Thursday, 1 March 2018

Review of The Gentle Eating Book by Sarah-Ockwell Smith

Probably best known as the author of The Gentle Sleep Book parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith has a new book out and this time she is applying her gentle parenting approach to eating. The Gentle Eating Book aims to help parents: understand their children’s eating habits, resolve common eating problems and establish a healthy relationship with food for life.

Image of the front cover of The Gentle Eating Book It is green with drawings of vegetables and a knife, fork and plate

The Gentle Eating Book starts by setting out the principles of gentle eating (being mindful, empowering, respectful and authoritative) before helping the reader understand the psychological and physiological drivers behind eating, and not eating. A chapter on eating as adults precedes the information specifically about children because, as she explains, many eating problems in children are created by how we as adults approach food and we need an awareness of how our behaviour, words and perceptions will impact on our children. The book then breaks down the remaining chapters into 5 ages groups: the first 6 month (pre-weaning), 6 to 12 months, 1 to 4 years, 5 to 12 years and 13 to 18 years. 

Quote by Sarah-Ockwell-Smith The Gentle Eating Book "To positively influence the eating habits of your children, you must understand and change your own"

If you have concerns about your child it is possible to just read the first 3 chapters and then the relevant chapter, but there is definite value in reading all preceding chapters to get a full understanding of what is normal, how problems may have occurred, and how to encourage a better relationship with food.

The book is fact based and references numerous studies, but the gentle eating approach is clearly influenced by Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s own experiences with her 4 children which she shares where relevant through out the book. She is open about the feelings she had about her children’s approach to food and this helps the book feel non-judgemental. In the book she advocates breastfeeding and baby led weaning, explaining the reasoning and positive impact of both on a child’s approach to eating, but she also talks about other options and how to make formula feeding and traditional weaning more in line with gentle eating principles.

So what is Gentle Eating?

Sarah uses “the term “gentle eating” to sum up a healthy and relaxed ethos about eating”, and explains it’s not a “quick-fix” or “one-size-fits all solution”. “It means re-educating ourselves and stripping away the paranoia, worries and concerns that stem from our own upbringing.”

Quote by Sarah-Ockwell-Smith The Gentle Eating Book "To change your child's eating patterns you must know why they are eating, or perhaps not eating in a certain way"

I think have a relaxed approach to how my children eat. While there are aspects that can be improved and I am working on having read this book (in particular trying to stop the link between food and emotion) I have followed a number of the principles of gentle eating already with my girls. Sarah’s approach to parenting in general is inline with my own thinking which is why I have turned to her advice on a number of occasions to resolve problems (including a sleep consultation which I wrote about here). I find that her suggestions are based on a sensible evaluation of evidence, they are easy to understand and they just generally make sense. That doesn’t mean her recommendations are always easy to accept or implement. Ultimately if our child has a problem we can’t resolve we need to recognise that what we have done to date hasn’t worked and there is a need to try another way. As a parent hearing an aspect of our parenting has been wrong is painful to accept. I doubt Sarah would outright say we were wrong though, she would probably phrase it in a much more positive way, but it’s ultimately what I felt when reading her advice in our sleep consultation. I had to accept that feeling before I could fully embrace a different approach, so I imagine some parents will feel a similar way reading this book.

The Gentle Eating Book covers a wide range of eating issues in children from birth to age 18. It covers picky eating, table manners, eating junk food, snacking, dieting and more. Sarah challenges that many problems, especially in younger children, aren’t actually problems, but rather adults expectations about how to eat not being met. By enforcing our rules we can encourage them to ignore their natural ability to recognise when they are hungry and full (feelings of satiety). Where there are issues she provides suggestions of how to resolve them going back to the principles of mindfulness, empowerment, respect and authoritative parenting. The book also talks about weaning from breastfeeding, body image and encouraging good sleep in teenagers, all areas that are related to eating and potential eating problems.

The book is comprehensive, yet wide ranging and easy to read. It is not is a recipe book, but a guide to help us understand eating in ourselves and our children. It aims to help whether the reader has experienced problems with their children’s eating or if they want to avoid them in future making it a helpful read for parents to be right through to those with older children.

***Disclosure: I was sent a proof copy of The Gentle Eating Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith for the purpose of honest review, but all thoughts are my own. Where quotes are used the text is taken directly from The Gentle Eating Book. You can find out more about Sarah Ockwell-Smith on her website. ***



  1. This sounds really good for kids who don't "conform" and embrace eating.

  2. This sounds really interesting and I think I need to read it as my daughter has issues with food since having silent reflux from birth.

  3. I think I definitely need to check this out, silent reflux baby here too who still often struggles with food x