Girl Talk: Cookies & Caviar

Empowering my daughter to make healthy life choices starts now.

One of the ways that I encourage my daughter is by having her actively participate in our grocery shopping process, giving her the freedom to add her own choices to the grocery cart.

Girl Talk: Empowering out daughters about food -- this mom shares her simple tips (her grocery tip is amazing) to empower her daughter's food choices

Having studied and written a thesis on the connection between disordered eating and (later-in-life) fibromyalgia, I’m very aware at how easily disordered eating can occur and how prevalent it is in our society.

Disordered eating doesn’t always look like anorexia, bulimia, or emotional eating. Disordered eating is any form of eating that undermines healthy values, whether that’s an aversion to healthy eating or a fear of eating unhealthily. In fact, some people with incredibly balanced, healthy & robust diets could be considered having disordered eating if their reasons for eating that way are not empowering or are based on insecurity.

It is so important to me to empower my daughter in eating healthy and enjoying food. I want her to want to make healthy choices but also not feel guilty or negative if some of her choices don’t always fit her health goals. I want her to feel in control of her body and what she fuels it with.

Girl Talk: Empowering out daughters about food -- this mom shares her simple tips (her grocery tip is amazing) to empower her daughter's food choices

There are several ways that I try to accomplish this:

  • Food is a positive & joyful experience in our home.
    I don’t discipline with food choices; food is lovingly prepared and spoken about, and I try to be casual if she tests limits with food. My rules aren’t changing and I’m not going to get mad or scared unless my daughter is losing weight or exhibiting unhealthy habits like food hoarding. Testing limits around mealtimes is natural, just like the “no” phase and firm consistency is the best response. (It’s really easy to become emotional about our children’s mealtime battles because we’re scared that they will be malnourished, but it takes way more than a few skipped meals to create a real issue.)
  • I never shame about food choices.
    If Ella requests three cookies, I don’t say “that’s unhealthy” or “we don’t eat 3 cookies in this house,” but rather I suggest she have one piece of fruit in between each cookie — and I model that myself.
  • I never require she clean her plate, but what’s offered at suppertime is all that’s being offered. We don’t do dessert often, but when we do she gets dessert if she tries everything on her plate (this rule would be different if eating was a sensory issue for her)
  • She has her own shelf in the fridge so I am not the gatekeeper to food.
    I stock her shelf with only healthy choices, and she is not limited to how many healthy snacks she can have, but if I notice that she is having a second or third snack I’ll ask her if she’d like for me to start making lunch or supper a bit early. We used to use a mini-fridge when she was younger, and that’s a good option if you want to keep your child out of other parts of the fridge
  • We make meals together. As often as possible, I involve her in food preparation and meal planning.
  • She picks 3 items at the grocery store.

This last item is probably the hardest one for many parents to accept. My daughter gets to choose as many items as she is years old to go into our grocery cart — with no rules or restrictions.

A variation of this could be giving your child small criteria, like saying one item is for lunches, or one needs to be a fruit or vegetable, OR you could give a ten dollar grocery budget. Ella rarely picks all junk food so I don’t have any rules on her choices.

I have never had to veto anything, but for example if I see that a cookie she wants has unhealthy additives, I might make a similar cookie suggestion and explain the difference — leaving the choice up to her. By forbidding the unhealthy cookie, I would make it more attractive and take away her power in making her own food decisions, but by explainging the difference, she becomes empowered and understands that healthy eating starts with empowering yourself with information.

While we are shopping I ask her why she is interested in the foods she selects. This helps me understand her evolving relationship to food and creates a natural dialogue about food choices and values that I hope will continue as she gets older. It also helps if I ever want to make an alternative suggestion.

Girl Talk: Empowering out daughters about food -- this mom shares her simple tips (her grocery tip is amazing) to empower her daughter's food choices

One box of cookies is not going to ruin my child or her health, especially if I’m providing 90% healthy options surrounding those food choices.

We’ve come home with some odd food choices, and she doesn’t always like the food she picks. I either give it away, eat it myself, or throw it out — but this is a natural process of experimenting and trying different foods. As an adult, I’ve bought foods that I haven’t liked — with an unhealthy item my attitude is “why eat anything indulgent that I don’t like?” and with healthy items I may try preparing them a couple of different ways before discarding them, because if you force yourself to eat something healthy that you find repugnant, you’re less likely to be open to experimenting again based on the negative experience.

