As someone who once struggled with an eating disorder and, many years later, is still working on her relationship with food, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how not to pass my issues along to my kids. I did a lot of reading on the subject when A.J. was a baby, and amid much nonsense I found what seemed to me to be the best book on the subject: Ellyn Satter's Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. Satter's Division of Responsibility became my go-to reference for everything related to food and my kids:
• The parent is responsible for what, when, where to eat;
• The child is responsible for how much and whether to eat.
This strategy has worked pretty well for us, I think. When A.J. and Sasha were babies and toddlers, James and I had nearly total control over what foods were available to them. Our fridge and pantry were stocked with a wide variety of healthy foods—unprocessed, fresh, and organic whenever possible. Candy was pretty much a non-issue, except for around holidays like Halloween and Easter and even then, my little ones would have a piece or two and then forget about it.
But now that they're older, things are different. James and I still decide what foods we keep in the house—and that is as it should be, I think—but both kids spend a lot of time elsewhere. And to be perfectly frank, they're eating a lot more stuff that I would categorize as…well, junk.
And you know what surprises me a little? I'm okay with that. I want my kids to get to try everything—and I mean everything. Even though I have major control issues and the very thought of certain foods makes me shudder—high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors are my personal bugaboos—I don't want anything to become forbidden fruit.
This weekend A.J. and Sasha had a sleepover with their friend Q, who is really more like a brother than a friend. Q's parents, K and T, are amazing people, fantastic parents—and they typically eat way more healthily than we do. When I went to pick A.J. and Sasha up Sunday morning, K told me that she had taken all three kids out for frozen yogurt the day before.
"I let them choose their own toppings," she said, a little nervously. "You know, candy toppings? What I mean is, I didn't limit them to just one or two things, I really…well, I let them choose, and they…well, they…um, they really piled it on." (I imagine K hadn't expected that; Q is just not all that into sweets.)
At that point A.J. chimed in with a laugh and a grimace: "We totally overdid it."
K turned back to me and said, "I figured that would be okay with you, but…well, is it?"
I told her the truth, without a moment's hesitation: "It's more than okay, it's fantastic." I'm usually too much of a control freak to be able to let my kids overdo it like that, so how else will they ever learn what overdoing it means? Figuring that out is an important part of having a good relationship with food, and that is something I want for them so desperately…well, I can almost taste it.
But enough about me, what about you? What's most important to you when it comes to feeding your kids? What are your personal food bugaboos? And what are your parenting strategies when it comes to dealing with them?