Our parenting style comes under many labels and one of those is called "child-led parenting." Child-led parenting is when you follow your child's lead, meaning you look for cues to decide what your little one needs next rather than imposing a strict timetable for feedings, rest or play. It doesn't mean you can't gently guide and make suggestions when you recognize that an imbalance is occurring, but rather, you remain flexible and respect your little one's innate wisdom for knowing what they need to remain balanced. You may have heard of on-demand breastfeeding and baby-led weaning, and following a child-led diet is really just a natural progression from this approach.
As his parents, we grew up on a conventional diet with three square meals a day but now we choose to eat more instinctively. We regularly forage wild food as a family and also grow our own food in the garden. We avoid the use of food as a comforter, pacifier or bribe and work towards conscious eating for nourishment rather than boredom eating or emotional suppression.
Our son doesn't really eat cooked, mixed-up meals like most kids. He tends to graze several times a day, little and often, and eats much more on days when he is not out and about playing in nature or with friends.
My son has always had a sensitive system when it comes to digestion. He still breastfeeds occasionally from time to time at five years old and didn't really start getting into solid foods until about 18 months, and even then he didn't eat nearly a fraction of what other toddlers his age were eating. As a highly sensitive child, fussiness comes with the territory and we're absolutely OK with that.
As a family, we eat a plant-based diet and despite being offered to try animal foods, my son has never wanted to. To date, he has only eaten one candy bracelet from a birthday party and only eats dark chocolate or raw food bars when it comes to sweet treats. His other vices include anything made from potatoes including potato chips, fries and baked potatoes.
In my opinion, as long as the parents lead by a healthy example, children can always be trusted to grow up and choose to eat what's best for their own body.
On a typical day here are some examples of what he chooses to eat:
* Bags of salted potato chips drenched in fresh lemon and lime juice and accompanied by lots of raw vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, radishes, kale, mushrooms. (No cooked vegetables)
* Tomato soup (brand non-negotiable!) with brown bread.
* Raw coconut and Raw Seeds of any kind (hemp, chia, black sesame, flax) but absolutely never mixed with anything else...especially in bread!
* A whole food supplement, chlorella algae tablets, which he has eaten since a baby like candy.
* Fries covered in apple cider vinegar and pink rock salt.
* Raw chocolate mousse made with avocado and dates.
* Fresh fruits including wild foraged fruits such as medlar fruits and Hawthorne berries.
* Other wild food including fresh seaweed, dandelion flowers and acorns.
* Herbal teas and fresh green smoothies and juices as well as filtered water.
* Naked bars, vegan cakes and vegan ice cream as well as dark chocolate.
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At family mealtimes, we always cater to everyone's individual preferences and offer food whenever we are cooking for ourselves, but never force the children to eat with us. If we're eating out, we often take some of our own food with us and eat a bit of whatever is provided that ticks our boxes. At birthday parties we do get comments about our son not being able to eat the dairy ice cream, but honestly, other people—usually adults—are more bothered about it than he is. He isn't a big eater when we're out of the house anyway, so it's really not a problem.
By eating in accordance with his own hunger cues and individual preferences over someone else's interpretation of a balanced diet, we feel we are allowing our son to build a sound relationship with his body's own needs and requirements. This child-led approach to eating allows a child to eat instinctively and accommodates any potential intolerances or nutritional imbalances which may be present without the parent's knowledge. In my opinion, as long as the parents lead by a healthy example, children can always be trusted to grow up and choose to eat what's best for their own body.
And that's a lifelong lesson we all could use.
Photographs by: Adele Allen