I would never force my daughter to eat a cookie she doesn’t like — a cookie is supposed to be a treat, and if you don’t feel “treated,” get rid of it — and forcing her to eat a healthy option creates food aversions and control issues. For some families, this might be worth creating a dollar amount limit so that you’re not upset about the money spent on these items if they end up in the trash.

 

I’m curious, how do you create positive food values in your home?

This is part of a series of Girl Talk/Boy Talk co-hosted by my friend Melissa at Eyes of a Boy. Check out her post today on “Lessons Learned from Parenting Boys.”

 

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9 Comments

  1. I try to involve my kids with food any way I can. It’s challenging having them help cook with the cramped layout of our kitchen, but I find a way to do it here and there. I always ask my kids to try at least 2 bites of everything because their first impression is always “eww gross” but they often love it on the second try. If my kids don’t have a taste for something, I won’t push it; they can have their own likes and dislikes, but I will encourage them to give it another try down the road as tastes change. I need to try the shelf in the fridge thing! I love those little shopping carts at the stores and having my kids help shop; they usually ask for a lot of fruits and vegetables which makes me a happy mommy. I also try to familiarize them with the textures, colors, flavors, and names of different foods we try.

  2. We have always practiced the idea that we make one meal for dinner (or lunch) and if it is eaten, great. If it is not, great. He will learn the way his body feels when it isn’t fueled properly. We also focus on the fact that food is fuel, and for a high-energy kid, he needs the ‘right kind’ of fuel. Because we have addictive tendencies in our ancestry, we are careful with providing unlimited access to sweets and ‘junk’ foods, but he has unlimited access to nuts, fruit, veggies and protein sources. We don’t say “NO” if he wants to try new fruits or veggies at the grocery store, but we make sure that he tries them rather than allowing him to say he’s changed his mind before it’s even prepared. It’s important to us that we’re not wasteful, as well; with our money OR the food resources. Additionally, we refrain from saying that we don’t like a certain food. We talk about how when we were younger we “weren’t so fond” of something (for me it was tomatoes) but that we kept trying them and now we LOVE them. And finally, we introduce him to new tastes all the time – that helps me stay our of a cooking rut! So far, he’s a pretty awesome eater!

    1. It’s so hard balancing everything. We have some really poor eating habits and addictive personalities in our lineage, too, so I hope I don’t come to regret being a bit more open.
      It’s definitely not a free for all, but more of a discussion about how are we going to balance that food with healthy choices. Sometimes it’s easier to just not have those foods in the house to avoid having to impose limits. (For me, my mom would give us 2 cookies, and while I’d probably only have taken 1-3 on my own, having them rationed out made that elusive 3rd cookies so enticing. I think open conversation could have possibly made the difference there, though.)

      The food waste conversation is a tricky one, too. I never want to discourage her from being open to experimentation or feel like she has to eat something she doesn’t like because of food waste, but we’re more likely to only purchase one serving of a new type of vegetable or fruit if possible and we talk about food waste in other ways. How do you manage that conversation?

  3. I think this sounds like a great idea and something I’d love to do since I have a history of disordered eating — and even currently struggle with it myself (I also have fibromyalgia and eating healthily so that I don’t cause a flare is a dance for which I still haven’t figured out the steps).

    My 2-year-old daughter also seems to exhibit signs of food sensitivity, so you could guess I have a bit of fear around making the choices completely open to her. Do you have any ideas of how to deal with this as it relates to food sensitivities?

    Thanks – I appreciate your blog – just stumbled onto it today.

    1. I think we need to train children with sensitivities and allergies to be advocates for themselves, so this is a great way for your daughter to practice choice and awareness at the same time. It will open her eyes to how much food is available to her – but also that sometimes there are unexpected ingredients in things that may surprise us, which is always a great thing to learn.

      I would start with giving some limits with choice – maybe you’re going to pick a safe fruit aisle or present her with 3 different options to choose from. When she’s old enough to understand her sensitivities you can give that caveat but at 2 I would worry she would just get upset if she chose something and you had to veto it due to an ingredient she couldn’t eat.

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