I missed writing about my thoughts on food for Halloween and Thanksgiving, but I didn’t want to miss my yearly opportunity to write about food and unfooding this year.
In the past three years here’s what I’ve learned about teaching a child to have a healthy relationship with food.
I’m probably screwing it up. So there’s that. I’ve also learned that I have more food issues than I realized.
And on top of all that, we live in a society that has some fucked up eating habits. As a backlash to the last generation of overeating and convenience food, there is a lovely food nazi trending in the world of motherhood. Everywhere you turn, someone has food restrictions and opinions about what to feed children. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with what’s supposed to be healthy.
What I Thought I Knew Was Missing Some Key Ingredients
Let me back up. Before Annika started eating, I thought I had found the perfect way to introduce Annika to food. I had it sewn up.
When Annika was an infant, I read about unfooding. The idea is that you give your child lots of choices and they learn to regulate their own likes, dislikes, tolerances, and intolerances. Sounds perfect right?
Except that it only works if you don’t have your own food issues blocking the way, and also if you’re really good at keeping a healthy balance of food in your home on a continual basis.
Neither does the theory of unfooding take into account being a single mom and having a baby daddy who takes your toddler out to eat regularly, and who doesn’t think there is anything wrong with allowing her to have soda and fast food hamburgers on a regular basis.
It also doesn’t take into account your child’s penchant for eating chocolate and calling that dinner.
When I started unfooding I thought it was working great. I let Annika eat cookies and she would turn them down sometimes. She didn’t gorge on her Halloween candy. She didn’t beg to go out to eat. She happily ate vegetables.
Then she turned 3.
To add to the Age of Having Her Own Opinions, I had under my belt approximately three years of really examining what I typically keep in my refrigerator and my own daily diet.
I came to the realization that while my meals were generally healthy, my snacks were not. And now that I’m no longer a smoker, my oral fixation had turned to food. When I was in need of a fix, I wasn’t grabbing carrot sticks. Instead, I was grabbing cookies and tortilla chips.
Part of my unfooding ideals had backfired on me because while it’s okay to eat cookies, it doesn’t mean that you have to keep them in the house all the time. And it doesn’t mean that you should allow your uber-picky 2-year-old to eat those instead of a meal because, “At least she’s eating SOMETHING!”
As a Child My Food Habits Were Restricted
My background surrounding food involves a mother who was ahead of the times and held her own personal war against junk food when I was a kid during the 70s and 80s when convenience food wasn’t a societal enemy. I was never really allowed to make my own choices about food. We never kept a lot of snacks in the house. Sugary cereal was out of the question during an era when Froot Loops were considered part of a balance breakfast. We rarely ate fast food.
And when I was finally introduced into a world where I could eat whatever I chose for myself, Taco Bell became a nightly routine.
Back to the Present
So now I have a 3-year-old who asks every day when she can have some sugar and lately I have been feeling forced into bribing her to eat her dinner with the promise of a cookie at the end of the meal, I realize that I was doing this whole unfooding thing partially wrong.
Luckily, she’s only 3. It’s still early on in the food/relationship game.
Unfortunately, my fears often cloud my judgment. I worry that Annika will grow up with some unhealthy eating habits, like binge eating, or ignoring her bodily warnings. But I would like for her to have a healthy diet right now, too. So I am confused about how much control to exercise over what she eats. And some of my behavior has turned passive-aggressive, a stereotypical mom behavior that I swore I would never do.
I have started making comments about how too much sugar is not healthy for our bodies every time she asks for a cookie; making a point of not having any in the house so I can say we don’t have any; and when we drive past McDonald’s I say, “Eww, gross. That place is disgusting! I hate McDonald’s!”
I’m not entirely sure that’s the best way to deal with my angst over her father’s habit of feeding her food that makes me want to vomit, but it’s where I’m at right now.
The New Plan
I don’t have anything set in stone, but I am forming a new plan in my head surrounding how to approach food.
First, I will start offering several options along with the sweets, which is still a part of the unfooding ideal.
Second, I will involve Annika in helping decide what we buy at the grocery store. I’ve already started doing this. She often picks out which fruits we buy and she helps me “read” the grocery list (hey, two birds, one stone).
Third, we will start making our cookies at home and I will try out various sugar substitutes.
I am not big on hiding things from Annika, so I will not mask healthy foods in the guise of snacks. I want her to know that healthy foods can also taste good. I want her to make the connection between eating crap and feeling like crap.
I hope that when she grows up she has a good sense about what makes her body feel good and stay healthy looking. I’ve never been overweight much in my life, I had a brief period in my 20s where I was a little chubby. But until the past few years, I’ve always thought I had a relatively nice figure. Then my stomach got flabby after having a baby and I just gotta say, damn, it’s uncomfortable!
I used to hear women talking about how thighs rubbing together. I started to experience that last summer and I was all, “Hell no!” This shit will not stand.
I don’t want Annika to live in a body that doesn’t feel good.
That is all. Gobble Gobble.