Fostering good eating habits in our children has been the challenge of parenting since the dawn of time. Generation after generation has followed the same standard; “you will eat what I served because I said so” and “you will eat everything on your plate or else…”
Today I challenge that standard of parenting and support my theory by asking you to take a look around you. What do you see? What I see is that we are the most over-weight country on the entire planet. Lest you think I stand above it all, last year I lost 42 pounds. I’ve gained about 8 of them back. I struggle every day of my life to use food correctly; to eat only what I need; to find things that are nutritious while not loaded with fat and calories, have no gluten—a story for another day, and to actually make those few choices taste good. I don’t stand above it all. Rather, I find myself wondering how we got here. Why has obesity reached the level it has reached in this country? Why is diabetes so prevalent? Can I do something now that will help to break the cycle for future generations?
When my oldest son reached his first birthday, we took him off formula and introduced milk. No matter what we did to the milk, he wouldn’t drink it. It was clear by the look on his face, the way he literally through the cup across the room that he HATED milk. The phone calls poured in from all over the country. Well-meaning friends, family members, and co-workers insisted that we had to do such things as “thirst him out”. Give him nothing else but milk and he’ll eventually get so thirsty that he’ll drink it because all children must drink milk!! I cried a lot; I spent many a sleepless night thinking that I didn’t like the underlying message I’d be sending to my child if I took all of that well-meaning advice. It was my pediatrician who finally gave me permission to not force milk on my son. She told me that there are plenty of children who don’t drink milk and grow up to be perfectly healthy. There are alternatives. “Go home and sleep tonight, you’re not a bad mother. He’s allowed to have taste.”
Dinner time at my house is probably a lot different than at yours. It consists of more than just a main course, a vegetable, a starch and a drink. On my table there is typically most or all of that plus some fruit, some cottage cheese, a salad, maybe some of what’s left from last night, maybe a few chicken nuggets, maybe a small rice cup or mac and cheese. At first glance it might sound like we’re over indulging. Not the case. Not everyone cares to eat everything that’s being served. The rule is that you’re not allowed to reject a food you haven’t tried. You have to take a minimum of one bite. And just because you tried it last month doesn’t excuse you from trying it again this month, and next month. And we don’t waste much because I simply make a smaller quantity of more things.
The principle behind this is that there is always at least one thing on the table that is truly appealing to each member of the family. My youngest isn’t a big meat eater, but he loves veggies, salad, pasta, potatoes, and cottage cheese. My oldest hates veggies and potatoes, but tends to eat a lot of meat, rice, and fruit, and loves fresh tomatoes. Husband eats pretty much anything except fish—NO FISH. I need to watch my fat and calories. I love all food; very few things I won’t eat. Best I try to stick to mostly veggies, salad, with some meat/fish/chicken, a little starch, and a little dairy for balanced nutrition.
The kids are reminded not to take more than they can finish so we don’t waste food, but feel free to come back for more. I have precious little trouble getting them to take one bite of what they are attempting to reject because they can clearly see that there is food they want to eat so there is less stress and more cooperation. Yes, we struggle, but it’s minimal. You’re allowed to stop eating when you feel full. Nobody gets up from the table and heads to the pantry for some junk food. We established a long time ago that if you feel you need something else to eat, you can come back to the table and have some more dinner. There is very little junk food around here. There is some but not a lot, and nobody is eating it at the dinner table.
I think it’s safe to say that we were all raised to feel like we HAVE to eat whatever is put in front of us, and the cardinal rule was that we will clean our plate. That’s how our parents were raised. Their parents likely grew up in a time when you were lucky to have much food, and this may be how this whole cycle started. If there was actually food, you were grateful and you ate it regardless of what it was or if it tasted good.
My theory is that our parents meant well, and did the very best they could with the information they had. However, do the rules I described in the last paragraph sound like healthy eating habits to you? Should you continue eating when you already feel full? Is the fact that food is there a good reason to eat it? If you ate less food, and didn’t eat any of certain foods, and ate certain other foods only in moderation, would you be a healthier person?
My husband hates this. He’d be much happier with old way and reminds me of that fact every time I complain about the challenges of meal time in our home. But he can’t make a valid argument to refute my strong belief that the old way fosters poor eating habits and virtually guarantees a future weight problem. Therefore, he tolerates my way. My way is challenging. It’s harder for me. But I don’t think I have the right to choose what’s easier for me over what’s healthy for my family. I won’t know if I’m right for many years to come. But given how many of my friends and family members struggle with weight problems and related health crises, I’m hoping more people will try it my way.
FYI, the Dr. typically sees my children once a year for the scheduled well-child visit. They rarely have even a cold or stomach virus. They’re teeth and bones are healthy. They’re growing as expected—even Mr. I Don’t Drink Milk Or Eat Vegetables. He eats yogurt, cheese, eggs, etc. and drinks Fruitables which gives him the same nutrients via a food source not a pill.