As I ponder whether or not to become a parent, I must consider a number of issues like my financial resources and child care options, but my biggest concern is not passing my food issues on to my child. I was a fat kid with fat parents and fat grandparents. There may be a genetic component which may make me more prone to weight gain than others, but I strongly believe that behaviour is the biggest factor. How much I eat, how I eat it and how much I exercise are all behaviours that I worry I could pass on to my kid.
My friend Fiona has two young daughters and writes a blog reviewing kid friendly places and attractions. I talked to here about my concerns and asked how she handled conversations about food with her girls. This is what she had to say:
I don’t make my kids clean their plates. If they are full, they can stop eating. If they are full, they don’t need any more food so why keep eating? Also, I dish up the dinner so if there is more food on their plate than they want or need that is my fault not theirs. I wouldn’t want someone standing over me telling me I couldn’t leave the table at a restaurant until I had eaten every one of the 1000 french fries they heaped on my plate, why would I do that to my kids? Forcing a kid to eat when they don’t want to teaches them that a meal is not over when they are full, it is over when they hate themselves. I have never understood the argument that it is wasteful if a kid doesn’t clean their plate. It is no less wasteful to eat food you don’t want or need than it is to throw it in the garbage. If you gave your kid too much food, don’t compound the mistake by also giving them a stomach ache and weird food issues. Just make less next time.
I start with small portions and then if they want more they can have seconds. If they aren’t terribly hungry that day, then I have leftovers for lunch the next day. This also means that they eat their vegetables since they can’t have seconds of the mashed potatoes or pizza or whatever until they have eaten their portion of vegetables (they don’t have to seconds of the vegetables to have seconds of something else though).
I don’t make my kids eat things they don’t like. I don’t like certain foods (fried eggs!)and I wouldn’t want someone forcing me to eat them so, again, why would I do that to my kids? To me there is a difference between not wanting something and not liking something. If I make something that they like and they say they would rather have pizza, my response to that will be a shrug if I am in a good mood or a “Tough!” if I am not. I don’t care if they pick things out. If I make a stir fry, my one daughter picks out the peppers and my other daughter picks out the mushrooms. Fine by me, they eat the other vegetables and I get to eat a dinner I like.
If I make something new, I usually make a side dish that I know they like. If they try the chickpea and onion curry or the spinach and tofu salad on rice noodles and don’t like it, fine, no problem. They can eat the salad and potatoes. That combined with the two bites of whatever they tried is enough to keep a little kid from going hungry. I mean, they will have a snack in about 90 minutes anyway. I think knowing that they won’t be forced to eat a whole portion or even a certain number of bites of something if they don’t like it makes them more willing to try new things. My kids will taste anything you put in front of them but that doesn’t mean they will like it all.
I don’t talk about my kids’ weight. The only time my kids’ weight is discussed are under the following circumstances:
a) At the doctor’s office when they are weighed at a checkup and the doctor says “Height? …. good. Weight?…. good.”.
b) When my daughter wants to go on a zip line and has to get weighed to see if she is big enough (she isn’t).
c) When my kid wants to know why they can’t sit in the car without a car seat. Answer “Because you don’t weigh 40 pounds yet.”
I don’t diet and I don’t talk about diets or calories or anything like that. My mom was good about weight in the sense that she has never once made a negative comment about my weight. I mean, my mom once told me, when I was a pimply faced 14 year old no less, that I was prettier than Cindy Crawford. At the time I rolled my eyes and no doubt stormed off in a huff, but in hindsight I am grateful that I had a mom who never made me feel bad about the way I looked, or at least not any worse than I already felt as an awkward teenager. I look at pictures of myself when I was a teenager and young adult and while I was no Cindy Crawford I do wonder what exactly I was so self-conscious about!
Having said that, my mom did talk about her weight and did talk about diets she was on. Even though I knew that she thought I was fine, I knew she didn’t feel the same way about herself and I knew that a woman’s weight was an ongoing concern. I don’t want my girls to think that their weight is something they need to think about unless their doctor tells them they need to. I don’t want them to feel like they aren’t worthy and interesting because they don’t match some image in their head.
I never restrict the amount of food my kids can eat, only the type of food. I do say they can’t have any more candy or a second piece of cake but if they are hungry they always allowed to keep eating. I just point them towards the fruit basket. If my kid wants thirds of the mashed potatoes and they have eaten a serving of protein and a serving of vegetables, fine, have at ‘er. I just figure they are going through a growth spurt or dropped their afternoon snack on the floor or something. We talk about everyday foods and sometimes food. Birthday cake is great, at birthday parties. Apples, oranges and grapes are great anytime.
We also have the school lunch stuff sorted so they can make their own lunches (which I check) or grab a snack if they are hungry and I am busy. Treats are in one basket, fruit is in the basket above it, things like goldfish, raisins, muffins and apple sauce are in another basket. The kids know to pick out two from the fruit basket, one from the treat basket and one from the other basket and their lunch is mostly done, I just throw in a sandwich or leftovers.
I let them plan some dinners. The only rules are:
a) It has to have something from each food group
b) It has to be something I can make.
They like having some say in what we eat and I like not having to think of everything all the time!
My kids play outside. A lot! Nothing organized or structured, they just head outside and play with whatever neighbour kids are around and whatever they agree on. They do also do things like soccer and t-ball, but they do those things to learn teamwork and sportsmanship more than for exercise. If your kid plays soccer once a week for an hour, that means that they are getting ready and driving there for 30 minutes, then they play maybe 30 non continuous minutes during the hour and then another 30 minutes to gather everything up and get home. That means you are spending two hours for your kids to get thirty minutes of exercise. Not to mention that it often means a trip to Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s for something to eat since all of the rushing meant you didn’t have time for dinner or to pack a snack for after the game. If you send them out in the yard or take them to the park they will play for that whole two hours. Climbing, running, swinging etc. Plus, it is free and it keeps them out of your hair. So, just open the back door and say “get!”
Having said all of the above, a big part of the reason my kids are healthy weights is because they lucked out in the genetic lottery. My dad used to get regularly tested for things like tape worms because nobody could figure out how someone could eat so much and stay so skinny. My husband was an actual honest to goodness 90 pound weakling in high school. It is possible that you could do all of the above and have kids who are still chubby, but they will be healthy and probably not hung up on food which is better than thin and miserable in my book.