Teaching Children to Listen To Their Bodies.

 The anti-meal plan.


The human body knows when it’s hungry.  It’s an easy system to read.  The problem is, many of us grow up in a society where we learned to listen to our eyes and desires instead of our stomachs.  We learned the times of the day that are deemed appropriate for eating and the times that aren’t so much.  We don’t listen to our bodies, because we listen to the clock, or the lusts of our own appetite.


So, I’ve stopped feeding my children.


Sort of.
With four Wild Things, three of them small boys, food has always been a subject of contention around here.  People are hungry all. the. time.  And whining about it all. the. time.


Last year, in an attempt to solve this problem I got all organized and started writing menu’s.  That way our food would be predictable for my blessed Four Year Old, who was the biggest “problem”. It had three meals, plus a morning and afternoon snack.


And that worked pretty well for us at the time, when the two big kids were in school, and our life revolved around when they were leaving the house or returning to the house.


But now, we’re a little too loose and free for something so structured to do us much good.  And now the big kids are home, too.  Weeee.


One giant perpetual problem around here is the “What can I eat” syndrome.  I get asked this question, on average, about 526 times a day.  It gets old.  And almost without exception the answer ends up being,  “That thing I already gave you!”.  You know, that cheese sandwich sitting on the table growing stale.  That apple, half eaten, that’s sitting on the side table.  That untouched yogurt with spoon sticking out of it. That.


Now, most of you know that I’ve been increasingly studying up on the philosophy of life learning (or unschooling).  Often times, one of the bullet points of this philosophy of education and parenting is letting your kids eat whatever they want.
Whut!?  Whatever!  That’s  crazy.
That’s what you just said, right?  Well, sure.  That’s what I said, too. And I also know the first thing you thought.  Something to the likes of, “If I let my kids eat whatever they want, they’d eat twinkies for breakfast and ice cream for lunch.” I’m with ya.  I thought something similar at first exposure.


For me, the obvious answer to the junk food question is, don’t buy junk food.  Children will pretty well follow your example in most things.  If you eat healthily and only keep healthy snack and food options in the house, then pickins are automatically nutritional.  My kids already don’t have access to soda or doritos or debbie cakes because those aren’t things that we buy.

Then I wondered, Why am I feeding my children near noon every day? And the answer, as usual, was, “Well, you know.  Because…you’re supposed to.  You know.  That’s what people … do.” So, I decided to try an experiment.


I didn’t feed my kids lunch.  Eleven o’ clock passed, and they didn’t ask for food.  12:00 … 1:00 … and then finally at 2:00, the first person started asking what they could eat.  Then I asked them what they wanted to eat.  Usually, it’s a banana…an apple…a granola bar.  Sometimes it’s grits.  Or eggs.  Or cereal.  Or a sandwich of some kind.  I’ve just been letting them fill in their own  meal blanks, as long as it’s fairly balanced.
We’ve had a lot less food contention.
I used to be against the idea of fixing different food for different people.  I think I had adopted a sense of parental entitlement from the culture around me.  “I’m too important to take the time individualize your food”.  “Who do you think you are, royalty?”
But, I’ve kind of reversed that thinking now.  Our lifestyle right now really affords us that kind of freedom. I realize not all circumstances do.  But I’m, for the most part, letting my children eat what they want, when they want.  I do still want them to have a balanced diet, so I’m not so radical that if they want to eat 12 bananas today I’ll let them.  Sorry.
Another current exception to this rule for me would be family dinner.  I don’t cook dinner every night, because I’m a fan of leftovers.  But 2 or 3 nights a week I do cook, and I want us to all sit together at those times.  Which would mean the same food was offered to everyone.  Oh the horror.

It’s 10:00 a.m. right now.  Four year old is just now eating a bowl of cereal.  Which actually kind of makes sense to me, because I’m never hungry till around 10:00, and my tummy is just starting to rumble.

  • Two Year Old has had a yogurt and a banana.
  • Six Year Old has had nothing.
  • And Ten Year Old had a bowl of cereal about an hour ago.


In the past, there would have been a lot of crying by now.  Because I would have given them all the same kind of cereal at about 7:30 in the morning, and most of them wouldn’t have eaten it.  And now they’d want something new.  But I’d want them to finish what they started, because I do think it’s important not to waste food.


So.  There you have it.  I’ve stopped making my children eat.


