This may come to a surprise to you, but I decided that I would cater to my children’s likes and dislikes way back when I was still pregnant with my first. Yes, that’s right. With full knowledge that I would become a short order cook, I decided not to force my kids to eat foods they didn’t like. “But, why???” you ask while being polite enough not to state your believe that I am utterly insane. Let me try to explain…
I was close to my biggest when I got pregnant with my first, still battling a very dysfunctional relationship with food and eager to break the cycle for my children. Growing up, my mom fed us a variety of fresh, whole foods, much of which we grew, picked and fished ourselves. Our family discussed “balanced nutrition” and dessert was an occasional treat. We were not given other options if we didn’t like our meal and we had to sit at the table until we ate everything on our plates (due to budget rather than parenting philosophy). So in my early teen years, when I had an income from babysitting, I began to buy my own junk food. I can remember hiding my chocolate consumption because I knew my mom would be angry. Certainly, I loved sugar (what kid doesn’t?!); but more than that, I had a desire for control over my food. But these secret junk food binges evolved into some pretty messed up relationships: with chocolate, with cake, with ice cream, with cookies, heck even with protein bars.
So when I was trying to decide how I would be a mother, what things I would take that my mother did and what I would do differently, I decided that I would not make a big deal of food. I read books and magazine articles that reinforced my instincts with advice like: “don’t force your kid to eat everything on their plate”, “just make sure there is one thing on the table that they like and gently encourage them to try the rest”, and “have a safe food that your kid is always allowed to request if they don’t like what everyone else is having”. These ideas made perfect sense to me. I hoped that THIS was how I would encourage my children to make healthy choices, to eat to satiety, to avoid the emotional dependence on food that I was still struggling with.
Many nights, as I battle to find something healthy (and not cheese and crackers!) for my oldest daughter to eat, I am jealous of those parents who have set up dinner rules so differently. But even without my (perhaps misguided) philosophies on family dinner, I would have been forced into this leniency by my daughter’s poor weight gain in her first year. This last year has seen a big improvement in the variety of her staples, although many of them still contain grains. And recently, I have been talking to her about nutrition and food intolerances and feeling better and feeling more energetic. She is sortof on board with giving up grains… as long as I can find some good substitutes that she will like. I wish that I had known about paleolithic nutrition way back when I started this adventure called motherhood. Then, I could have tried this relaxed approach to food within a paleo framework. But, better late than never. I feel confident that we will get there, that I can improve my daughter’s nutrition without suddenly becoming a dinnertime tyrant, and that I will break the cycle.