Dear stranger: please stop feeding my child

Sitting in a cafe recently, Little Bu and I were having a quick lunch together before her nap time. Timings were planned almost to the minute (eat at 11.45, in the car at 12.15, fast asleep and in her bed by 12.25), because, well, I need those nap times almost as much as Little Bu does.

And that was the moment a well-intentioned man decided to throw a spanner in the works. The cafe manager came over with two huge slices of some sort of rocky road chocolate cake, and proudly plopped them down in front of Little Bu. “If you’re a good girl and eat all your lunch, you can have this!” he proclaimed as he patted her head. Then he stood over her insisting she eat more of her wrap while he watched. 

Little Bu curiously humoured him by taking a big bite, and he immediately started commentating on her eating. “Oh that’s it, take a bite…good, good… don’t eat so quickly, you’ll get sick”. I reassured him politely that she knew how to eat and thanked him for the chocolate cake, at which point he got the hint and headed back to the kitchen. 

After her one bite of wrap, Little Bu declared that she was done with her lunch and wanted to move on to her chocolate cake. Of course she did. What 2.5 year old wouldn’t prioritise the ‘treat’ that had so ceremoniously been handed to them?

20 minutes before nap time, the last thing any mama wants to offer their child is a generous slab of sugar. Especially refined-sugar laden, nutrient-lacking, sickly chocolate cake. But once it’s in front of them, it’s almost impossible to take it away gently without devastating them. Promises of ‘later’ don’t work on nap-ready toddlers in busy cafes. 

I nodded that she could go ahead, giving the appearance that it was no big deal (as I try to do with all unhealthy foods, rather than class them as treats), with an internal sigh of frustration. 

This is all too common a phenomenon, and I want to say: 

Dear stranger,

Please stop feeding my child. Stop offering junk food and sugar as treats, and think before you comment on the eating habits of the children you meet. 

By all means, say hello, ask her what her favourite colour is, or offer her a sticker, perhaps. But PLEASE resist handing her that chocolate bar, that sugary lolly-pop, those tiny packs of smarties. It’s MY CHOICE what I offer my child to eat, and you’re undoing all my hard work by offering them unhealthy foods and framing it as a treat. 

What if they have a nut allergy? Or lactose intolerance? You could be putting their health at risk, for your few minutes of pleasure in seeing the delight on their face.

I don’t want to be the ‘baddie’ every time, taking these little treats away from my daughter, after they’ve been handed over with such ceremony. So please, stop offering them. 

Yours frustratedly,

The Gentle Mama

When I have managed to decline their offers on occasion, their reaction is generally a loud “she doesn’t eat xyz?? She must be the only child who doesn’t love it!”. Thanks. That helps. 

Every time we go to a certain well known sandwich shop back in the UK, the kind staff give Little Bu a free ginger bread man, with smarties for eyes and buttons. Every time I walk into Arabic cafes here in Dubai, I’m bombarded with staff handing out sugary sweets and nutty treats. Even doctors surgeries hand out lolly pops! 

And each offering is framed as a special treat, setting them up to view these unhealthy foods as exciting, which is proven by research to lead to an unhealthy relationship with food later in life. I’ve worked so hard to instil in Little Bu the attitude that all foods are good in moderation, and healthy foods are our favourites. 

Fortunately, she isn’t keen on having too much chocolate (yet), and after a couple of bites she lost interest and returned to finish her wrap. But I should be the one to decide what foods she is offered, not a random waitress, cashier or air steward. 

From now on, until everyone gets the message, I will say, “No thank you, I’m teaching my daughter not to take food from people she doesn’t know”.

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