It’s NOT the last supper

 

Six ounces of milk, one boiled egg, two pieces of toast, a bowl of cereal, fruit yogurt, and a cup of blended berries. Breakfast.

I recently came across a South Asian mother who feeds all of the above to her 10-month-old son for breakfast. I was horrified at the thought of this tiny toddler being subject to fit such a huge quantity of food into his small, delicate stomach.

As she proceeded to tell me what she fed him for lunch, dinner, and numerous snacks in between, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she was doing him more harm than good.

What is this obsession parents have with feeding their children? Why do we think that if they don’t finish every last smidgen of baby food in the jar they will collapse from malnutrition?

“He doesn’t even tell me if he’s hungry. It will be an hour past his lunchtime and he won’t even realize he hasn’t eaten!” she confided, with a worried look on her face.

“Well of course not,” I responded. “He doesn’t talk for starters. And no 10-month-old is aware of the exact time of day that he gets fed. If he gets really hungry, trust me, he will make sure you know about it.”

Newborn babies can scream the house down because they haven’t gotten fed. Surely we should be able to trust our toddlers and infants to communicate when their body needs food.


Amidst parenting books and healthy baby manuals, have we forgotten about basic human instincts? As a child, more than at any other point in our lives, we rely most closely on them to guide us.

If a child is hungry, he’ll scream, he’ll gesture with his hands; he’ll pull the biscuits out of the drawer and shove them in his mouth. He will not, at any cost, just sit there and starve.

According to health experts, forcing a child to eat prevents him from learning to respond to his bodily needs. The child does not learn to recognize his real feelings of hunger and satisfaction, and this incorrect learning has a stronger effect than incorrect learning later in life.

I’m always afraid that mothers who force their children to eat are raising adults who will have an aversion to food—or children susceptible to eating disorders.

Perhaps it’s time we rethink the assumption that “more is better.” In a culture that is obsessed with food, in which eating and feeding others is a sign of love, we need to start thinking about the long-term consequences.

The mother I met had a heart of gold and no doubt wanted her son to grow up to be healthy and happy. But in her blinded intention to feed her son everything under the sun, she did not realize the extent of her obsession. After hearing the laundry list of items on his breakfast menu, I asked her simply, “If this is how much you expect to fit inside your little baby, what is it that you eat for breakfast?”

With a guilty smile, she said “Most of the time, just a glass of milk.”

I rest my case.

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