The Food Issue

Like many other children of my generation, I was forced to eat everything on my plate as a child. But, times have changed since the 70s, so I thought this practice was a thing of the past, a remnant of those who grew up in really lean times as my parents did in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Since becoming a parent myself, however, I’ve noticed many mother’s taking the same approach my parents did. I’ve read blog posts and discussion forum posts and heard conversations from other mothers, about getting their kids to clean their plates and punishing them when they don’t do so. It gives me flashbacks to when I was a child.

Parenting my daughter when it comes to food is an important issue to me. Partly because obesity and eating disorders are more and more common these days, and I do believe that weight-related illnesses will be the health crisis of our childrens’ generation. And partly because I think a lot of my eating habits stem from my parents’ stance on finishing the food that was put in front of me, and I know just how hard this can be to overcome .

While I tend to be an uber-healthy eater, there’s no doubt that I have a propensity to overeat. At times I am compelled to eat everything on my plate, even when I’m not hungry, and I know my sister deals with this very same compulsion. It’s hard to maintain a healthy weight and, more importantly, to set a good example for my daughter when I struggle with this daily.

Azita has always been a light eater. I’ve shared before my feelings as I, at one point, found her weight had dropped by 15 percentile points to the very lowest end of the growth chart spectrum. I admit that my first instinct was to force feed her. Today, I’m glad I fought that instinct and kept my worries to myself. Because it really was a phase. I was patient and presented Azita with healthy options. If she didn’t want to eat, I asked one more time then removed the food, saving it for a later time when she was hungry. I never forced the issue. And this is still my policy today.

Recently, Azita went through a particularly long hunger strike. For over a month she did not eat dinner or breakfast. I’m pretty sure she ate very little at daycare also since she had nary a stain on her clothing when she came home every day. Her daycare providers are fastidiously clean, but this was odd even for them. It was hard to be patient and have faith that this would blow over, that she would return to her usual light, but healthy, eating regimen.

After a month of this I did begin to worry, however, and I purchased a book on Amazon that came highly recommended — How to Get Your Child to Eat…But Not Too Much by Ellyn Satter. It seemed like the very act of purchasing a book to help me navigate this situation did the trick, because that very night Azita ate a a hearty dinner of broccoli and black beans. The very next morning, she ate an entire mini bagel with almond butter and honey and a whole orange. This has continued for over a week now.

This weekend, the book finally arrived in the mail. I opened it and eagerly read the first chapter. Imagine my surprise to find out that my approach has been the right one all along. My job as a mother is to present my daughter with healthy choices and to leave up to her whether she will eat and how much. I am not to outwardly express concern or anger or fear, because these expressions are what build in our children a contentious relationship with food.

As any other parent, I want the best for my daughter, but I know many things, including this very issue, are an uphill battle for me. My nature is to second-guess myself when parenting. This week, however, I realized I should have a little more faith in myself every once a while. Because in spite of my background and the difficulties I’ve faced in life, my parenting instincts are not so bad after all.

Eating Healthy, When She’s Hungry

About the author: Zahra is an Iranian-American married to a midwestern All-American boy. We combined our disparate lives and much happiness, conflict and wackiness ensued. We have our fair share of ups and downs, but our life is pretty good. And, it’s definitely interesting, especially now that we’re parents to a funny and rambunctious toddler. The Food Issue was first published on Kabobs & Apple Pie on November 1, 2010. 


  1. Great post. What does Satter say about dessert? I offer healthy dinner choices, for example, and my child will say, “nope, not hungry,” but then begins the two hour long request for desserts until bedtime. So I believe she is hungry, just for sweets. To combat this, I say that if she is hungry, she needs to eat something healthy first: the dinner I served, or some yogurt, or some fruit or cheese. Usually she sits back down at the table with defeat, and shovels in bite by bite, saying “this enough? now am i done?” It just doesn’t feel healthy!

  2. If I’m remembering right, Satter says to give kids a small portion of dessert with the rest of their food, and let them eat it first if they want to.

    Another thing she said, that I comfort myself with daily, is that there aren’t that many vitamins that you can only get from vegetables. So if your kid is eating fruit and a multivitamin daily, just keep modeling eating lots of veg– have it on the table consistently– and your kids will eventually start eating the broccoli as well as the apples. (That’s what my pediatrician said this year, as well.)


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