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!
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.