It sounds nice, and it’s easy, to dole out the same amount of food to our sons and our daughters, especially if they’re close in age.
But what if we’re doing it wrong?
Should we be doing what is easiest – or what is best?
Men and women have different needs – and so do boys and girls, especially as they reach their teens and go through puberty.
Boys and men generally need more food and will almost always need more calories as adults.
My son is tracking to be six foot six. As an adult, he’s likely to end up weighing somewhere around 200 pounds and will need about 3000 calories a day – just to maintain his weight.
My partner’s daughter, on the other hand, will probably end up around five foot five, needing about 2000 calories a day as a grown woman, just 2/3 of my son’s needs.
I might be comparing apples and oranges here But a five foot five man (same as my partner’s daughter) would need 200 calories more than her, all else being identical.
If she ate the same amount as either a man her size, or as a man much taller, she would grow wider over time. Much, much wider.
Eat extra calories a day, you’ll get fat
This isn’t rocket science.
I did a lot of sport during my teens and twenties. As a rower, I was training nearly 40 hours a week. I was very active.
Then, when I retired from rowing, I got chubby. I watched my diet carefully, but no matter what I did, I struggled with my weight.
And I’ve struggled ever since.
Here’s the hard truth: men and women – and boys and girls – need to eat differently. According to our needs, not our wants.
I’d argue the sexes need to eat from different sized plates, even. And we need to start the habit right from childhood.
We’re that different.
How to feed your daughters
I’m a feminist. I’m also a scientist.
While it’s nice to say that women and men should be treated the same, and receive the same treatment, it just doesn’t hold water when it comes to food.
If we receive the same amount, women will put on weight much much faster. We have different bodies, and it won’t do women good to eat the same amount as most men do.
Our portions and calories must depend on body size.
Guidelines for avoiding fat kids
Feed according to need. Give your kids the food they need, not what they want.
If you have a child who is going through a growth spurt, they’ll need a little more.
But servings should not be the same. Not unless you have twins.
Limit food to meals only. Don’t offer snacks outside mealtimes.
Limit junk food. This is a no brainer. Limit junk, for all kids.
Limit treats to set days. Friday is our “treat day”. After school we head to McDonalds and get an ice cream or a frozen Coke – the kids can choose. But treats the rest of the time are limited.
Don’t serve food “family style”. Serve meals in the kitchen, and have an adult serve the food and control the portions.
No “seconds” for girls unless you have an athlete on your hands. If you do have an athlete (which means they’re training HARD 20+ hours a week), make it clear that they will have to reduce their intake when they cease training, and may need professional guidance in doing so.
Smaller plates for girls may be an option. Appetizer-sized plates may be an option for getting portions under control.
If kids are genuinely hungry offer an extra sandwich AFTER meals or raw sliced vegetables, NOT treats or packaged foods, which can be high in sugar. You’ll soon figure out whether it’s genuine hunger or not!
Educate your kids on sensible portions, healthy foods, and what a balanced meal looks like. There are some great resources online.
Open minds seem to be an endangered species these days.
Thanks largely to the media bubble, groupthink and social media, we are exposed more and more to viewpoints that coincide with our own, and less and less with views that contradict or challenge us.
The political left and right are growing further apart and at times seem completely unable to communicate.
We receive so much confirmation bias of what we think and say that it’s easy to believe that we’re always right, that anything different is always wrong, and there can never be any middle ground.
Why we need our beliefs challenged
If we believe something is wrong, having that belief challenged can help us alter our viewpoint and develop a more navigable view of the world.
If we believe something is right, having our belief challenged helps us identify and clarify why our belief is right.
Questioning our beliefs can help us to understand important aspects of those beliefs and the framework supporting them, be they social, political, religious, or anything else.
If we are uncertain about an issue, we can connect with views different to our own, widening our perception of the world and others, giving us new perspectives that may enrich us as an individual.
Being open to the beliefs and viewpoints of others helps us understand them and their backgrounds, enabling us to get along with them, find middle ground, communicate and (when necessary) build bridges.
Understanding the beliefs and views of others can also help us better understand who we are as individuals, strengthening our own sense of identity.
Ideological challenge strengthens ourselves and our society
Questioning our ideas helps us think. That’s how philosophy evolved and the framework upon which modern science is based.
Thinking is good for us. It’s good for our peers, and good for the communities we live and work in. Thinking makes new ideas possible, and is the basis of the development and advancement of society.
We become rational adults by defining and refining our ideas. We cannot do this if our ideas are never challenged or questioned, and if we are never taught how to challenge or question.
Shutting down dissent stifles free thought, free speech and the development of humanity.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire.
Ideas can be bad or wrong, but censoring them doesn’t kill them. Active debate can and does. Censorship simply makes incorrect or bad ideas more appealing, and can strengthen them.
“No platforming” stifles free speech, which is the basis of free thought. If we truly believe in free speech, we must defend the speech of all, including those with whom we strongly disagree. Defend their right to speak freely – then kill their poor arguments and bad ideas with better ones.
