At my 7-year-old’s annual checkup, our pediatrician declared her underweight. This did not especially concern me. Both my husband and I were skinny kids with fast metabolisms; it’s clearly in our genes. I look back fondly at the days when I could eat whatever I wanted, because as a 40-something mom, that is definitely not the case anymore!
Still, the doctor encouraged me to feed my string bean of a child more healthy fats, such as avocado and peanut butter. She actually went so far as to suggest I make fluffer-nutter sandwiches, something even I wasn’t allowed to eat in the freewheeling 1980s.
To appease our pediatrician, I started putting out little plates of cubed cheese and nuts, hoping my kid would graze more during the day. This was a great idea ... for one of my children.
A few months later, it was my 3-year-old’s turn for a checkup, and guess what? Our pediatrician pronounced her overweight. Huh? No. I did not accept that. My yummy, busy, healthy, energetic toddler looks exactly like she’s supposed to! The issue was that her 50th percentile height measurement didn’t line up with her 85th percentile weight measurement. To me, that meant she was probably about to go through a huge growth spurt. To my doctor, it was cause for panic.
Here were her stern instructions: Feed the toddler only one serving of her usual meals—no seconds—and between meals, snack on fruits and vegetables only. Forget about Goldfish crackers, cookies or any of the normal things 3-year-olds love.
How could I feed both my kids in a way that would keep them healthy and not give them a complex?
Hold up, what? I’m supposed to feed one kid more food (the more fattening the better) — and one kid less food, unless it's broccoli. But they’re both my kids and we’re together all the time. How could this possibly work?
As you can imagine, it did not.
I spent a few weeks sneaking my older daughter ice cream while whispering “don’t tell your sister,” which taught her all kinds of great values like lying, keeping secrets and stealth eating.
I also spent a few weeks depriving my rapidly growing younger daughter of everything delicious, which pretty much made life a living hell. I didn't know what to do.
So many unpleasant future scenarios flashed through my anxious mom brain. In one, my toddler grew up to be an obese teen who got bullied and blamed me for not taking better care of her. In another, she had an eating disorder that I had caused by obsessing about her food intake. Weight issues, mothers, daughters: it all felt so fraught. How could I feed both my kids in a way that would keep them healthy and not give them a complex?
There's a saying that goes "you control the quality, they control the quantity." I decided that the best thing I could do would be to provide good meals with plenty of protein and veggies, and let them eat what they liked.
I could remind them to listen to their bodies' "feeling full" signals but without making it a big deal.
I could make sure we got plenty of fresh air and moved our bodies.
I could do a better job limiting sugary treats to special occasions, not every day.
But I wasn't going to make meal time a battleground.
I really do believe both my kids are healthy and wonderful just the way they are. And between you and me, I think my pediatrician needs to lighten up, not my toddler.