She’s a great eater isn’t she?

I’ve grown up hearing this expression and I’d hazard a guess that most people brought up on the island of Ireland have too -  She’s a great eater isn’t she – the child in question is usually praised for their great appetite and then usually given "a wee bit more" of the food they’ve already finished.

As a mother of twins, in year three I was somewhat chuffed to hear it being said to me – They’re great eaters – almost as if I had already done something brilliant in their upbringing. So I continued to indulge them with more when they gobbled up the lovely healthy food that their Daddy made them. We sat together at the table with a lovely big bowl of pasta, we were all able to help ourselves, with endless refills encouraged and we thought we were doing great!

The problem being that when I brought them to their GP check-up I discovered that they were well overweight, possibly obese, my doctor being careful not to offend me didn’t say that, but rather that they were bigger than most children their age.

And so began my journey into discovering how we got to this point. Working in this area meant that I was well aware of the basics like sugar sweetened drinks should only be an occasional treat. That biscuits, buns and other treats should only be given occasionally and that fruit was obviously great. And so by a process of elimination, we discovered that their breakfast, lunches and dinner portions were far too big for their age. Luckily I was surrounded by experts who were able to give me tips on how to reverse the cycle.

A girl with an oversized plate of meatballs

We introduced smaller plate and bowls. We gave them smaller portions and took the big bowl away from the centre of the table. We encouraged them to recognise when they were full and allowed them to leave food on the plate when they were feeling full.

They’re seven now and in the healthy weight range and hopefully will always be good eaters as they eat a wide variety of foods – My daughter’s favourite is calamari and my son loves cauliflower - but importantly they also know when to stop.

When working on developing the portion message for this campaign Dr Sinead Murphy from Temple St. Hospital told us that over half of the children coming to her obesity clinic have been eating healthy food – but just too much of it. It struck me that our culture and our way of talking about children and how they eat probably needs a re-think.

These expressions of she’s a great eater and eat it up or you won’t get an ice-cream probably need to be left behind us. There is, of course, a balance to be struck and there are underweight children who may need to be encouraged to eat up. But these are the exception, and as obesity problems rise, should we really insist on cleaning the plate ?

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Posted: 01/09/2016 14:27:20 by Fiona Gilligan
Filed under: Childhood obesity, Portion sizes


About Me

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Fiona Gilligan
Hi, I’m the Communications Director for safefood. My day job is to oversee a fantastic team in the delivery of excellent campaigns, sponsorships and resources aimed at generally helping to change the eating habits of the island of Ireland. Home is where I try to put it all into practice and am very lucky to have a husband who loves cooking and children who love food – including ice cream! Home life is peppered with tennis, wine, music, running, some great food (thanks to Ferg) and the occasional ice-cream!