One more thing that really bothered me about Disneyland– and again, it’s not so different than San Francisco: I heard parents berate their kids for wasting food. I heard a mom yell at her kid because the girl did not finish her pink mountain of cotton candy. Seriously.
It’s not that I can’t understand parental frustration and anger when your child doesn’t eat what she’s asked for. You’ve stood on the line. You paid $5 for the cotton candy and the kid doesn’t eat it? It’s annoying, no doubt. But take a look at what you’re doing: you are making your kid eat that crap because you don’t want to “waste” it?
I suppose your other option is to refuse to buy your kid the cotton candy. But in my experience, not allowing her to have the “forbidden” food only glamorizes it, making her want it even more.
My daughter did the same not eating thing to me when I got her the cotton candy (which is HUGE otherwise how could they charge that much money?) She had about three bites. Literally. There was a tiny, furry cave in the mountain. Then she said her tummy didn’t want anymore. I always tell her to listen to her tummy about how much to eat. I threw it out in one of the many waste baskets that Disneyland so generously provides. (I’m not being sarcastic here. I was really impressed by all of the waste baskets at Disneyland, color coded for recycling, again just like San Francisco. There are also water fountains everywhere. Disneyland is also incredibly well equipped for people with disabilities, all of the rides and swimming pools, but I digress.) Wow, just realized I wrote my daughter “did the same thing to me.” See? We take it all so personally.
Here is what you are doing when you tell your kid not to waste food: you make her feel shame, guilt, and worry associated with eating. (And for goodness sake, haven’t you ever thought you could eat more than you actually could? Do you want someone berating you? Or do you just do it to yourself in your own head? Stop that, too.)
When you berate your kid for wasting food, not only do you make her feel shame, guilt, and worry but you make her concerned about your approval in association with her eating. In this day and age, your kid has enough to do maintaining her ability to listen to and respond to her own hunger cues, to her own body. Your focus should be supporting her in that. Unfortunately, there are many ways in our current culture for a brain, especially a female brain, to get wired up to make guilt, shame, and worry part of the human eating experience. Many of those factors parents can do very little about. But no longer ordering your kid not to waste food is one thing you CAN do something about. So bite your tongue. Think about or feel your own issues around “wasting” food, but don’t project your issues onto a little kid.
To be sure, food waste is a national problem: 20 to 30% food in the U.S. is wasted. Not only that, 10% of U.S. energy is used to put food on the table so global warming is affected by food waste. Nor is it debatable that American rates of obesity are growing, believed to hit 42% by 2030. Americans have a disordered relationship with food, but berating a kid is a short-term, simplified, superficial “solution” that exacerbates the problem instead of healing it. Also, in the long run, a kid with who has a healthy relationship with food is less of a strain on the family budget than a kid with an eating disorder. So get creative with leftovers. (There are more great tips for raising healthy kids on a budget in the book Preventing Childhood Eating Disorders.)
Admonishing your kid not to waste food may not make her fat (I just wrote that as a headline so people who put their kids on diets would read this post) but it can easily contribute to making her eating disordered and her mind crazy. It’s not worth it. One might even call it a waste.