This post is really about kids and food. I realize even girls and food is a digression from my main blog mission which is supposed to be to rate and recommend media and products on how empowering they are to girls. But as I write and think about media and girls, the way I think about food and girls is so related. Besides, the whole point of a blog is you get to digress, right? So here I go.
I mentioned a few posts back I don’t want to forbid toys like Barbie because I think that gives her a charge that only makes kids want her more; I think candy, junk food, is the same way. I try to get really excited about things I think are good for my kids and give little attention to things that are not so good.
A main goal for me as the mother of three girls is to help them grow up without eating disorders. I know its pretty sad that this is something I have to think about but I see so few women eat normally and joyfully.
So after I gave birth to daughter #2– who wants to be called Magnolia in this blog — I read an incredible book called Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. It is by Jane Hirshmann and someone else who I will look up. Anyway, GREAT book. I follow it to the letter and my kids are amazing eaters. They are not picky, they are open to trying new foods, they eat a huge variety of foods and we rarely fight about food. (God, I hope I am not taking all this back when they are teenagers.) But the whole idea is you let your kids eat whatever they want. You let them eat when they are hungry until they are full. It makes sense, I mean let the poor guys control one thing in their lives. Why shouldn’t they eat when they are hungry? Magnolia and Arania (my 6 1/2 year old’s chosen moniker– OK, maybe they’re way into the princess thing after all) each has a food shelf in the cupboard and in the refrigerator. They pick out the food for their foodshelf and they are allowed to go to it and eat whenever they want, even during dinner if they don’t like dinner. We cook one hot meal for dinner; we are not short order cooks. But if they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it, and we don’t take it personally. Think about it– say you love steak and your husband makes you an amazing steak dinner with a baked potato but you really feel like a salad that night. Maybe you eat the steak anyway so he won’t feel bad. Wrong reason. But can you imagine him forcing you to eat it because that’s your dinner and it’s good for you? This is all from the book, not me.
The kids food shelves have granola bars, tangerines, carrots, M n Ms, cashews, rice cakes, raisins, cheese, lollipops, yogurt etc. They have another cereal shelf that has sugary cereal and cheerios etc they can access. They have an abundance of food, more than they could eat. I don’t give them trouble about wasting food. I feel like they have enough to worry about just learning how to eat right now.
The idea is that there is no “good” food or “bad” food. Forbidding certain foods, calling certain foods dessert that kids are only allowed to eat when they finish other food, using food as a reward or a way to feel better after a cut or a scrape gives food all kinds of power. This book basically teaches kids to tune into their own hunger and meet it. Sadly, I did not learn to this until I was twenty-eight years old, after years of therapy and programs. Nothing ever really helped me get better from an eating disorder until I went to this place in Marin Country called Beyond Hunger which teaches the same practice: eat when you’re hungry, eat whatever you want, stop when you are full. I think the most amazing thing about it is that your orientation switches from outward (calorie counting, nutritionists, the latest diet fad) to inward (“what do I want?”) It’s a skill but I am enormously grateful I learned it and hope to keep passing it on to my daughters.
We do have dinner time but we call it “family time.” We hope that they eat and it is their last chance to eat before bed. They were trying to use this system to manipulate bedtime, if we let them have snacks etc. If they don’t like what’s for dinner, they can go to their foodshelves, but usually they don’t.
In the morning I do say things like “Yum! Cheerios! That’s what I’m going to have.” We call peas “pea treats” and say things like “Who gets the peas first?” We say yum a lot around vegetables or we love the way carrots crunch etc. My kids– like most kids I think– are really influenced by my own food choices and watching me eat. I am really glad I got myself healthy years before I had them.
One challenge I have had with this system is that other kids (Magnolia and Arania’s friends) do have lots of rules around food so there have ben arguments with other kids and their parents at my house. The way I deal with this– the book has good advice– is one rule I have is that my kids cannot feed anyone else or tease people with or about food or it gets taken away.
Read my responses to all the comments & questions I got about this post here.