Now, I am not talking about the food that you are serving. Too often, we are focused on feeding our children and giving them good eating habits at the expense of paying attention to our own “food attitudes” that we bring to the table.
These attitudes are what I call our own “tape loops.” They’re based on how we were either brought up around food, and/or how we’ve rejected some of the ways we were raised around said dinner table.
The reason this is so important is that it can have a huge impact on “what you serve up” when you are teaching, buying and making and serving food to your child.
Example: I had a mom come talk to me and say: “I have an easier time talking to my kid about sex than food.” Her 7-year-old was gaining weight and his doctor told Mom to help him to watch his weight. She herself had been raised by what I call an ‘over-involved’ mom who was always making comments about what, how much and when she was eating; as a result, this mom swore that she would never do the same to her kids.
Now she really didn’t know what to do! Not because she didn’t care, but because she had sworn that she would never be in her kids’ faces about their food. It worked with her oldest, relatively thin, easily self-regulating child, but not with her second, who was a foodie, loved the sensory experience, had a big palate and didn’t like to stop after two even three servings. She ended up being under-involved, which wasn’t helping this kid with some tools that he needed to wait a bit longer to let the “party die down” in his mouth and stop telling his brain he needed and wanted “MORE! MORE! MORE”
Another example: A mom came to me when her 10-year-old was gaining weight and her doc said: ”Is she getting enough fruits and vegetables? You may want to cut out the sweets.” She almost fell over, since all her and her husband eat and have at home are perfectly unprocessed health food with absolutely no sweets or junk. Unbeknownst to her, though, her child was eating treats from her friends’ lunch boxes She too, didn’t know how to handle this behavior with the rules she had about ‘no junk food.’ Both of their parents struggled with weight and addiction, so her and her husband had both decided to be highly athletic and controlled about their food. It worked for them, but these standards weren’t helping their kid with tools to manage the different foods that were part of her daily life outside of the home. I call this category “unrealistic standards.”
Lastly, a dad came to me for help with his child and he turned out to be what I call an overly-involved parent. His kid was a very picky and minimal eater, and he was raised with the old “starving children in China” routine. He himself had been a small eater, but became a member of the “Clean Plate Club.” This worked for him to some degree (he was struggling with his weight), but his kid was not buying it. Every meal became battle time, and this parent didn’t know how to let his kid eat less than what was served. He worried that if he let him eat the amount he wanted, that he was being too “easy” on him, and that he was being a “loose and lousy parent,” as he put it.
This is an example of the overly-involved parent. One of the dangers of this tactic is that you can inadvertently train your child to become a compulsive over-eater. You’re basically communicating the message that you know when they’re full, not them. They then lose their connection to their body’s signals, either fighting with you or overly complying; neither one helping them to stay connected to signals from inside their body that they will need in order to manage their food for life.
So, ask yourself: What category do you fit in? How are your own “tape loops” or eating history impacting your current attitudes and what you bring to the table? I can promise you that as much as the food you prepare, this will shape and have a profound effect on your kids and their developing eating habits.