It’s no secret that I’ve had some issues with food. A few years ago, I saw a nutritionist to try to help break my sugar addiction (I refer to it as an addiction because I ate so much sugar in a binge-eating pattern). It might come as a surprise that I struggled with over-eating some foods, however, anyone can have food issues regardless of weight or body type.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what we feed our kids, our feeding philosophy, etc., so I thought I’d share some more details in this post. I was never restricted from any foods as a child, but there were times I was forced to “clean my plate” or eat foods I hated. I was also unrestricted in terms of how much I ate – I could eat an entire bag of chips or candy in one sitting and I drank soda regularly – however, I also ate a lot of healthy meals made from scratch as well as fruits and vegetables. I think because I was very thin and active, my parents never “worried,” but it definitely led me to eat a lot of junk food as an adult, oftentimes eating something until my stomach literally hurt (that was what I equated to being “full”).
I had constant cravings for sugar and it got especially bad when I was breastfeeding and pumping. I was ravenous – burning 800 calories a day just making milk – so I was eating around-the-clock and polishing off a family-sized box of Oreo cookies every 2-3 days. Once I weaned and my appetite returned to normal, I sought the help of a nutritionist. I read the studies and was very much aware of what too much sugar consumption can do to our bodies and health over time. I wasn’t successful and went back to my old habits after a couple of months. It wasn’t until I did a 12-week round of BBG last year that I decided to change the way I was eating.
I still eat cake, cookies, candy, ice cream and chocolate (in fact, I eat chocolate daily!) but now, I’m satisfied with less. I don’t have to eat an entire roll of Thin Mints or a family- sized bag of Sour Patch Kids like I used to. I don’t have to eat something sweet after every single meal and binge on sweets until my stomach hurts.
I wanted to share some of my own food history as a preface to this post so you can understand why I was so passionate about doing the “right thing” for my kids when it comes to food. I wanted to be the perfect mom and even made fruit and vegetable purees for Harper and Lincoln when they were babies (though we also used some jarred food for Lincoln before he moved to solids because I was so overwhelmed at the time). The truth is, there is no perfect way to feed your kids. You can make all the home-cooked meals in the world with organic ingredients, but what’s most important is your attitude towards food and eating.
What truly changed my outlook was when the nutritionist learned I had children and recommended Ellyn Satter’s book– How to Get Your Kids to Eat- But Not Too Much. Her message is so simple: you decide what and when your children eat and they decide how much to eat. She calls this “The Division of Responsibility.” Her concept of The Division of Responsibility for toddlers through adolescents is that the parent is responsible for what, when, and where and the child is responsible for how much and whether.
Your jobs (as a parent) with feeding are to . . .
- Choose and prepare the food.
- Provide regular meals and snacks.
- Make eating times pleasant.
- Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.
- Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.
- Not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
- Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to . . .
- Eat the amount he needs.
- Learn to eat the food you eat.
- Grow predictably in the way that is right for him.
- Learn to behave well at mealtime.
In real life, for us, this translates to giving our kids plenty of healthy options (and treats too!) and allowing them to control how much they consume. There have been some rare instances where Harper has told us she’s not hungry at dinner time, so we don’t force her to eat (of course we ask “are you sure” or “do you want to try just a little bit?”). If they’re eating just one item on their plate, we encourage them to try some of the other foods, but we don’t force a clean plate. If they’re hungry, they will eat. Lincoln will ask for more food on random days, so we give him more because he does it infrequently enough that we assume it’s a growth spurt or that he’s just extra hungry (lately he’s been asking for two breakfasts, lol).
We often let the kids pick a small treat after dinner a few times a week – however, we do want them to finish most of their food if they’re going to have a sweet snack after. If they don’t take more than two bites of their dinner, we assume they aren’t hungry and thus don’t need a piece of chocolate. The same thing goes for when we eat out – if they’re just eating french fries and not the other things on their plates – we ask that they try a few bites to get some protein in to balance the meal – but if they don’t finish it, they don’t. It can feel maddening to order food for kids and watch them eat less than half, but as frustrating as it is, the repercussions of forcing them to eat everything are much worse. Sometimes we ask “will you try to take three bites?” but if they won’t, they won’t. We do remind them that the next meal and/or snack isn’t for X amount of hours, so if they don’t eat now, they will have to wait for the next meal time and we stick with this.
COOKIES, CAKE AND CANDY, OH MY!
We keep cookies, candy and ice cream in the house – we talk a lot about foods that are “healthy for our bodies and give us energy” and about “special treats” that we can enjoy too. I want my kids to know that these foods have a place in our lives and that they’re to be enjoyed – but of course I don’t want them to do what I was doing, eating entire boxes of cookies and candy until my stomach hurt.
When it comes to sweets and indulgent foods, we try to be cognizant of portion sizes. When we go out for ice cream for example, we see so many people ordering these massive ice cream desserts and it’s just so much food for one person (especially for kids with smaller tummies!) We always order the kids size, even for ourselves. I find it’s the perfect amount – just enough to feel indulgent, but not so much that you’re force-feeding yourself to finish it (and believe me, I used to do that when I would order the medium size).
The one thing we have very strong opinions about is juice. We don’t buy it as I’ve always felt juice has no value, doesn’t quench thirst and is filled with extra sugar. To be honest, I’d rather my kids eat an actual sweet than drink juice – but to each their own! Neither of us drink juice, so maybe that’s why we don’t feel it has a place in our lives. The funny thing is that Lincoln HATES juice. He won’t even touch a juice box. Harper loves it and drinks it every time we are at a birthday party and that’s totally cool with us. We always joke about juice being “a birthday party drink.”LEADING BY EXAMPLE
I’ve radically changed my own eating habits over the past year and I’ve seen that transformation trickle over to our kids, especially Harper. She ASKS for vegetables now. Even when we’re eating at restaurants, she picks them off of my plate or out of my salad. Last weekend she asked to try a radish, haha! I think by modeling the behavior on a consistent basis (eating meals with lots of veggies, talking about how they provide so many great vitamins and nutrients for our bodies), she has become more aware and excited about them.
You can’t expect your children to eat vegetables all the time if your own plate contains none or you talk about them negatively (ie: brussel sprouts are gross!) Lincoln likes some vegetables too, but his age makes it a bit more challenging for him to be consistent – and that’s OK. He decides what to eat. His teachers at school tell me he cleans his plate every single day – the only foods he won’t eat are berries (so random!) This surprised me because he is a much pickier eater at home – but I’m thrilled he feels comfortable in his class and likes to try new foods there. I think it’s a lot easier for kids to try new foods when their peers are doing the same.
Every child and family is different, but this observation made an impact on me. Our kids have always eaten some veggies, but ever since I started eating them daily and pile a lot of them on my plate, Harper will try pretty much any vegetable – she has her favorites too (cauliflower, bell peppers, peas and carrots).
One thing I still struggle with is using food as a reward. I LOVE doing things like going out for ice cream or getting a cake pop or ordering dessert to celebrate something. I know deep down that food shouldn’t be used as a reward – but part of me also loves celebrating with something that feels special and is so enjoyable. I don’t know if I will change my approach to this – I feel like we eat in a balanced and healthy way as a family, but I’d love to hear your insights.
OUR FAVORITE PLATES + CUPS
I ordered these silicone plates recently and love them because they’re microwave safe and the sections are deep enough to really divide up the food and hold it in place. They’re durable and dishwasher safe too! We never heat in plastic anymore, so these are a great option. We also love these stainless steel kids cups!
Thank you for reading this post! I’d love to hear what your family philosophy about food is!