Feel free to tell me I’m crazy. ;)



Photo Credit


  1. Megan @ Faith Like Mustard says:

    I'm kind of a believer in this sentiment. I pretty much let my kids decide what they want @ lunch and breakfast, but dinner is a family affair. Sorry–no short order cook in the hizzouse. If the kids don't like the veggies I'm serving at dinner, then they have to pick some kind of veggie to eat, even if it's not a huge portion. Oh-and they have to fix it themselves since I already graciously provided veggies to eat. :)

    I think the keys to letting kids eat what they want is:
    1-not keeping a bunch of crap in the house
    2-teaching them not to constantly graze
    3-teaching them about nutrition (like protein/fiber will fill you up longer)
    4-setting a good example
    5-not being a complete Food Nazi (denial only makes the desire for junk stronger)

    We try not to keep much junk food in the house, but I do keep plenty of easy to grab foods like nuts, fruit, cheese sticks, etc. around. I do this mostly for ME, the person who is at home the most staring at the fridge, but also to teach our kids good habits.

  2. I know my little "revelations" must seem so simple and obvious to some people. But it's hard for me to see pass the paradigm of four wild things sometimes, I think.

    Someone with one kids is probably thinking, "Well, der. Of course I let them pick what they want to eat."

    But the more children you have, the more tendencies you have towards forcing some kind of order and control. Which often has the opposite affect that you want. Bummer.

  3. This was a good read. It makes perfect sense to keep good things around and let kids eat when and what they want to eat. I try and make dinner for the whole family, but sometimes not everyone is hungry but, it's there.

  4. hi Jessica! i love the way that you think outside the box :) my older sister has done a similar thing with her kids and it's amazing what good choices they make. it's funny how people claim that the human race is "evolving" and becoming better, and then they try to force the next generation into their current box. anyhow, good luck with the new food plan!

    ~ Acolyte

  5. I do feel like I'm constantly making my box bigger. :) And hopefully teaching my children to, as well.

    Funnily, (but no very surprising) Two Year Old walked up to my while I typed this and asked what he could eat. :) I told him whatever he wanted. And he asked for cheese and crackers.

  6. winenaptime says:

    I love this idea. I've read about it in some other books and blogs and although my daughter is still too young to fix things herself herself or communicate what she wants to us any more specifically than "food" I think we'll take this approach as she gets older.
    Another great idea I've read about is when teaching kids about nutrition not referring to different foods as "good" or "bad" but rather explaining their effects ("If you have the eggs and toast it will give you more energy then the chocolate muffin will.") or calling things "all the time" foods and "sometimes" food. Because really, there is nothing inherently "bad" about that chocolate muffin.

  7. @winenaptime – Ooh, I like the idea of about explaining how each food will make them feel. I'll have to remember that.

  8. Another challenging post. This is like the exact opposite of what my wife and I have talked about doing. I love it when posts make me think.

  9. Talk is cheap in parenting, Mo! Bahahaha.

  10. Hah, tell me about it. It took about 3 days with the baby child to figure that out. How smart we thought we were!

    Keep the crazy (inspiring) ideas coming. I think my wife might be reading your site now too.

  11. Sweet. :)

  12. Yes, makes sense, absolutely (and yes, catching up reading the blogs that I'm following ;))!
    The only thing in our house is that the oldest doesn't always feel that he's hungry, so I need to make sure he gets his fuel in time, otherwise he'll be REALLY grumpy.
    I love monkey platters http://sandradodd.com/eating/monkeyplatter , this tackles the problem for the eldest…

    But yeah, I don't want them to get the food 'thingy' I have ;(

  13. @Mirjam – Ooh, I love platters, too. Of course, it never fails, they'll eat all of one item, and none of another. Lol.

  14. Well, you know, I have always been the mom that cooked for eveyone in my house their own meals, and I have always asked my kiddo's what they wanted to eat? I always get comments from other moms like, "I would cook and they would eat or starve!" And well, I don't want my kids to starve because they choose they don't like the taste of spinach… So, it always comes back to the question, "What do you want to eat?"

  15. @ dangiec – To me, as long as I feel their diet is sort of balanced, I'm just not going to fight too much anymore. One day this week no one wanted to eat the soup I cooked. So I broke down and gave the little boys some banana chips and protein.

    As long as I know they're getting fruits and protein, and not overloading on sugar, I think I'm going to consider their diet a success. Lol.

  16. Banana chips and pecans, I meant. Ha! My fingers typed what my brain was thinking, instead of what it meant.


  1. […] Feeding my children has, routinely, been one of the highest stress points of staying home with them.  So, believe me when I tell you I understand how crazy the food chain can make you and how desperately we want to offer healthy alternatives and teach children about balance and nutrition. […]