I found this recent New York Times article that piqued my interest, called, “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods.”
I want my kids someday (when I have them) to have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to know fruits and veggies and whole grains and low-fat dairy are yummy, but I also don’t want them to freak out if someone offers them an ice cream cone. I want them to be able to enjoy the special treat without another kid (or mother) commenting.
I’m not a mom yet, but I still have an opinion on this: it’s one thing to encourage healthy eating habits (recently Michelle Obama’s been talking a lot about how her family find that balance between health and pleasure with respect to food), but it’s another thing to ban foods altogether — which can lead to binge eating behavior later in life or an unhealthy relationship with food (like I’ve experienced).
I laugh now, but in grade school, we had a great nutrition curriculum called Juno’s Journeys, which promoted healthy eating in a fun way, which I shared here when my blog began.
Following Juno’s adventures in the forest, we learned that foods were categorized as by “Go,” “Think,” and “Stop” foods. Nothing was labeled “bad” or off-limits — but we were able to identify that some foods are healthier than others and that “Stop” foods ought to be consumed infrequently, but not necessarily “never”. It wasn’t intended to turn us into self-righteous “orthorexics,” not that the term had likely been coined back then, anyway.
The thing is, as an 9-year old then or 29-year old now, Juno’s messages still resonate. He kind of introduced me to clean eating, without knowing it!
Anyway, I decided to look to my own upbringing for cues on what works and doesn’t work for my own future children.
No foods were “off limits” in our house, but we also weren’t surrounded by junk food. It was a “treat,” and not a frequent thing. I mean, I could have a cookie or two if I wanted it. But if we went back for more, my mom always asked us if we “needed it.” Nine times out of ten, I realized I was satisfied with what I’d eaten.
When it came to sweets, soda was a rarity in our house, for special occasions like parties. Dessert was usually fruit. And my mom only baked for our birthdays (because she knew if it was in the house, we’d eat it!).
It’s nice to know that we ate pretty healthily growing up, and with balanced meals. Interestingly, my brother and sister are both — and have always been — slim. I was the only one with “food issues.” I’m also the eldest … and the perfectionist … and the one with OCD tendencies and performance anxiety issues.
But all that aside, if I had to guess, I’d say my preoccupation/obsession/issues with food didn’t begin until long after college, when I was living on my own.
And as someone dealing with eating issues now — pre-pregnancy, pre-kids — it’s my hope that between my husband and I, we can raise nutritionally-savvy (but not food-fearing) children.
I don’t want them to see Mommy eating something different than Daddy or commenting that “it’s too fattening!” I want them to see me enjoying a slice of pizza just as much as I enjoy a Greek salad.
I have to say, I love it that now, when my husband and I sit down to a meal together, we’re eating the same thing … versus a couple years ago when I was still living in Lean Cuisine world and preparing us separate meals.
Because that’s not how I wanted to live … and not the model I wanted to set for my children.
We make some concessions; he might like low-fat yogurt while I stick to fat-free, but that’s ok … it’s still in essence “yogurt.” And we can sit down and eat it together. Or go out to dinner and share dessert.
Food can fuse a family; I really believe that. It’s sustenance that also creates a bond, spurs memories. And if it’s healthy and nutritious, all the better.
But I have to say, a life without birthday cake would SUCK. And I want my kids to be able to have their cake and eat it too.
You can bet they’ll be washing it down with 1% milk (or skim, it’s ever proven better for kiddos).
How about you? If you have children, how have you handled their nutrition education/relationship with food? If you don’t have children, do you fear passing those anxieties on to them? How will you avoid doing it?