A few weeks ago, I noticed that mumsnet were looking for bloggers to take part in a campaign about toddler portion sizes. It involved the not-so-catchy hashtag #ReThinkToddlerPortionSizes, and was done in conjunction with the Infant and Toddler Forum. I thought it was an interesting concept, but decided not to apply to take part because I don’t want to make food into an issue for my girls.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I started to read blog posts about the #ReThinkToddlerPortionSizes campaign, including this from one of my favourite bloggers, Donna from What the Redhead Said. On first read of the post, the whole concept made me a bit cross. It bothered me, because I know that my girls both have larger portions than they recommend, but they are also notably more active.
When I looked at the Infant and Toddler Forum page, I realised that they did give you the option of taking into consideration the amount of exercise that children do, using their Tot it Up tool. But here’s the thing. To even use that tool, you have to create an account, giving details about your toddler’s age and inputting what they’ve eaten that day, along with the amount of time they’ve been active for.
So it’s basically a very, very early version of a diet. I do understand that obesity is a problem these days, and that many babies and toddlers are overweight. In fact, when Lia was very young, I wrote a post about my anger at a terribly ill-informed Daily Mail article that labelled Lia as obese due to her weight at birth.
Does this encourage eating disorders?
What the Infant and Toddler Forum don’t appear to be addressing is the fact that we live in an era when eating disorders are a very grave concern, even among young children. In fact, another study published this month found that women whose parents call them fat in childhood are more likely to suffer from eating disorders.
And by meticulously counting every calorie we put into our toddlers, as well as monitoring their exercise levels – are we not just putting them on a diet? When you’re baby-led weaning, the mantra is that food should be fun until you’re one. But at two, three, four and five, do children really need to be monitored every step of the way?
Whilst my children eat larger portions than those recommended by the Infant and Toddler Forum, their food is healthy and eating isn’t an issue. I do worry that the ‘experts’ involved in studies such as this are trying to justify their own existence, at the expense of allowing kids to have a childhood. Of course we shouldn’t allow children to become overweight, but the vast majority of parents know that, and really don’t need intervention.
The pressures of being a girl
One of the most horrible experiences I’ve had as a parent was when my daughter said to me, “I’m not a pretty girl.” I hate that society puts so much pressure on tiny children to comply with what is perceived to be acceptable in terms of their bodies. I want my children to enjoy food in the same way I do – and not grow up to have body image issues.
And most of all, I want the ‘experts’ to back off and allow people to parent instinctively. Nobody knows a child like its parents, although I do accept that there are a very few exceptions where intervention is needed. But as a general rule, I think it is reasonable to allow good parents to be good parents, and allow children to enjoy their childhood.
Pressure to feed your child the perfect diet is just one more hassle that none of us need. Life is tough enough for parents, without unrealistic expectations being levelled at us as well. So please, give us all a break and go and find somebody who really does need ‘expert’ advice.