When feeding kids, mealtime can be triggering and challenging for parents and children. We struggle with trying to get our children to eat enough of the “right” things while also not creating any complexes for them. We have the added pressures of pediatricians, family members, friends and others around us. And we have our own eating habits; our beliefs and triggers around food; mostly based in how food was approached and modeled for us by adults in our lives when we were children.
Feeding Kids: Digging to the Roots
Before we are able to support our children in approaching food in the best way possible, and minimize the mealtime struggle, it is important for us as parents to first identify our own patterns and triggers around food and eating. There are a couple things you. may want to consider:
How food was approached during your childhood?
- Are your memories around food and mealtime happy or difficult from childhood?
- Is your worth as a parent tied up in the food your child is eating whether it is the amount of quality?
- Were your parents always on diets?
- Was any food forbidden?
- Did you eat meals together or were mealtimes lonely?
- Was anyone commenting on how much you ate (too little or too much?)
- Did you have to finish your plate, because some children don’t have any food?
- Were you rewarded with dessert or something else for finishing your plate (even if it meant stuffing yourself)?
- Was there a lot of “just take 1 more bite…”
- Were you compared to anyone else’s eating patterns or body size?
- Is eating a chore or fun?
Today, what feelings do you have around food or feeding your child?
- Within or out of your control?
How to Pass Along Healthy Patterns to Our Kids
How can we make food and mealtimes pleasurable AND pass onto our children healthy patterns around food and eating?
1. As a parent get familiar with your OWN triggers around food and mealtimes and where they’re coming from.
What is the story you tell yourself when your children are uncooperative or picky and mealtime doesn’t go the way you think it should? Rather than acting on that trigger, take responsibility for it without allowing it to affect the way you interact with or speak with your child.
- If my child doesn’t eat enough (or eats too much) the next trip to the pediatrician I or my child will be judged for not being the right weight.
- If my child eats too much they will be overweight and get made fun of or have low self-esteem (as I was).
- As a kid we had a “clean plate club,” so when I see my child leaving food on their plate they are wasting, and that means they are disrespectful.
- My child doesn’t eat a balanced or healthy meal. What did I do wrong to make my child this way? I blame myself.
2. Help your child learn to trust and listen to their body.
When my child comes and says I am hungry, or I am full, one of our favorite phrases is: “I am so glad you are listening to your body.” This teaches my child how important it is that they continue to listen to their body, that they trust their body, and it shows them that I trust them to do that as well.
3. Approaching new food.
Instead of forcing, bribing or threatening our child to try something new, encourage the experience of new thing, being brave, keeping our minds open. For some children the unknown is scary or feels insurmountable. You can try to say: I know this is a new food, and it might look different. If you try it you might find that you like it and be happy that you tried it! If you don’t like it you don’t have to finish it. Afterwards, whether they liked it or not you can say: I appreciate that you gave the food a chance and tried something new!
We may want to have boundaries around mealtimes and food in the home, but we also want to help our children learn to create and maintain healthy boundaries for themselves.
Boundaries are important, but something really important about conscious boundaries is: they look different for every single person and family. Define for yourself what boundaries feel right to you and STICK TO THEM. But they will be different than what works for another family and that’s ok.
- Do we allow screens while we eat or not? Maybe, yes when it is snack time, or for a Saturday night pizza party, but no to all the other times.
- Where do we eat? Are we allowed to have our Sat night pizza party on the couch, and snacks, but all other mealtimes are at the table?
Children should be taught they are in charge of THEIR own body. Only they know if they are hungry or full. They have their very own taste buds, get to choose what they do and don’t put in their body and what they eat, and are allowed to have their own boundaries around their food.
BUT as the parent you can create the boundaries around what food are options for them, when mealtimes are, where meals are held, and whether or not there are electronics involved.
5. What do we do when our child isn’t eating what we cooked? (Assuming we made at least one thing we know they like).
“I notice that you aren’t eating dinner right now. These are the foods available for this meal. You can choose which ones you eat, but please know I won’t be making anything additional.”
6. It is within your power as a parent to make food a mode of CONNECTION and EMPOWERMENT rather than disconnection.
Let mealtimes be about connection with each other rather than commenting on what is and isn’t being eaten. Include your child in the kitchen; whether it be deciding on the menu, cooking or cleaning. The more children feel a part of the experience the more excited they will be about eating food later on and will connect food with those positive experiences.
Set the Example for Healthy Habits
Remember, most importantly, the relationship that you have with food is what you are modeling for your child. First is to look internally and examine your own relationship with food. Second, be very aware of why you say what you say to your children about food and mealtimes. Third, try to take the pressure off and make food a time of connection with your children.
Rebecca Guez is a conscious parenting coach, privately coaching parents as well as spearheading her platform www.navigatingparenting.com which offers a membership site for affordable and accessible live monthly Q&A’s and weekly classes for her community. Rebecca guides parents to connect deeply with their own internal parenting compass, or intuition, so that they can create connected, respectful and fulfilling relationships with their children. She supports parents to become the best version of themselves, as well as providing practical tips and tools catered to each unique family, and in turn, watching families peacefully grow and thrive. Rebecca lives in Los Angeles with her husband and 3 children. Rebecca’s IG is @navigatingparenting.