Baby-Led Weaning and (Self-)Control

I’ve had a rough month or so. Without over-sharing, let me say that a few health snafus have seriously cut into my ability to test food for Keira. Actually, in a twist of fate, I found myself subsisting on heavily cooked carrots and parsnips, which I then pureed into classic baby food-like gruel. Not that I don’t love carrots and parsnips, but that is not how they are meant to be eaten. That experience did re-affirm my belief that baby-led weaning is really the way to go. If we don’t want to eat what the babies are eating, how can we expect them to enjoy it?

I’m back to eating some better food, including Kim Boyce’s steel-cut oatmeal, which I also parlayed into some pancakes. But you already know how to make baby-friendly pancakes.

I hope to test some new recipes soon, but let me tell you what I’ve been doing with my time. Primarily, writing my dissertation. But I’ve also been catching up on required foodie reading in the form of MFK Fisher. I lugged home a copy of The Art of Eating from the library so that I could read some of the first modern food writing.

To my surprise, MFK Fisher espoused some beliefs about eating that jibe well with BLW principles. In How to Cook a Wolf, she laments the way Americans thoughtlessly eat whatever is placed in front of them. She wants children to think about what they eat and to make choices about their food. She goes on to make bold claims that choosing one’s food has much broader implications:

“The ability to choose what food you must eat, and knowingly, will make you able to choose other less transitory things with courage and finesse. A child should be encouraged, not discouraged as so many are, to look at what he eats, and think about it: the juxtapositions of color and flavour and texture… and indirectly the reasons why he is eating it and the results it will have on him, if he is an introspective widgin.”

As a social scientist, I am wary of such claims (nevermind that I don’t know what a widgin is!). But social psychological data actually suggests MFK Fisher may be right. Specifically, a body of research indicates that the more people do exercise control, the more they can. Self-control is like a muscle. It has also been associated with myriad life outcomes, like educational attainment (if you’d like a good summary of self-control research, check out this recent article by Dan Ariely).

Notice that I am making a bit of a leap from having simple control over what one eats, to actively regulating one’s food choices. Most of the psychological research pertains to self-control: the ability to regulate behaviour, like working hard in school or resisting donuts.

My conjecture, though, is that if children learn to choose healthy foods and reject unhealthy ones, this may not only improve their eating habits, but they develop a much more general ability to regulate their behaviour. I should emphasise that this is purely speculation. No research that I have read has investigated the effect of using a BLW approach on children’s self-control. But this may be a worthy research question as the use of BLW increases in popularity.

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