I have three children. They all have different relationships with food. Anson (6) uses it for fuel, Emmeline (2) uses it to socialize and Catherine (3) uses it for comfort.
When Catherine was a baby, she hated the car. She would scream and squirm. It was painful to my ears and generally very upsetting. To calm her, I would hand her food to nibble on. We both got a little relief.
Something physiological happens to a mother when she hears her baby cry. At some point along the way we, as parents, have decided that it’s not okay for our kids to cry in public or be uncomfortable, and it’s certainly not okay for kids to be disruptive in a store or at the library during story-time. So we feed them. And they’re quiet (or still) and we can grab what we need at the store, or finish our conversation on the phone.
Even now, I’ll grab some snacks to dole out to the girls when I pick them up from school so they won’t kill each other on the two-mile ride home. I do this for my own sanity. I have bribed all of my children with food in exchange for good behavior.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that by using food to comfort Catherine, I taught her that food is comfort. She is now, at age three, an emotional eater. When she is stressed, bored or upset, she wants to eat. When she is feeling out of control, she heads for the fridge. Many of the tears she sheds are food-related… can’t have, wants more, doesn’t like, all gone, etc. It feels like an endless battle, and food has become a control issue on both sides.
Catherine is not very different from me. I am an emotional eater, too. I don’t know why. Maybe it was one of the few things I could control when I was young– a kid exercising power in a powerless world.
Our adult relationship with food is a direct result of the food habits modeled for us as children. As a mother, I want my daughters to have a healthy relationship with food, but as a woman I know how difficult this can be.
Julie Fortenberry, registered dietitian for Touro, gave me some really helpful insight into understanding the importance of creating healthy eating habits for myself and my children now so they will grow up to be healthy adults. Julie stressed that every child and family is different and there is no one-size-fits-all philosophy or plan, so do what makes sense for your child.
1. Nutrition Awareness
The first step is being aware of the importance of nutrition. As parents, once we know the effects poor nutrition could have on our children’s future, we can start taking it more seriously. Poor nutrition and eating habits can lead to diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, and distorted body image.
Analogy: As parents, there are certain things we insist on teaching our children. Take crossing the street, for example. As soon as they can walk, we start teaching them how to stop at the corner and look both ways. We do this every single time we cross a street and we do it for years until they can do it by themselves. We teach them this because if we don’t, they could get hit by a car. We make them sit in their car seats and booster seats even though they hate it. Why? Because their safety is important to us and by doing so, we create good habits and prolong their lives. Looking both ways and wearing a seatbelt becomes second nature.
Julie points out that nutrition is as important as these other life-long habits that we, as parents, automatically do without thinking. We want to teach them how to be healthy and safe now so that when they are older, they have the foundation to make healthy and safe choices on their own.
2. Self Awareness
If you don’t like how or what your children are eating, look at how or what you are eating. How do you talk about food? Do you crave desert after every meal? Do you emotionally eat? Does food control you? Do you make them eat a healthy meal and then order a pizza for yourself? What foods do you gravitate to? You are the model.
3. Take Inventory
If your child is an emotional eater, pay attention to when and why your child seeks out food. This will give you an idea for what the triggers might be so that you can be proactive.
If your child eats when she’s bored, redirect her with an activity. If she loves to play outside, take a walk. If that’s not an option, engage her in an activity, chat about the day. Find ways to stimulate her mind and redirect her body. Let her help you make dinner or ask her to set the table.
5. Let Go
Power struggles with children are futile. If a child has a meltdown because she wants more or doesn’t like it, that’s OK. “I know you want more dinner and you are mad. But dinner is over.” “I know you do not like your dinner. It’s OK. You don’t have to eat it, but I will leave it on the table for you if you change your mind.”
6. Healthy Choices
Give your child a healthy option but let him be part of the choosing. That way he feels like he is making a choice. “Do you want oatmeal or eggs?” “For snack do you want apple or cheese?” “I’ve got lean ground beef tonight. Would you like mom to make tacos or spaghetti?”
7. Be Consistent
Once you find something that works, be consistent because that’s how we break bad habits and create good ones. And remember to do this as a family. There is no need to single one person out. All for one and one for all.
From our Sponsor:
Free Monthly Grocery Store Tours with a Touro Nutritionist
Practice Choosing Healthy Foods for Your Family First Hand!
Join Touro Nutritionist Julie Fortenberry for free monthly grocery store tours. Grocery shopping can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be! Touro can take the stress away by walking you down and educating you aisle by aisle. Learn to make better food choices, practice reading food labels, learn about ingredients, and ask your nutrition questions along the way.
Learn to shop with your health needs and goals in mind. Good food choices begin in the grocery store!
For upcoming grocery tour dates and times and to register, please visit www.touro.com/events or call (504) 897-8500.