This Apple Pie Baked Apples recipe can be used to help deplete the glut of cooking apples that seem to appear at this time of year, however, experts advise that it probably shouldn't be used as a weapon at the dinner table.
Most parents these days, myself included, are part of a generation that were raised when meals times were a no nonsense affair. From the family dinner table to the school canteen, meal times were a battle ground and parent's and dinner ladies' main weapons were threats. We are all familiar with the battle cries¦. no dessert until you have finished your veg, you are not getting down until you have eaten all of your dinner or if the threats did not work dinner came with a big dollop of emotional pleading¦. please, just eat half of your carrots. It will make mummy happy!.
For many families, meal times are still a battle and this should come as no surprise as many dinner time conflicts are actually the result of natural child development. As babies become toddlers they begin to gain a sense of autonomy and test boundaries more and more. As any parent can attest, young children can be stubborn, demanding, testing, fussy and much, much more, but this is all part of their natural development. It should be no surprise then that this personality development should spill over to the dinner table. But why shouldn't we meet the resistance of our kids at the dinner table with food based threats? It works doesn't it? Apple Pie Baked Apples served with ice cream should be enough motivation for even the fussiest eater to finish their carrots! It may work but child psychologists would argue that this is a very short term fix and that this mentality can have significant repercussions later in life. Their arguments include:
- Telling a child to eat their vegetables so that they can have their dessert is essentially saying get through the horrible carrots and you can have some cake. It places value and preference with dessert and paints a picture where the vegetables, whilst being nutritionally superior, are an inferior chore that must be stomached.
- Kids need to be given the opportunity to learn about their bodies. They have to be able to experience and understand hungry and the feeling of being full. For some reason, we trust a baby's natural instinct to tell us when they have had enough when they are infants but once they are toddlers we then decide at we will serve arbitrary amounts of food that we then insist are eaten in one sitting. If kids lose their ability to understand those sensations it can take a very long time to regain which can contribute to a tendency to over eat.
- Threats, emotional bribes and pleas at the dinner table are stressful, for both parent and child. Meal times should be a relaxed social environment, not a time to out-negotiate each other and barter over peas and pudding. Anxiety at the dinner table at a young age can lead to anxiety about food at an older age which can lead to much more serious health concerns
The relationship with food that is developed at a young age lays the foundations for a lifetime of eating decisions. Don't worry, this is marathon, not a sprint¦. but the clock is ticking. A child's pre-teenage years will have a significant determination on their relationship with food for the rest of their lives. Once a child hits their teenage phase they tend to enter a period of food experimentation. This is when there is another growth spurt and with it comes an increase in calorific demand. Teenagers suddenly eat parents out of house and home, consume huge cans of caffeinated sugary drinks that would give their parents heart attacks whilst having the freedom to eat anything they want away from the home environment. This is another natural occurrence which will be short lived and followed by a reversion to their pre-adolescent habits. If these habits have not formed a healthy base for eating we suddenly find that we have young adults with poor relationships with food and a runaway ship on a course that is very difficult to alter.
So what are the alternatives to threats and emotional gameplay at the dinner table? Today's evidence based strategies are founded on the idea that children have a natural ability with eating. Parents are advised to take responsibility for what kids eat but allow our children to decide how much they eat. The role of the parent should be to choose and prepare food and serve three meals a day with two snacks offered between meals. This ensures that even if a child decides not to eat much at a particular meal the parents can be confident that over the course of a day, nutritional needs are being met. No more need to coerce kids into eating and thus allowing meal times to become a stress free environment; no pressure and no anxiety. There is more to this division of responsibility for example portion sizes need to be child appropriate and there needs to be a suitable balance of savoury and sweet food (experts recommend around 85% savoury and 15% sweet) but essentially relinquishing the parental role of enforcer when it comes to feeding our kids has a hugely positive impact on their relationship with food for life¦ and it is actually easier for us as parents too!
Neil at Progressive Family Food
Neil works with parents of fussy eaters, helping them win their battles with their fussy eaters whilst building a solid food foundation for kids for life. More information can be found at www.progressivefamilyfood.com.