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Compartment 14B

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Kids and food in our household.

2008-04-16 - 3:26 p.m.

In reading a recent entry of Linda’s over at ParentDish, I started to give some thought to what “rules” we have around food in our house.

Food is a loaded issue in this society. With the health advocates on one side chiding about the problem of obesity growing at all age levels, and the vast commercial machine pushing over-processed, over-packaged empty calories (often touted as “convenience foods”) on the other, it’s no wonder that ordinary people get caught in the middle, repelled by those who are fat, but consuming a lot of junk - and feeding it to their kids - themselves. And this doesn’t even graze the surface of all the stereotypes associated with food (as a side note, I feel like smacking people who say that women “have to have chocolate every day”.).

So how does that translate into eating habits in the Compartment 14B household?

I’d like to think that we make healthier choices than a lot of parents, though we certainly don’t go as far as some others (the “granola” types, for example, who only buy organic and whole grains (See? There’s one of the food stereotypes right there, rearing its ugly head). Certainly I feel confident stating that we are more informed about food and what good choices are than the majority of people, even if we don’t always put that information to full use.

J and I have had a bit of a struggle with how to deal with Grommet’s refusals to eat certain foods or, at times, eat at all. Maybe it’s because she was underweight for awhile, or maybe it’s how he was raised, but he definitely tries to “force” her to eat sometimes. A common refrain from him is “No X until you’ve finished Y”. X, of course, is something she wants such as a less-nutritious food, or TV, or a toy. Y can be any part of a meal, to a portion of every meal component, to the whole meal itself. I find myself having to remind him that it’s the parents’ job to provide healthy food choices, but it’s the kid’s job to decide whether or not to eat it, and as long as the food we offer contains a variety of healthy foods, that should be the main thing. As I commented on the article linked to above, my main rules are:

- If we give an unasked-for food to Grommet she doesn’t have to eat it.
- If she asks for it, she has to eat some of it.
- If she asks for it and chooses her own portion, she’s supposed to try to eat all of it (but doesn’t have to, as everyone’s eyes can be bigger than their stomachs from time-to-time).

Of course, this doesn’t mean she gets to ignore everything on her plate and then get a cookie or a bunch of bread if she wants it right after dinner. But if she’s picked at her dinner and then wants a snack before bedtime I have no problem with that so long as it too is something healthy and she hasn’t brushed her teeth yet. Fortunately she hasn’t hit upon this as a stalling tactic and doesn’t ask often, so we can be reasonably sure that she’s actually hungry if she asks for a snack before bed.

My main goal for my kids, really, is to foster a healthy and enjoyable lifelong relationship with food. I don’t think forcing kids to eat when we think they should teaches them how to control their own portions later on in life, and to stop eating when they’re full. I don’t think that, in terms of keeping energy levels and nutritional intake constant, three big meals are better for a person than spreading it out over 3 moderate meals and several small snacks. I don’t think forcing someone to eat something they hate will make them like it in the long run, or create a stress-free atmosphere at dinner, or happy memories to look back on.

So, in the service of the above, I’m really working on not getting worked up over food. I vow to continue serving a variety of healthy food options, and as long as I see Grommet eat some protein, some fruit ‘n veggies, and some carbs over the course of a week, I figure I should be okay with that. I’m a bit of a control freak by nature, so it’s kind of odd for me to be the parent that takes the more relaxed attitude about something, but I’m kind of enjoying having the shoe on the other foot.

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