Create open minds by fostering logic, free speech, and free thought. Ideas can be dangerous, which is why all ideas merit honest discussion and analysis.
Genuinely bad ideas cannot withstand logic and sensible arguments. The willingness to discuss all ideas demands intellectual rigour and a lack of fear.
Shutting down debates indicates a lack of trust in our own ability to support our own ideas. If we believe our ideas are worthwhile, they should be defensible against debate or attack. If not, perhaps they need to be superceded with something better.
Teach your kids to value reasoned debate, freedom of speech and the search for the truth. In doing so, you will support clarity of thought and the ability to think rationally – skills that will benefit them as adults as they move through life.
The subtitle of this message could be Trust your kids. Because letting your kids walk or ride their bikes to school is all about trusting them.
I received my first two wheeled bike when I was eight, just like my older brother did before me. My dad taught me how to ride and, after a few grazes and spills on the footpath, I hit the roads and didn’t look back.
My bike was my freedom. Other kids were the same. Until we learned to drive, our bikes enabled us to go everywhere. We all learned road safety from our parents and through the schools, and our bikes were our pride and joy.
When I didn’t ride I walked pretty much everywhere. I walked to the local shop to buy fish and chips with my best friend, and I walked to the local park to play with my group of friends after school and on weekends. My parents only drove me when we went out as a family – the rest of the time I got myself around.
I walked to and from school, come rain or shine.
Does my childhood sound like yours at all?
Give your kids their freedom. Let them walk to school, or ride. If you live too far away from their school, let them walk or ride part of the way.
Trust your kids. They need to be given responsibility and trust, if they are to grow up.
Is a child a good judge of the appropriate foods for their body?
Or do we adults know better what is best for them and their health?
Are kids more likely to choose foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt – or foods that are genuinely healthful?
Do kids generally choose the best diet for themselves?
Like every parent who has ever seen kids choosing what they want to eat at a birthday party, the vast majority of kids prefer foods that are sweet, sugary and fatty.
So do adults, for that matter.
However, just because we prefer the taste of those foods doesn’t mean we should eat them at the expense of other, healthier foods.
The difference between adults and kids is that adults know the outcome of eating rubbish foods on a daily basis.
Adults usually have the self-discipline and experience to make better food choices throughout our lives than a typical child would.
If most kids were allowed, they’d eat nothing but junk food. My girls would probably eat nothing but pizza, chips and sweets – oh, and ice cream! Our 12 year old would never, ever eat a vegetable, that’s for sure.
She’s not alone. Most of her friends, given the chance, would be the same.
It is a parent’s job to guide, teach and discipline
Because we choose what our kids eat, they all eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and lots of healthy whole foods.
They’ve been taught that eating healthy is a non-negotiable.
We’ve guided, taught and disciplined them in their food choices – because we have their best interests at heart, and because we know that kids are not yet capable of making the best choices for themselves.
Years of guidance helps good behavior become good habits. Our goal is to give our kids healthy habits to last a lifetime.
How to cure a fussy eater
So here are some tips to get your fussy child eating right.
Everyone is allowed to dislike one thing. It’s okay to have “dislikes”. But we limit those to one item per meal. So if there’s salad, our 13 year old son can forego the tomatoes while our 11 year old daughter skips the avocado. That’s okay. But they have to have salad, and eat everything else in it.
Your child WILL NOT STARVE. Children will not deliberately starve themselves to death through fussiness. If you only offer healthy foods, they will have to eat them eventually. They might try to threaten you with starving themselves, but trust me – it won’t happen. Nobody ever became anorexic because they had to eat their vegetables!
You may have to improve your own diet. If you are eating rubbish, your child will too. Look closely at your own diet – your child’s rubbish diet may simply be a mirror of your own bad habits. This may be an opportunity for you to lift your game too.
No desserts if they don’t finish their mains. If they don’t finish their main meal, desserts and treats don’t happen. Not at all. If you give in, you’re allowing them to replace healthy calories with junk. Again.
No snacking before dinner. Our 12 year old daughter tried the trick of snacking heavily (on junk) before dinner, then claiming she was too full to eat dinner. Then guess what? She as hungry for more junk after dinner. So we stopped the snacking. Problem solved.
If they don’t eat their dinner, they have it for breakfast. That “totally yuck!” chicken curry suddenly becomes edible if they know they’ll be served it for breakfast the next morning if they don’t eat it at dinnertime. This was my brother’s trick for his fussy daughter, and it worked a treat. Now his daughter is one of the least fussy kids I know.
No empty liquid calories. Our kids drink water at home as a mainstay, with the boys getting an occasional glass of milk for extra calories as they’re growing so fast. It’s better for their teeth and their nutrition.
Hungry? Have a raw carrot or a piece of fruit! Our kids get fruit or raw veggies if they’re hungry after school. Or they can make a sandwich. This policy sorts out real hunger from greed / snacky hunger which is often also masked boredom or procrastination.