One question I get asked a lot is WHY I choose to serve Raffy fruits on his plate alongside savoury options.Offering fruit as part of a meal is something I choose to do, as a personal preference and isn’t something that I say people HAVE to do by any means.
However, since I’m asked about it a lot I thought I’d write a blog about it. To share my thought process behind this and help people understand whether they’d like to follow the same strategy with their little ones too.
Firstly, a bit of biology
We are actually all born with a bit of a preference for sweet foods. Even during gestation an unborn baby shows a preference for sweeter amniotic fluids. It’s thought that this is due to the fact that, in nature, sweet foods tend to be safe, and also tend to come alongside plenty of nutrients and calories. Think strawberries, bananas, plums…
Our society encourages this
Here in 2019, we live in a society where sweet foods are readily available. But not necessarily full of the healthful nutrients that are sweet in nature; and are likely to have a benefit to our health.
We are biologically more likely to enjoy sweeter foods. But our society also heavily re-emphasises this, by promoting sweet foods as “treats”; as food for “special occasions” and for “dessert”.
If you go to birthday parties for example, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll come home with some broccoli in your party bag – and that’s OK. But what this does do, is it hugely reinforces our inborn preference for sweet foods. By making them even more desirable and as foods associated with fun occasions too.
Now none of this will stop and I’m honestly not saying it should. Foods such as crisps, biscuits and ice cream are made to be highly palatable for us as humans – we enjoy them for a reason. However, my issue is always that these foods tend to be halo-ed to the disservice of all the other wonderful, delicious and healthful foods that we have available to us throughout the UK.
Food Glorious Food
I want to avoid over-emphasising to Raffy that SOME foods are better than others. Ideally, I want him to (for as long as possible) see all foods as being equal, just some he enjoys to eat more than others. Also, I want to encourage him to follow his own appetite cues. If he fancies salmon from the plate then he can eat that first, if he fancies cherries then that’s what he can go for too. I want him to learn more about his own appetite, what he FEELS like eating. Rather than learning a food hierarchy in which sweet foods, whether that be fruits or sweeties, will trump all others.
I know this might be far fetched to many. I also understand that this is unlikely to be maintained as he goes to school and becomes more independent, but I’m hoping to instill in Raffy a love for ALL foods, not just sweeter ones.
This has also worked well so far for us and MANY many of you have also written to me to say it’s worked well for you too.
Offering fruit as PART of a meal
So what is it that I do when it comes to mealtimes with Raffy?
Currently I don’t offer a “pudding”, he has all of his food as part of one plate and is allowed to pick and choose which foods to eat and in which order. If fruit is part of the meal, it’s offered alongside salmon, potatoes and whatever else he has for that meal. Pudding can easily turn into an end of meal “treat” and encourage some foods to be shunned, in favour of the sweet stuff that’s coming at the end of the meal.
Some people find this weird, and that’s OK. But, as a family we don’t have a “pudding” every day after our meals and so I don’t really see why Raffy would either.
Pudding CAN be beneficial for some
For some, pudding really does have a place. Especially in children who are a little picky or don’t eat much at main meals. Puddings and snacks can play a big role in their diet and help to encourage calorie and nutrient intakes.
However, Raffy eats fairly large meals, so I don’t feel he needs topping up afterwards with any extras. Which is another reason why I don’t offer puddings.
Does it work?
And so far…this has really worked for us. Raffy LOVES watermelon, cherries and strawberries. He’d probably eat them all day every day if he could. But he also has similar affections for pasta, salmon, nut butter and eggs too. Sometimes I’ll place a meal down and egg will be the first thing he goes for. Other times it’ll be the blueberries. But for me, it’s important that he makes that decision and decides on what to eat depending on how he feels that day.
Lets be real…
Now I am a realist, and I realise that this won’t last forever. Raffy had his first taste of ice cream in Italy and screamed when it ended. He’s also been introduced to fruit as “pudding” at nursery and now often asks for it at home. Somewhere along the line he’s also got the idea that foods such as cakes/biscuits and oatcakes are “treats” and asks for them from me. But at home we pretty much stick to our guns of what meals are. We also continue to instill the idea that TREATS are actually time with family, books, games or days out – not food items.
I’m not a fan of using rewards or punishments via foods. That’s a whole different blog post though! I’m also not opposed to offering sweets/chocolate et al as foods for toddlers (again another post!).
However, I want to encourage people to show their little ones how to enjoy all food equally, as much as possible. And to encourage them to eat to appetite, rather than developing a food hierarchy understanding.
In summary, how I personally try to do this in the way I feed Raffy, I:
- Offer fruits alongside his meals
- Avoid talking about some foods as better than others or more desirable
- Avoid referring to foods as “treats” or offering rewards for eating some foods
- Let him see me enjoying a wide variety of foods
- Don’t offer a “pudding” as such, as a daily occurrence
- Allow him to listen to his own appetite at mealtimes and go for what he wants first
I hope you’ve found this helpful – of course there is NEVER a right or wrong way of feeding little ones. It’s often trial and error and what works for one family won’t always work for another. I’m sharing my experiences here and would LOVE to hear yours.