Work + Life
A fast-food-reliant EP battles with wholesome eating on the home front
It is difficult to enforce in others what you yourself don’t possess. My husband and I both enjoy food from all levels of the food pyramid but lack the interest and the time to prepare them. We both eat meals on the go on a daily basis, and are rarely at home at the same time to sit down for a meal. And then comes baby…
There was no way I was going to let our beloved put the same garbage into her perfect little body that we ingested. I wanted to keep her GI system full of probiotics and fiber, and her beautiful little head swimming with omega rich fats. This was relatively easy until she learned the word ‘no’.
I found myself trying to convince her to eat from food groups I myself hadn’t touched in days, and prepare meals that I had previously only had the aptitude and interest to create on special occasions. I finally had to practice what I was preaching and in so doing learned as much about myself as I did my child.
Author, pediatrician, and mother of three Dr. Laura Jana offers insights on this challenging topic in her book ‘Food Fights’. She also illustrates how leading by example can be as difficult for parents as it is for children to eat what we put in front of them.
1. Food is not currency. Everyone eats for reasons other than hunger all the time. We are tired, we are bored, or just because someone brought brownies to an overnight shift. Offering happy meals out of convenience and bribing kids for everything from potty-training to eating broccoli instills the notion that we eat for many reasons, none of which have anything to do with nourishing our bodies. And using sweets and other treats as a reward for good behavior reinforces that food is a form of monetary exchange and itself has no inherent value.
2. Love at first sight does not apply to vegetables. We assume our children should love everything the first time we put it on their plates, or they never will. Out of frustration from preparing a meal no one wants to eat, we give up on a particular food and our children never see it again. The truth is that it can take an astonishing 15 exposures for a child to enjoy new foods. Parents need to provide repeated exposure to a wide variety of foods the same way we would repeat colors and shapes to our children before expecting proficiency in that subject.
3. They are what you eat. If you think your children won’t notice that you eat Fritos while they get prunes, or that you end each meal with dessert and theirs with a wet wipe, you are wrong. Think about what kind of example you are setting for your family, and for everyone’s sake, if you don’t want your children eating something then keep it out of the home altogether.
4. Enough is enough. Parents frequently complain that their children don’t eat enough while their growth curves beg to differ. Our obsession with ‘cleaning your plate’ combined with the increasing portion sizes of our culture are a recipe for obesity. This teaches young ones to ignore their instincts and continue consuming no matter how full they feel. One serving size translates into approximately 1 tablespoon per year of age, and 2-3 servings of vegetables a day is sufficient. So getting a two year old to accept 2 spoons of peas should be considered a victory and not a defeat that she didn’t eat an entire bowl.
I would love to have my daughter eat everything I serve while I continue to eat like a college student. But I now realize that her watchful eyes are monitoring my diet and will no doubt influence how she views food. These recommendations are difficult to enforce for children and adults alike. I myself use candy as a bribe almost on a daily basis and am absolutely guilty of avoiding foods that my daughter does not immediately favor.
Dr. Jana’s book reassures us that the big picture is more important than what happens at any single meal. Sensing anxiety and frustration from us will only lead to our children’s own stress and defiance around mealtime. With patience and persistence we can hopefully teach our children and ourselves that eating healthy is its own reward.