I was so pleased to be sent a copy of Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s new book, The Gentle Eating Book. I’ve followed Sarah and gentle parenting since Jonah was born.
I’m going to apologise in advance for the length of this post, but reading this book has moved me in so many ways. I’ve found it to be very healing. I’m so excited to share it with you!
Sarah is a founder of the gentle parenting movement, which is a shift away from authoritarian parenting approaches of the past. Gentle parenting aims to be a child led, respectful, and mindful way to raise children.
Sarah’s other books include Gentle Parenting, The Gentle Discipline Book, The Gentle Sleep Book, and The Gentle Potty Training Book, amongst others.
The Gentle Eating Book follows similarly by offering parents a calmer approach to eating. The book covers different life stages of your child. Each life stage includes a helpful Q and A.
What is gentle eating?
Gentle eating is:
Gentle eating is all about listening to our body and respecting our hunger. As parents, we address our own eating first, so that we can model good habits for our children.
What I love about gentle eating is that it’s not distracting – it is mindful. It’s not authoritarian, but authoritative.
The hope is to set up positive eating habits for life.
I’m going to take you through the chapters of The Gentle Eating Book that resonated with me the most as a toddler mama.
They are what we eat
This chapter really struck a chord with me. It focuses on our relationship with food as parents. The key here is to understand our own behaviour so that we can begin to change it.
Sarah believes that adults can pass their emotional eating down to their children, and I completely agree.
Eating and food are commonly intertwined with our childhood memories – both good and bad ~ Sarah Ockwell-Smith
I’m a comfort eater and have experienced eating disorders in the past. I feel like it never truly leaves me, even though I’m symptom free. I have hang ups with food that I don’t want to pass on to Jonah – that’s why this book appealed to me. My hope is to break lingering unhealthy connections so that my son and I can enjoy a great relationship with food.
Pitfalls are everywhere, even if you’ve not had a rocky road with food in the past. For instance when I took Jonah for a haircut a few weeks back, the hairdresser offered him a treat. Jonah wasn’t interested, so I took it. Walking back home, I offered it to Jonah “for being a … ” I wanted to say “good boy”, realised what I was about to say, and cut myself short. I almost rewarded my son’s behaviour with food.
She notes that rewarding or punishing children with food can lead to problems down the line. That’s why I’m going to be careful in the future to avoid rewarding Jonah with food. I’m also going to look for more mindful ways to comfort myself. More cuddles, please.
I was particularly moved by Sarah’s recall of her early years surrounded by a dieting parent. She’s slowly breaking those connections from the past so she can live a life free of worry about how her body looks, her weight, and obsessing over calories. I grew up like this too, as I’m sure many in my generation did.
A “good” eater
Jonah is what you would consider a “good” eater. He rarely turns food down, except when he is ill. However, I am mindful never to call him a good eater to his face. I don’t want to reward him for his natural way to be. I don’t want to label his authentic self “good” or “bad”, so he never needs to live up to those labels.
Just keep doing your thing, Jonah!
Sarah does state that labelling food as good or bad can influence our children in a negative way. I can really get behind this. I definitely see different foods as good or bad and many times fail to see that it is the diet as a whole that’s important. I’m going to try not to call sweet things “treats”, and desserts “naughty”.
Liquids only – birth to six months
This interesting chapter talks about early feeding and how it shapes your child’s attitude to food in the coming years. It discusses mindful feeding choices: breastfeeding, and gentle alternatives to breastfeeding.
Whether breast or bottle fed, we learn about food, love, respect, and connection through those first moments feeding with our mother, father, or caregiver.
As a breastfeeder, this chapter blew some myths for me surrounding bottle feeding. I didn’t know it was possible to bottle feed on demand. I also didn’t know that feeding to a schedule has been shown to improve maternal wellbeing, but has a negative impact on child development. Wow.
I found this chapter so respectful, whatever your feeding choice. I particularly loved the part about night feeding. Sarah believes that responding to your child’s needs throughout the night is not a bad habit! Yes! I love this so much! I’ve often wondered whether I am doing the right thing by co-sleeping and breastfeeding on demand through the night.
This chapter seems to be all about trusting your baby’s lead and your own mama wisdom. Whether it’s disbelieving those who tell you not to “make a rod for your own back” by responding through the night, or health visitors filling you with worry because your baby slipped a centile on his or her growth chart.
