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Can we please stop saying our kids are ‘starving’?

Fact. Healthy children cannot starve in 6 hours.

They will get hungry, sure, and whingey and clumsy, but they won’t actually starve.

So why are we so insistent about plying our kids with snacks every two hours? Why do we cook the four year old a sausage when the rest of the family is having roast chicken?

I see it all the time. Families setting for an hour long drive to the beach that might take an hour and a will pack boxes of crackers. Mums dropping their kids for play date will send along a few finger buns – ostensibly as a ‘thank-you-for-having-her’ gift, whereas really it says ‘she’s- going-to-get-hungry-and-I’m-not-entirely-sure-you’ll-feed-her-adequately.

It’s a rare toddler you see in a stroller without a packet of something crunchy to keep them happy as they cruise around the shopping centre.

I’ve done it myself. Mainly with my eldest, and I wish I hadn’t. He was the worst eater of my three; and at age two was addicted to Vegemite sandwiches.

It happened gradually… stealthily. A Vegemite sandwich was his favourite lunch. Fair enough, mine too. Then he began to ask for a Vegemite sandwich instead of cereal and fruit for breakfast. Not so bad, I thought - generations of Australians have grown up on Vegemite sandwiches. Not like I was giving him KFC chips and gravy for breakfast. But then, he started saying no to dinner. Pasta, meat, vegies, no no no. He’d hold out for a sandwich. I’d invariably relent and give him one – no mother wants their baby to go to bed hungry.

I asked the community nurse for advice. ‘Don’t make a big deal of it,’ she said, ‘Offer small quantities of other foods, it’s common for toddlers to be fussy.’

I might as well have thrown the other foods straight into the bin and eliminated the middle-man.

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Kate Hunter

It went on for months. A year. Vegemite sandwiches morning noon and night and sometimes in between. The only variation on the theme was Vegemite toast. There was milk too, and the occasional banana, but that was it. Nothing would tempt him. He could not be bought. It was a Vegemite sandwich or nothing.

I worried and I bored my friends and family with our micro-drama. Then I asked our family doctor what to do. He said, ‘Give him nothing. This kid has a bad habit and he won’t change it unless he has to. It could go on for years.’

‘Give him nothing?’ I asked, ‘But he’ll starve!’

‘No, he won’t,’ said our doctor, ‘We use the word ‘starving’ so lightly in our society.  Your boy barely knows what hunger is. Has he ever gone four hours without eating?’

‘Um, no,’ I said.

‘It takes more than a day for real hunger to kick in - the kind of hunger that will make you eat whatever’s offered. Choose a quiet weekend, give lots of water, but no milk, and no Vegemite sandwiches. Don’t get cross, don’t bribe. Just offer him something with some protein regularly – scrambled egg or baked beans or something like that. He’ll be fine.’

I clung to those words …  ‘He’ll be fine,’ all thorough that weekend.

Our little boy was whingy and couldn’t understand where the Vegemite and bread had gone (we purged the house). We ate our meals with him and served him toddler versions of our meals, but no go. Surprisingly, he slept quite well. After two days and two nights he gave in and gobbled up a scrambled egg.

My toddler didn’t starve. He was hungry because he couldn’t have what he wanted, not because there was no food.

Since then, I’ve taken a more hard-headed approach to food. I don’t worry about my kids getting really hungry because I’m in the enormously fortunate position of knowing food is never far away.

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Not everyone shares my harden-up attitude.

The other day, my ten-year-old daughter forgot her school lunch for about the third time in as many weeks. I debated whether to take it up to school. It would be no massive inconvenience - I work from home and school’s less than a 10 minute drive away. But I was annoyed. I pack her lunch with love every day… surely remembering to bung it in her backpack isn’t that hard?

Surely going without it won’t be that damaging?

I took my dilemma to Facebook (like you do), and asked  iVillagers whether being forced to, ‘scrounge a sandwich’ would have been a life lesson worth learning?

What happened was what we call ‘pushback.’

There was this:

And this:

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As well as:

Really?

All my daughter had to do was remember her lunch. Not mill the grain for bread.

I hate to sound like a count-your-blessings Nana, but in many parts of the world, ten year old girls are raising their brothers and sisters, not fretting over a forgotten chicken sandwich.

Sometimes I think there’s just too much food around, too often. Every kilometre there’s a drive thru and even at 11pm we can grab ourselves a Magnum if that’s what we fancy. Food is a cheap and easy distraction. Who wouldn’t rather pass a packet of sultanas into the back seat than play ‘I Spy’?

Science has taught us too much about the effect being hungry has on our moods – we’re terrified to let our kids’ food level drop below ‘chock-a-block.’

It feels better to say, ‘oh, she’s hungry’ than, ‘she’s being a bit of a rat.’

I absolutely understand that my approach (and my doctors advice) is something not all parents feel comfortable taking. No doubt my son would have grown out of his Vegemite sandwich addiction and my daughter would have learned to remember her lunch. But getting tough meant life got easier sooner rather than later at our place. And nobody starved.

Do you have fussy eaters in your house? How do you deal with it?

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