3 Healthy Things Parents Can Learn From Their Children’s Eating Habits
Unknowingly we steer our children away from natural eating practices that could benefit their health. However, if we observe the way our children eat, we can learn much about how to eat healthier overselves, in a way that supports our digestion and overall wellbeing.
Parenting is a thankless job. For all the hard work you put into your children eating well, you'd be surprised to know your children have some natural habits that are better than yours. As parents you teach your kids how to eat with utensils, develop food preferences, have table manners, better nutrition, and you model eating habits for them. You do this without ever considering how much your children can teach you about how to eat food.
Sure every one knows "how" to eat, but according to a review on Parental Influence on Eating Behavior, published in The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethic, "The first five years of life are a time of rapid physical growth and change, and are the years when eating behaviors that can serve as a foundation for future eating patterns develop."
What to Eat Is Your Job, How To Eat Is Their Job
Diet not withstanding, you can learn more from your children about how to eat than what to eat. Here are three eating practices children do instinctively that many parents can hugely benefit from:
1. Children Eat One Food At A Time – Children are superb natural eaters and food combiners. Intuitively, they cater to their delicate digestive system’s preference for efficiency. When children eat one food at a time, the energy used for digestion is far less, than if they ate several foods at one sitting. With the process of digestion more swift, you child has more energy for play.
And it's not that your child is a picky eater, it’s more that he is a natural eater -- and pretty spot-on in how he partakes in the daily ritual called eating. Generally, children prefer to eat monotrophically – this means they prefer eating one food at a time. From the prospective of efficient energy use, this is an excellent practice.
Children are excellent models of the “mono” way of eating. A child, given a choice of three foods, will likely eat one food and leave the rest. Children don’t think to eat their peas with their carrots and potatoes instinctively – we teach them to do that. Rather, children eat by instinct, which is why they feel comfortable eating only one food at a time. Think about a lion having two side dishes with his raw meat or a squirrel having a side dish of fruit with his nuts. This doesn’t happen because it is natural for them to eat monotrophically.
Interestingly, only humans can eat more than one food group at a time. Our digestive systems take up the load by releasing digestive enzymes for each type of food that we eat, but as we age that gets harder for the body to do. The body tolerates this until it no longer can – around midlife. Then we begin to realize we can’t eat the way we used to. Common symptoms like gastritis, indigestion and other digestive diseases inhibit weight loss and we tend to hang on to weight. If left to eat by instinct, your children can avoid these symptoms early in life. This is when eating mono meals are helpful.
So, for example, when chicken nuggets, fries and soda are fed to a child, the process of digestion may slow. Add milk before bedtime and this will slow digestion further, resulting in indigestion, teeth grinding or the child waking during the night. Children usually grow out of eating mono meals because instinctively they know they need variety and should have it, but should stomaches or indigestion arise, its never a bad idea to go back to mono eating to calm the digestive tract.
2. Children Stop Eating When They’re Full – Children intuitively stop eating when they’re full. While you may think they are under-eating, your child is actually really in tune with the signals of their body. When they’ve had enough food, they simply stop eating, leaving their food on the plate and wanting to leave the table. They may do this more frequently if they drink lots of milk during the day.
Cow’s milk is meant to grow a cow. Its lactose-binding properties are meant to cause weight gain and sustain a calf. If your child is drinking milk from the moment they awaken, and several times throughout the day, do not expect them to eat much food. Forcing you child to finish their meals without considering their calorie intake from milk can lead to overfeeding, weight gain and indigestion.
It’s also important to understand milk is not a drink. Milk is a food. When parents think about food, they thinking about chewing. When parents think about a drink, they think of milk. However, many parents don’t view the milk, they give their children as food, then it concerns them when their children don’t “eat.” Milk is an appetite killer. If a child is drinking milk, they will naturally eat less food because they are full. So, when you see your child reach for a couple of french fries, then wants to leave the table, it’s not because they are misbehaving – it’s usually because they are listening to their body’s natural signal to stop eating.
3, Children Eat To Live - In understanding how children intuitively eat, it’s important to notice that they eat to live instead of living to eat. While most parents are busy planning their next meals, children aren’t interested in eating until they actually become hungry. A child can wake in the morning and be more interested in a toy than food, until it occurs to them that they are hungry. Otherwise they don’t think much about eating. Again they are following the signals of their body.
Here’s What We Learn From Children
Children develop their eating habits from their parents. Children, if left to eat intuitively, will eat innately for the sole purpose of fueling their growing body and restoring their abundant energy.
As they grown and develop the eating habits patterned by their parents, children’s diets tend to become more and more a matter of taste than appetite. Children will eat what they like, or what has been prepared for them, so they like it, rather than what they need.