Thanksgiving tips for happy eating with kids today

Today, I’m so thankful that I have 3 kids (ages 5, 8, and 11) with no conflicts around food and drama free mealtimes. My children are healthy, adventurous eaters (with no cavities!) As a parent, I know how rare this is. I’m also incredibly grateful that I fully recovered from my own eating disorder before I had three daughters. I see my health and my children’s health as inextricably linked. What we did in my family isn’t conventional but it’s worked for us. I used to blog a lot about our process when my kids were younger, but I rarely write about it anymore because food is such a non-issue in our household. In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ve consolidated what we did into 4 tips. I’ll also list Reel Girl’s previous blogs about food at the end. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!

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1. Let kids eat what they want, when they want. I don’t tell my kids what to eat or how much to eat. I have always taught them to “listen to their tummies.” I tell them that I am not the boss, nor is the person who put the food on their plate. Only they know when they are full. With my 5 year old (and with all the kids when they were still that little) I may still occasionally put my hand on her stomach and ask her to close her eyes and feel if she is hungry or full. I always have what I consider to be healthy food available (vegetables, fruit, protein, beans, grains etc) but if they don’t like what I’ve prepared, they are allowed to get a bowl of cereal or whatever they feel like eating. They are allowed to eat “dessert” with dinner. They are not “rewarded” or bribed with cookies for eating broccoli. Listen to your tummy, tummy is the boss

2. Focus kids on trying new foods, not eating “healthy.” Watching my kids grow up, I think the most important thing is to train kids to try new foods, to be comfortable with risk-taking. Also, our perception of what is healthy changes all the time. When I started dieting, I was counting calories. Then, I learned to count fat grams. Right now, gluten is “bad” while we’re told chocolate and red wine are good. Trying new foods not only keeps a variety in your diet but stretches you out of your comfort zone and makes going to restaurants and to people’s houses to eat much more fun. I don’t tell my kids what to eat, but I encourage them to try new stuff. I give them positive affirmation when they do. They are allowed to spit it out if they don’t like it. Try something new, it’s fun!

3. Don’t shame kids for wasting food. I try to create pleasant and happy eating experiences for my kids. Having recovered from an eating disorder myself, I know how hard it is to separate shame, guilt, and anxiety from eating, once those emotions are confused with hunger and fullness. I think it’s super important to train kids to be comfortable around food, not worried they won’t be able to finish what is on their plate. Related, don’t get your ego involved in what your kids eat. If you slaved away all day and made a meal, don’t guilt them into eating. I always tell my kids don’t worry about other people’s feelings when they eat. Again, getting feelings involved in eating like this is a recipe for an eating disorder. They need to be polite, but they shouldn’t eat unless they are hungry for it. You don’t have to finish what’s on your plate.

4. Model healthy eating. I’m so grateful I got healthy before I had three daughters. I practice what I preach. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I never denigrate my body as fat or ugly, not casually, not when I try on clothes, not when I look in the mirror, or look at a photograph of myself. I don’t criticize other women’s bodies or what other women are wearing. I like my body.

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‘How to Disappear Completely’ most insightful eating disorder memoir ever published

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Can’t remember the last time I blogged about kids and food

Telling your kids not to waste food makes them fat

Letter to Vogue mom who put 7 yr old daughter on a diet

In defense of candy

 

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving tips for happy eating with kids today

  1. It’s great that this worked for you, but I just want folks to know that it doesn’t work for everyone. I agree with all these concepts (model healthy eating without preaching, make a wide variety of healthy choices available, don’t force plate-cleaning, don’t make dessert contingent upon eating any particular item or amount of food) and did it this way myself for my daughter’s early childhood… but the Thanksgiving when she was 5 and ate nothing but 12 cookies and 3 pieces of cake was one of the times that made me realize these strategies were not going to work for our family. As did all the times when she was hungry, and therefore super grouchy, but wouldn’t eat anything offered because she could not feel her own hunger. And the days when she ate nothing but a whole box of granola bars spaced at random times throughout the day, refusing all offers of fruit, nuts, veggies, cheese, or meat; and the times when she wasn’t interested in sitting at dinner with the family because she had filled up on crackers an hour before. We have a minimal amount of processed food in the house (and we have what we have because I remember the misery of what I perceived as the forced march through nutrition of my own childhood), but she will make a beeline for whatever we do have and ignore everything else if I don’t step in. It’s not because of my flawed parenting, it’s just who she is. I was the same way. Literally hated nearly all healthy food, hated variety, disliked most food, only liked sugary stuff. But everything changed when I was in my early 20s, and that gives me hope that someday she will love almost everything, as I do now. Until then, we have some rules.

    • Hi Erika,

      Have you read the book “Preventing Childhood Eating Problems” by Jane Hirschmann? Newly released it’s called “Kids, Carrots, and Candy.” It is what I based a lot of what we do on, and she writes about how to deal with the challenges you refer to.

      Margot

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