Introducing solids – six to nine months
If you’re a parent about to start on the weaning journey, this chapter is perfect for equipping you with everything you need to know.
I really loved this chapter, since weaning is a time of great excitement and new discoveries. Food is such a great adventure, and it’s amazing to be part of that with our littles.
There is so much great advice in this chapter about respecting the developmental readiness and abilities of your child. I really love how Sarah hands the reins over to the baby. It’s more than okay to trust our baby in all aspects of eating.
The chapter talks about setting the stage for meals, such as reducing distractions. We started weaning Jonah at 6 months, and I feel like we did everything perfectly. Since then, however, we have regressed somewhat and sometimes we’re multitasking at the dinner table! So we could definitely improve there.
There is lots of practical advice such as vitamin D, iron, how to supplement, and why.
I also loved the part about not fearing the mess of weaning. Weaning is a sensory experience for babies, they can learn so much from it.
It was really interesting to read about Sarah’s practical tips for weaning from breastfeeding if you absolutely have to. We’re not going there yet! But it was interesting nonetheless.
Something I would’ve liked Sarah’s advice on here is whether or not you should try to pace your child’s eating. When we first started weaning, Jonah used to put too much in his mouth at once and this caused a lot of gagging. I wasn’t sure whether to intervene or not. As it happened, he fixed this for himself, so I guess stepping back was the right thing to do.
Toddler and preschooler eating – one to four years
This is the largest chapter in The Gentle Eating Book, perhaps because it is the life stage that causes many parents the most distress. It goes into a lot of detail about picky eating and how hard it is for parents.
It highlights the importance of letting your toddler control their eating to help empower them for later years.
Sarah talks about the struggle she had with her own son once he took to eating only beige food 2 months after his first birthday.
She lists several very practical reasons why toddlers become picky. There are so many useful tips on helping your toddler through this period in a gentle and respectful way. I particularly liked the hunter gatherer grazer trays idea.
We’ve yet to experience pickiness with Jonah, but I’m so grateful for having read this chapter, should his behaviour change.
Early school age eating – five to twelve years
This chapter quite rightly points out that school in general clashes with listening to hunger cues. It brought back some rather unpleasant memories for me while I was at school.
On a couple of occasions I was forced to eat things I didn’t like by dinner ladies, to the point of me vomiting with upset.
I was also “put on a diet” at primary school because I was getting chunky, which led to me feeling embarrassed, ashamed, unsure, and bit left out.
Now, I realise the adults in charge at the time were only doing what they thought was right for me. Their beliefs had likely been passed down to them, from their caregivers. And, the 80s was a different time, wasn’t it? It was this kind of experience that motivated me to seek a gentler approach to raising Jonah.
Sarah identifies problems in schools such as forcing kids to do PE – goodness, this really moved me since I despised PE at secondary school, not because I hated moving but because I was so bad at it! I mean, those big long fell runs they made us do. I’ve never felt so useless and disempowered than in school PE. And frankly, it didn’t work to make me want to exercise more. It was an exercise in humiliation.
Along with the problems of schools, Sarah gives some suggestions on improvements, including a more hands on approach to learning about healthy eating that made me do fist pumps!
The chapter gives such great advice on how to navigate the tricky school years. I’m sure to come back to it when Jonah starts school.
Final thoughts on The Gentle Eating Book
I highly recommend The Gentle Eating Book to any parent or parent to be. From babies still on a liquid diet, to fussy toddlers, to teenagers on diets, and yes, adults with eating issues, Sarah addresses all life stages with practical advice on mindful and respectful eating.
Starting with ourselves, it’s a gentle reminder that we don’t have to pass down the hang ups of our generation. I found it so healing to realise that my issues with eating may well have been influenced by parents, grandparents, and the attitudes towards food and eating I encountered at school.
And for our children, the book will help you realise that so much of the “behaviour” we perceive is actually an expectation of our own. It will reassure you that your child’s eating is normal, even if it seems anything but.
I’m going to carry the principles of gentle eating forward with me. And I’m so glad I have The Gentle Eating Book in my library to return to, should I ever need it.
Who is Sarah Ockwell-Smith?
Sarah is the co-founder of the gentle parenting website. She has a BSc in psychology and retrained as a pediatric homepath, antenatal teacher and postnatal doula. Go check out her website and the Gentle Parenting UK Facebook group.
The Gentle Eating Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review. My opinions are my own and unbiased.