When I had my first baby I knew I wanted her to develop a healthy relationship with food and her own body because I have struggled with my body image and a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember. Even when I was really thin I felt guilty about eating certain things.
I now wish I would have learned how to listen to my body from early on. I believe that when you listen to your body, you eat what your body needs and the amount your body needs. Yes you might have a sweet treat here or there but you don’t overindulge and you learn that healthy foods make you feel better.
I grew up with very healthy parents and most “bad” foods where forbidden in my house. I didn’t learn to eat healthy because I wanted to but because I had to. I resented my parents while growing up because I wanted to eat chips, pizza and other junk food.
Looking back I appreaciate being offered healthy meals but I think they might have been too strict because once I moved out of my home, at 19 years old, I went on a eating binge that led me to gain about 40lbs. I ended up losing those pounds soon after but I think part of me wanted to just eat everything I wasn’t allowed to eat as a kid.
That is not relationship I want to my kids to have with food.
I want my kids to love healthy foods because they’re delicious and make us feel better, without having to forbid or force them to eat certain things. I want my kids to naturally gravitate towards healthier food choices out of their own will.
My first is a very picky eater so this has been challenging at times but I’ve realized there are ways I can help her listen to her own body and develop a healthy food relationship. Here is what has for worked for us and might work for you:
I let my kid chose what she wants to eat
Our home is stocked with healthy foods so we let her chose whatever she wants to eat without having to worry that she will indulge in junk food. Everything we keep at home is made with real ingredients, organic and has some sort of nutritional value.
I also feel that because my kid can chose what to eat between several healthy options she makes good food choices and eats it because she feels what is on her plate was her decision, and not mine. It’s all about letting them feel that they are in control.
This doesn’t mean I make special meals for my kids. I usually cook a meal with several veggie options and a protein. I put a little bit of everything in my kids plate and give her the freedom to chose whatever she wants out of that and how much she wants.
Most of the time she will eat something of what I prepared. If she doesn’t want any of it she can have a snack, which is usually a protein with vegetable, like hummus and carrots.
By doing this she eats the right amount of food. I don’t force her to eat everything I served her because I want her to learn to stop eating when she’s full, especially because most people tend to overeat.
I don’t believe in forbidding foods
There were many foods I wasn’t allowed to eat while growing up and it’s usually what I want to eat now when I feel like eating junk. Hence why I decided we won’t forbid anything.
I don’t want to my kid eating junk food all the time so our rule is that everything at home is healthy but when we go out she can eat whatever she wants. This means that we might share a dessert after a meal at a restaurant or that she might have a cupcake at a birthday but because she feels like she can have these foods she doesn’t get obsessed with them.
We also have treats at home sometimes, like chocolate, ice cream or home made desserts. She is allowed to eat them, and although there are times we have to tell her she can only have one, she never fights us about it. She follows our rules because she knows she will eventually get more of that treat.
I don’t impose an eating schedule but follow her hunger cues
Instead of setting an eating schedule for our kids according to what we think is right, we let them have control over their eating times, frequency and amount. We always have breakfast, lunch and dinner together but we don’t force them to eat if they don’t want to. This means sometimes our daughter will eat everything and sometimes she won’t. Other times she will finish her meal several hours after we’ve all finished eating.
Our bodies are pretty smart and they are usually hungry at around the same times every day, some days she doesn’t feel as hungry and other times when she’s going through a growth spurt it feels like she’s eating all day so we just follow her cues. As long as what she’s eating is healthy we don’t worry about how much she eats.
We also apply this rule when it comes to snacks. I don’t have a set schedule for her and just let her eat whenever she wants to because, as I said before, having this freedom and control over your own body helps you develop a healthy food relationship.
She learned to listen her body, only eats when she’s hungry and never overeats. You can give her a chocolate bar and she won’t eat it all. I’m not saying she won’t eat any of it because she does like it, but she knows when to stop – something I can’t say I have mastered as well as she has.
I don’t use food for bribes
One sure way of creating bad relationship with food is using it as bribes: “you can have dessert if you eat this meal” or “I’ll buy you ice cream if you behave”.
I’m not perfect and there have been times where I’ll give her some organic gummies when she’s going crazy in a store so she will sit in the cart and let me finish shopping but I try not to make it sound like a bribe and try to avoid using food this way because I know it is not good for her.
Food is to nourish our bodies and not to bribe our kids into doing something.
I let her prepare meals
I let my 3 year old prepare meals with me, wether is to wash some veggies, cut tomatoes in half, beat eggs or mix things in a bowl. She always has a role when it comes to preparing our food.
My husband has been pretty good at this and is usually the one that takes the time to show her how to prepare certain things. She is always so proud of what she accomplishes and really enjoys to eat anything she’s prepared.
Our kid has become more independent when it comes to her eating habits. She will serve her food, prepare it and eat it. And she’s very proud of it. I am actually surprised at her food choices, she really enjoys to eat vegetables!
I put on her plate all sorts of vegetables and keep repeating them even when she doesn’t eat them
For every meal we have I put on her plate a little bit of everything we’re eating. She will chose to eat it or not. There have been many times when she’s refused to eat something just because of how it looks and we let her. However, every time I make that vegetable I keep putting it on her plate because eventually she will take a bite and 90% of the time she will like it.
So if your kiddo doesn’t like to eat vegetables, just keep offering and keep trying. I don’t even push her to eat it, I just serve it on her plate and at some point she will probably try it and like it. I’ve come to learn that my kid loves veggies cooked in grass-fed butter (or ghee) and Himalayan salt so that’s how I prepare most of our meals.
I eat healthy so she eats healthy
Kids learn by example – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this but it’s true.
I love to eat vegetables and salads. I was a vegetarian for 14 years and I think that’s when I learned to really enjoy veggies and now a meal without vegetables is not a meal for me.
I also have a salad in almost every meal and for the longest time my daughter didn’t even want to touch a salad, but because I eat this so often one day she decided to try it and loved it. Now she eats “leaves” at least once a day.
I’m not saying that this is the right way to develop a healthy relationship with food but this is our way and what has worked great for us. Plus I feel like by approaching food this way I might spare my kids of having some of the food issues I have.
I believe she has such a good relationship with food because we give her freedom when it comes to eating. Also, having mostly healthy foods at home has helped a lot. If she only had junk food or sweets available I bet her food choices would be different. So we stock our home with things we want her to eat and then give her the freedom to chose when and how much to eat them.
It’s all about balance. If most of what they eat is healthy it’s ok to have a treat here and there. In my experience, by doing this the kids don’t feel like anything is forbidden and are open to healthy foods and also understand better when we say they can’t have ice cream now because they know we will have it at some point.
Since nothing is forbidden they don’t obsess over it and they favor vegetables and healthy meals.
One last thing, I believe that letting our kids figure out when to stop eating is very important. Our society tends to overeat because we don’t know when to stop. We usually stop when our plates are empty and this is why we tend to be overweight.
If we teach our kids to stop eating when their body tells them they are satisfied then we might end up with healthier kids, kids that chose healthy foods, that know when to stop eating, that don’t reward themselves with food but know food is for nourishment, and ultimately isn’t this what we all want?
I’d love to hear about meal time in your home and how’s your approach with food. Leave a comment down below!