A lot of us have unhealthy relationships to food and this usually starts to form when we are children. But there are ways to break the cycle and raise your children to have a healthy relationship with food. I have compiled all of the things we are doing to help our children have a healthy relationship with food.
1. We don't limit food to specific time slots of each day.
We don't have a breakfast, lunch or dinner time in our house. We all eat when we are hungry, not when we are told when to eat. Having strict food schedules makes it so that children are unable to tune in to their own hunger signals. This can be dangerous because then when our children grow up and turn into adults, they will eat when they feel like they are supposed to, instead of when they are hungry. This can cause over eating or under eating. Since we homeschool our children they are free to eat when they please, sometimes they don't eat until later morning, sometimes its 9pm and they need a little snack. But we don't ever tell them that they are not hungry or that they can't eat at a specific time, or that they HAVE to eat at a specific time. This teaches them to be in control of their bodies and to listen to when their bodies are telling them they are hungry. They feel like they have more power over food which equals them making better food choices as well. Now I know that not everyone homeschools their children or works from home so what we do doesn't apply to everyone, but there are ways you can be more lenient about meal time. If your child says they are hungry, let them eat. Don't tell them 'no you're not hungry' or 'you just ate' or 'you have to wait until x to eat.' Just let them eat. If they say they are not hungry when its a specific meal time, then don't force them to eat. They need to know that they can trust their bodies hunger signals.
2. We don't force them to eat all of their food.
We do not force our children to eat all of their food. Forcing children to eat all of their food even after they have stated they are full will mean that their body will learn to override their 'Im full" signal which will lead to constant overeating as an adult. If a child says they are full they should be able to honor their bodies full signals and stop eating. Overeating can lead to a host of health issues. I get that a lot of people are worried about wasting food, but you can just put their leftovers in the fridge for them to eat the next time they are hungry. You want to teach your children to listen to their bodies hunger signals and not continue to eat past comfort.
3. We do not use food as a reward or a treat.
Food is not a reward in our home. Food is fuel and nutrition, and thats it. Its not something we use to bribe our children with to be well behaved and its not something we give them when they 'do good.' Using food as a reward 1. Teaches children that the food given as a reward (which is usually unhealthy junk food that isn't given often) is better than the food they get on a regular basis. This means that they will always be thinking of their regular food as 'boring.' They will constantly be longing for the next time they get that treat.
2. When someone does something good, completes a task or accomplishes something, they should learn how to be happy with what they did without needing outside validation or a reward. By using food (or anything else) as a reward system it teaches children to do things just to get this validation or reward, instead of teaching them to do things for themselves and others because it feels good and is the right thing to do. I want my children to continuously grow in all aspects of their life because they truly want to, because it makes them happy and because they want to be a good person. Not because they want to get a reward out of it. Its fine to eat food that may be different than the food you eat regularly like some cake, or pizza or candy if that is what you want to do. But you don't need to validate it by calling it a reward or a treat. You should feel confident and help your kids feel confident in that food choice without having to try and comfort yourself about that choice. Eat what you want because you want to eat it (and hopefully because it makes your body feel good too), not because it's a reward.
4. We don't force them to eat what we make
We fill our house with a variety of healthy plant based options so that our children are free to decide what it is they want to eat. For example, if we make our two older boys a meal for dinner but they try it and decide they don't like it, they don't have to eat it. We have a rule that if we make something for a specific meal and they don't want it, they don't have to eat it, but we will not make anything else at that moment. But they are free to grab any fruit they would like, eat some other leftovers that are in the fridge or make something that they are able to make themselves. Usually they end up eating the food we made them at a later time anyways. We do this because not everyone likes the same food and we want them to learn how to trust their bodies instincts of what it wants at specific times. We only fill our house with healthy options so even if they don't want what we make, we know they will still be eating something healthy. If you're worried about your kid turning down your healthy dinner because they want the chips in the cupboard instead, maybe consider no longer buying chips and stock up your house with healthy options for your children to choose from. I know that a lot of people would be afraid of food going to waste, but we have never had to throw food out because of this. Either the boys will eat the food within a day or two, we will incorporate it into a different meal that we know they will like, Olive eats it over a few days or one of us we eats it.
5. Teach them about healthy food, the importance of nutrition and more
We talk to our kids a lot about healthy food, whats good for our bodies, whats not, the important of proper nutrition and more. We want to make sure they are educated on this subject so that when they are older and out of our care they will be equipped with all the education they need to make the best decision for themselves. I find that a lot of children do not know much about nutrition other than to 'eat their veggies.' But they don't know why, or about the consquences certain foods can have on their bodies now and in the future. Children are a lot smarter than you think and capable of making good and healthy choices for themselves, especially if they understand why.
6. Let them be involved in the process of buying and making healthy food
When we go grocery shopping we have our children be a part in the food buying decision (to a certain extent of course.) We let them pick out what vegetables, fruits and meals they might like for the upcoming week. It is important for children to be a part of the decisions in which foods are around them. This means they will be more likely to want to eat those healthy foods and thoroughly enjoy them. We also teach them how to make food for themselves and involve them in the food making process. When children are able to make food themselves it will help them be excited about the food, same as when they are a part of the food making process. Obviously this is different for all kids depending on their ages. For example with PJ (5) we have him cut up some fruit or veggies with his kid safe knifes, or he will turn on the blender, food processor or help stir something in a pot. Chris (9) is able to make his own smoothies, banana ice cream, beans, and cook vegetables. We find that when they are able to make healthy food for themselves they will want it even more because its not us 'forcing' them to eat it, they are choosing to do so all on their own.
I really hope this blog helps you in some way and that maybe you can start incorporating some of these ideas into your own parenting!