Another excellent recommendation from my friend Dr. M. I think the next book by Satter, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, aimed at school aged kids through adults, is probably better for us now. But, this is one is still very good. For those book-averse among you (though I’m not sure why you’d be reading this in the first place), she’s got a lot of useful information on her website: http://www.ellynsatter.com
Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter This fabulous book covers feeding children from infancy through preschool. Satter has been counseling families with food issues for nearly 30 years now, and the book is full of references to other studies, so this is an authoritative book. If you’ve found yourself engaging in any of the following behaviors with your child, then this book or its sequel, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, would be excellent choices: Making separate meals for your child; bribing your child to eat; avoiding eating out of the house; battling with your child to finish rejected food or to eat less. She sets goals for preschoolers such as being able to try new foods, rejecting foods politely, stopping when they are full, and being able to eat out of the house. Feeding and mealtimes should focus on enjoyment for parents and children and on children learning to eat the food of their family and culture.
For infants, Satter discusses both breast and bottle-feeding intelligently. Along with discussing how to start solids, she includes a chart of physical milestones to look for and what foods are appropriate for those stages. She has a nice balanced discussion of nutrition – for babies and up – that is happily not limited by the current anti-fat fads. With their small stomachs and high calorie needs, she says, children need 40% of their calories to be coming from fats, including cholesterol and saturated fats. She thinks that eating refined grains part of the time is fine and easier on the digestive system – probably, I say, meals that aren’t so low-fat won’t depend so entirely on grains being whole to slow down digestion. And relax about sugar already – up to 10% of calories coming from sugar is fine. So are a couple of days a year of just eating candy on major holidays (gasp! Shock!). Another interesting point – for those who’ve thought that requiring a “no-thank-you bite”: research shows that chewing and swallowing new food is naturally a late stage behavior for children. The natural sequence, followed over multiple exposures, goes something more like: looking, touching, playing with, smelling, touching to lips, putting in the mouth and spitting out, followed finally by actually eating.
The heart of Satter’s theory, though is what she calls the “division of responsibility”. Parents are responsible for deciding where and what children are served and, past infancy (when they need to be fed on demand) when mealtimes are. Children are responsible for how much they eat and whether they eat it at all. Satter wants meals and snacks at the table at set times. Parents should put out a healthful and balanced selection in serving dishes, always (at least for meals) including milk, bread and butter. Then children serve themselves and eat however much they want of what they serve themselves, with no further input from parents except guidance on manners. No, not even if your child doesn’t touch the vegetables or seems to be eating too much or too little or has trouble gauging a serving size. Your child’s body knows what it needs, and you and your child need freedom to be able to trust and listen to this.
There are a few points where I disagree with Satter. Most notably, she is quite forceful about saying that babies need to be weaned at exactly one year. Y’all know, right, that the WHO recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two? Dr. M. postulated, and I’d have to agree, that she’s just trying really hard not to show undue preference to breastfeeding over the bottle. Since toddlers wandering around with bottles all the time is bad for teeth and appetite, she just says that all nipples should be banned. I don’t particularly agree with her stance on organics, though I do see that it makes it more approachable. She’s also, incongruously in a book about trusting your child and your child’s needs, a fan of Ferber’s sleep training methods. But we’re reading this book for the food advice, so we can ignore this. Overall, her theories are well grounded in theory and practice. They answer multiple problems that we’ve been having and have seen friends having. We’ve been trying out the methods mostly successfully for a couple of weeks, though we’re still early enough to be working out glitches like LB asking to have special meals cooked for him again, and he is mostly not yet comfortable trying new foods. Still, he is mostly able to sit at the table with us and find something to eat, without nagging on either side – making for much more enjoyable meals all around.