Katherine Fleming: Dinner time dance a stress I can do without

Headshot of Katherine Fleming
Katherine FlemingThe West Australian
Talking to kids about food can be stressful
Camera IconTalking to kids about food can be stressful Credit: Pixabay

Of all the things I thought would make me uneasy about motherhood — and there are a lot, because I could worry for Australia at the Stress Olympics — I honestly did not expect one of them would be talking to my kids about food.

I’ve read enough about how deep-seated people’s relationships with food can be and the potential damage that can be done if that relationship, established in childhood, is unhealthy.

It was brought to mind this week when Kmart posted on Instagram about a kid’s book titled, You Don’t Have to Like It, You Just Have To Eat It, earning a rebuke from popular Perth paediatric dietitian Dr Kyla Smith, who called it “just revolting”. “Body autonomy. Consent. It’s not OK to force children to eat,” she wrote.

Picture of Dr Kyla Smith, Paediatric Dietitian and her daughter Elsie 2.5yrs, to help illustrate possible spread on WA kids and WA girls in particular. Kyla is speaking as a dietician, as the report has some stuff about how often kids eat fruit and vege etc, in Leeming, Perth. 
Picture: Ross Swanborough. 190220
Camera IconPerth paediatric dietitian Dr Kyla Smith. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

I agree, of course. I try not to talk about “good” versus “bad” food, diets, rewards, weight or people’s bodies in general. And as many of those commenting on the Kmart post point out, adults aren’t made to eat things they don’t like.

And yet almost every evening, I find myself cajoling my children to pretty please, for the love of Pete, just try the dinner I made. Just two spoonfuls. OK, one. Fine, I’ll settle for a lick, as long as you don’t then throw it on the floor.

I know they need to learn to listen to their bodies. I know family meal times are so important. I want to hear that new song from school, or the latest surprising fact about the ankylosaurus. I don’t want to do this dance. I know I shouldn’t. And yet here I am.

Some nights, we give up entirely and make what’s known in our house as “bits and pieces” — depends on what’s in the fridge, but often toast with pate or peanut butter, cut up vegetables, a slice of cheese, a hard boiled egg — and the kids gobble it up.

It’s an affront to my slow-cooked ragu, but it’s pretty stress-free. I’ve since discovered it’s also not far off the advice to offer a combination of what the family is eating and “safe foods” you know they’ll eat. “You provide, they decide,” as Dr Kyla puts it.

You then don’t need to talk about what they’re eating or how much. At all. I don’t know what I’ll do with all my free time.

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