking a new dish. I always ask my kids to try new foods, but they are never expected to clean their plates. Ever. And if they don’t like something, I thank them for sampling it and offer them food I know pleases their taste buds (within reason – like sliced apples; I refuse to be a short-order cook though).

What’s wonderful is my more relaxed approach to serving meals to them as well as their way of appreciating fun foods and eating intuitively is rubbing off on me and making me healthier, too. I remember a mom asking me what my “dieting secret” was following the birth of my second child. I told her I’ve learned to start eating like my kids who innately listen to their bodies and eat mindfully and don’t see food as “good” or “bad.”

One day my oldest pushed a plate of half-eaten cake and ice cream away from her.

“Do you not want anymore?” gasped her sweets-obsessed mother who always has her cake and eats all of it, too.

“Nope,” she said. “I stop eating when I’m full.”

And she does. And so do her sisters. Kids, especially babies and toddlers, eat instinctively – if we only let them. Maybe they stop when they’re full because they still see delicious, fun food as an occasional and allowable pleasure rather than a stolen one. They haven’t screwed up their natural appetite through deprivation diets. They eat based on internal signals (am I still hungry or not?) rather than external ones (I’m going to clean my plate because it will make my mom happy, or it will make me feel less stressed or less sad). They know that today’s ice cream cone won’t be the last. They savor smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day – a way of eating that virtually every health expert encourages people to adopt since it keeps your metabolism up and blood sugar levels more steady.

My babies eat nutritious food as well as fun food mindfully and with joy and love and pleasure. They eat the way I want to always eat, too.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated July 13 with all the carnival links.)

Enter the Conversation...

13 Responses to “Eat Like a Baby”
  1. Deb says:

    Yes, this is the attitude I strive for, even if I dont' always get it. Your comment about nursing on demand really jumped out at me – although I have always nursed on demand and done baby led weaning, it never occurred to me to extend the concept to eating. It's what I do, but I've had a hard time explaining.

    I wish my daughter would eat intuitively! It sounds weird, because I'd really love to let her regulate herself, but she doesn't seem to have a hunger signal. She will go the whole day without eating if she isn't reminded. While I know she certainly isn't going to starve, you can see in her behaviour that she needs food. But she seems to get into a cycle of refusing and being stubborn. We are trying to talk about listening to your head as well as your stomach to work out if you are hungry.

  2. Colleen says:

    I've always thought that if I could eat like my kids, I would be a lot healthier/in shape. I work so hard putting together nutritious meals for them and only let them have sweets occasionally…but then I crash on the couch at the end of a busy day and eat nachos for dinner. If only I could love myself as much as I loved them. I think today's a great day to start :)

  3. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama says:

    Your thought about equating food with love made me smile. And it makes sense that we can carry over a love for food throughout life – food is *good* – why not love it?! :)

  4. kadiera says:

    I like how you're following your children's lead on listening to their bodies – I find it's very hard to do that as an adult when I wasn't allowed and encouraged to do so as a child.

  5. Kat says:

    You brought up so many points that hit home for me. I specifically like how you call certain foods "fun foods". It's such a healthier way to view things. We refer to things as "sugary junk"…but we've blanket labelled all treats, etc. under that category and I can already see it confusing my daughter because she is allowed to have some things once in a while. I think I will add the term fun foods for foods that aren't eaten on a regular basis but that we do have once in a while; while keeping the term sugary junk for stuff that really is junk and she doesn't eat at all. I can already see this helping her understand our approach more…sheesh it's funny how sometimes things are on the tip of your tongue but you just don't realize them until someone points it out! THANKS!!! :-)

    My daughter is also a very picky little eater and she doesn't eat much. Thanks for reminding me that I should just let her be…I had been watching her from the sidelines not knowing if I should push her or seek help here, but your reminder has helped me see that my instincts to just let her be were right…she is not going to starve :-)

  6. Jessica says:

    This is a terrific post! I follow all the same philosophical points as you do – I'm careful to word my questions about my son's eating since I caught myself praising him (needlessly) whenever he cleaned his plate. It's not about cleaning the plate. I'm more interested in whether or not he got enough and if he enjoyed it.

