I have always had a difficult relationship with my body, particularly my weight. My family were fit and healthy; Dad worked long days on the farm and when he wasn’t working he was doing judo. Mum was mad about her yoga and still is, so body image was a positive thing in our house. So where did my poor body image stem from? I am not sure I know the answer to that question, or ever will. Would knowing the cause, give me a cure? Probably not, but maybe it would help me with my own children and their self-image.
With so much talk of childhood obesity, I am lucky in that is not a concern for me. My children take after their naturally slim Dad, he has no idea about what it is like to diet; I hope that they grow up the same as him. But they have inherited his sweet tooth, so teaching them about healthy food, versus yummy food is an ongoing challenge, it is easy to let it slip when their weight is not a problem. Their weight is always on the under rather than over side of the healthy scale, so at the moment the idea of cutting down because of weight is alien to them but getting them to be able to manage their own eating with a healthy attitude is something I desperately need them to have.
I was a big eater and luckily have the height to hide my weight, as I have been told many times. Problem is that I think I might need to gain a bit more height to cover my weight these days; I may be under height for my weight now. In our traditional Yorkshire farming family, food was a big part of our lives. There were desserts with every dinner and cakes with every tea. I regularly spent my pocket money on chocolate on the way to school and then again on the way home. Fridays were Mum’s shopping day, so there would bowls of peanuts and chocolate bars to snack on. We all ate the same meals as my Dad, who needed his carbs to keep warm in the freezing Yorkshire winters and fairly chilly summers. I think the plan was that we would eat smaller portions of the high calories meals, but my mind has a problem telling me when I am full, so I am not great with ladylike portions! It is easy to copy the patterns of my parents, even though that is not how I eat now.
Very long story short, I grew up into a, some might say curvy, others said blobby (yes, I did hear that comment about me) woman. I left home at 19 and began a journey of discovery about what I should and shouldn’t eat. At 19 the weight came off easily; with the big change in diet that came with cooking for myself; my staple diet was soup and toast, I began to take a whole new shape. This is going to be a whole series of the blogs about weight, as there is much to tell, but the point of today’s blog is to talk about the things I have learned a little later than is useful about feeding my own children.
- They do not need to finish a plate of food
Everyone’s appetite is different; the advice given to adults is to finish eating before feeling full, as the brain takes time to tell the stomach it is full – or in my case it skips that part and goes straight to telling me to eat chocolate. I am not averse to snacks, as long as they are healthyish, as I know my youngest is better with more regular small meals than 3 large ones.
- Eat food slowly
I am a super-fast eater, so much so that I have polished off a plate of food before my brain even computes that I have started eating. It is hard at school to eat slowly, my youngest struggles with the others eating so much faster than her; she often comes home hungry as she hasn’t had time to finish her lunch. I don’t tell her to eat faster, we just find her something to eat when she gets home.
- Dessert / Pudding is not a necessity
Refined sugar is not needed for energy, in fact it is not needed at all. As my Mum used to say, there is no pudding until the savoury stuff has gone. If they are too full to finish a plate of savoury, then it is no to pudding, harsh but true, children.
- We don’t all like the same things
It seems to be accepted as adults that we don’t like certain things, but not so much for children; we all have different tastes and children’s tastes are no exception to that.
- If at first you don’t succeed
I stand by point 4, but we need to really try something to be sure it is not for us. Textures are an issue that many are unable to work around e.g. I love peaches, but can’t stand the feel of the skin, so for me they have to be peeled. I don’t like the texture or the taste of pears in any form, that is just the way it is, despite trying many times. If a child doesn’t like something, try presenting it in a different way; peeling it, cooking it, hiding it within other foods. I am not a great lover of raw peppers but, I find the taste subtler if cooked; I prefer raw carrots to cooked ones; there is no logic or rules to what we like and why. It is a painful process but we need to help our children find their own likes and dislikes.
- Forcing / Bribing Just Doesn’t Work
We once tried to get our oldest daughter to try new foods, the deal was that she would try a small piece of food a few times to see if she liked them or not. She refused to even try many foods at least once, so we decided that she had to try things before she made her decision about them. Then grape gate happened! Her Dad decided to take on the task of getting her to try grapes, she refused, he begged, she refused again, he got cross, she still refused, he got more cross and she ran off to have a huge tantrum. No grape has since passed her lips. Force feeding, or bribery is not for us, she would starve rather than eat something she doesn’t like or believes she doesn’t like. We find that eating with friends is a good way of introducing new tastes, she is a little more receptive to trying something if her friends are eating it.
- Keep Things Balanced
Try to keep a balance of protein, carbs and vegetables for every meal and explain about the reasons why. Talk to them about nutrients and the reasons we eat what we do, there are some great TV programmes about health and nutrition, so if they don’t believe you then they might believe someone on TV.
- Cook with Them
I am not great at this bit, all my two ever want to do is make cake, but they are getting a feel for cooking and hopefully we can move onto something savoury one day.
- There are no ‘good’ foods, ‘bad’ foods, reward or punishment foods.
I was given food as a reward too many times, I associated food with comfort and the good things, later this turned on me (a story for another time). I don’t like to hear that food is bad, everything in moderation and all that. Education is the key; a ‘bad’ food is just a food that we should eat a little less of. Mine love sweets and chocolates, but they know to ask me before digging into their stashes and ‘usually’ accept it if I say no and give my reason why. This has been a long challenge though as my oldest does not like the word no!
- Ignore all of the above and head down McDonalds
Life is just too short to fight the good fight every day! Joking ….. I don’t even like McDonalds and yes, I have tried them. The kids eat McDonalds, but it is a convenience when we are out and they know that. With busy lives, we all need convenience; I find eating on the go is tricky to keep healthy, so I often pack a few healthier things to take with us. It can be a pain, but so can finding something for them to eat on the go without spending a fortune.
I have an unhealthy relationship with food and I need to work especially hard to ensure my children don’t develop the same relationship. I wish it was all so much simpler and the things we loved to eat were the things that were the healthiest to eat, oh well, I can dream.