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.
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.
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.
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.”