  7. Melodie says:

    What a beautiful post. I totally agree. For me, I'm stuck in the place of wanting to reduce sugar but having a sweet tooth, and when I want a treat I thoroughly enjoy it but then later feel guilty. I feel like I have to choose, but I don't, and so it goes….

  8. Maman A Droit says:

    You always have such insightful things to say. I like the approach of calling unhealthy treats eaten sparingly "fun foods". Hubby and I have a bad habit of eating them almost everyday, which we need to stop doing before Baby catches on!

  9. Melanie B says:

    Deb, my oldest (four years old) is the same way. She will frequently skip breakfast and refuse to eat anything when I suggest that she should eat; which would be fine with me if she didn't subsequently get whiny and lethargic. When she skips breakfast she frequently refuses to help clean up the messes she makes, saying, "I'm just too tired." So we've had some talks about how food gives her energy and tiredness can come from lack of sleep but also from lack of fuel. Then we go eat a snack and she's more willing to help out.

  10. TwinToddlersDad says:

    What a lovely post! You have so much practical wisdom on food and eating.

    Characterizing foods as "nutritional" vs. "fun" sends the signal that nutritional foods are not tasteful; you simply need to eat them because they are good for you. Fun foods on the other hand, make you feel happy – this type of messaging is perfectly exploited by McDonalds and Coke! No wonder we crave for them all the time and then feel guilty when we overindulge. The cycle continues.

    Food is neither good or bad. Neither healthy or unhealthy. It is how and how much of it we eat that makes it healthy or unhealthy. Certainly we should use our knowledge to make good choices, but we should also pay attention to the "how" of eating. Love, company of friends, generosity, creativity, discipline, enjoyment, creating memories – are all part of healthy eating.

    Your approach of letting your children develop their own sense and mindfulness about food is right on the mark. Getting them involved in the kitchen, building and sharing stories is also a wonderful idea.

    You should be commended for having such a great attitude. Happy eating!

  11. suzannah @ so much shouting/laughter says:

    so much good stuff here:) learning to listen to our bodies is a lesson we could all stand to learn better.

    we try to differentiate treats from snacks–snacks being fruit or cheese and treats being the less frequent indulgences.

    then i realized, i didn't want my daughter to think that treats were only food (can you tell that is how i like to reward myself?!) so recently, we stopped at a special park to play and called that a treat.

  12. Lauren @ Hobo Mama says:

    "I stop eating when I'm full"! What wise child. I hope someday to attain that level of awareness of my body's cues (and then follow them!).

    I think it's so important to view food as pleasurable, and it took me, also, a long way to get there. I mean, I always knew food was pleasurable, but there was a long stretch where I thought I shouldn't and felt guilty about it.

    In college, a woman came in to talk to our theology/physical education class (yes, there was such a thing at our school!) about how gluttony is not just eating too much; it's having an inappropriate relationship with food. A person can be a glutton by eating lettuce furtively at her desk instead of joining her colleagues for a social work meal, for instance. That really stuck with me, and made me think about how God intended for us to enjoy food, and how it's a glue that binds our relationships together. Food and socializing go hand in hand, and both should be pleasurable. And I know that my mother-in-law, for one, absolutely does dish up love with everything she makes. Cooking and sharing generously is one of her gifts, and it would be a shame for us to waste it.

    Anyway, mini-sermon there, sorry! I just really like your transformed approach to food, and it's bearing fruit in your daughters' attitudes to eating. (And don't worry about the little one — she'll get there! :)

    P.S. I have a post today about making "fun" foods. 😉 Really, really fun and pointless and so tasty!

  13. Jenn says:

    Wonderful post. There's so much going on here to comment on. Children approach food the way that they approach so many things – without the prejudices, both good and bad, that years of experience bring us. There's no stigma, no neurosis, no worry.

    I love the idea of the kindness of sharing food – what a valuable lesson on so many levels. And the kitchen as a place to gather and learn skills but share togetherness in food preparation, what a wonderful, family experience.

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