I don’t want my daughters to worry about food

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Can we please all agree to make this post a non-judgmental space today? Just like most other parents I am simply trying to do the best I can, and just like most parents – I do not claim to have all the answers. And as a result of some recent non-judgmental and constructive feedback from blog readers I’ve been doing some thinking…and my thoughts are this: I never want my daughters to have to worry about food (or anything for that matter).

People sometimes imply that allowing your children to have free rein on junk food means “letting your kid be a kid,” but in reality I think they are confusing “eating junk food” with the happy-go-lucky, carefree feeling we often see in children. And in my opinion there are many ways to achieve that bliss, which I can assure you, is not only from junk food.

But I am the first to admit it’s not easy to constantly find that fine line between standing up for what you believe in (nourishing my children with the healthiest foods on the planet!) and also not being too uptight. Whether we like it or not, there is a social aspect to junk food. I tell my husband all the time “we’ve been there done that” …therefore I don’t care if I never again chow down on a Little Debbie Snack, a box of Nerds, or a Push Up (really, I don’t). But my children have not had the same experiences as me and no matter how much they “understand” why those foods are unhealthy who can blame them for wanting to see what they are all about? They are literally surrounded by this stuff on a regular basis – just look at school lunch rooms, TV commercials, and even check-out lines at the store.

The Feedback I Couldn’t Ignore

Aside from our 100-day pledge (which ended in 2010) we have never been fully restrictive on what our girls can and can’t eat. We certainly eat almost all “real food” at home, but now that our pledge is over our children indulge in processed “treats” at birthday parties, school celebrations, friend’s houses, etc. I certainly wish they weren’t offered junk food at so many events, but this is reality and I try not to stress about it (although I have become more involved at their school in hopes of continuing to see positive changes there). We also usually offer our girls a “once a week treat,” which is pretty much the only time we eat any big sweets (other than a super dark chocolate square), but more often than not they have junk food elsewhere so others were almost always beating me to the punch when it came treat time. This means our treats together as a family didn’t happen very often – or if they did my daughters would have to decide to forgo a treat that was being offered to them by someone else. Watching them make these decisions is what started bothering me deep down.

donutThen it just so happens that last weekend we had the chance to buy our kids their weekly treat, and by request we headed out for donuts (which I shared with this picture on Facebook). It was on that post where an interesting discussion started.

Although I can’t always sit down and read every single comment personally anymore – I do read a lot of them and value what our readers have to say. And I certainly did not overlook the comment from Erin that said, “Actually, excessive discussion of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food can play a large role on eating disorders.” Nor did I overlook the New York Times article that Marie shared that is entitled, “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods.” Then (as if I didn’t already have my knickers in a twist enough) a kind reader emailed me personally and said:

“When I see your daughter questioning her food, I am encouraged by her awareness, but also concerned. I did the same thing, and my mom – who was also hyper-aware of food (and for good reason!) – encouraged this in me. I eventually become afraid of the food and restricted anything that wasn’t ‘healthy’ – until nothing was (at the same time I over-exercised, because exercise was healthy too). It all made sense – until it didn’t. I just encourage you, from the bottom of my heart, to be careful and aware and honest – but also leave some space for ‘food to be food’ – that’s become my mantra.” – 100 Days of Real Food Reader

Our Outlook Going Forward

I can truthfully tell you I have never even dabbled in eating disorders, although I (unfortunately) know many friends who have. Therefore I am no stranger to the subject and it’s of course not something I would ever want my daughters to struggle with. So literally right then and there I had a discussion with my husband and we agreed to make a slight change. As soon as my daughters came home from school I told my 2nd grader, “We’ve decided that you can eat the foods you are offered (within reason) when you are not at home, and they will not count as your ‘once a week treat.’ The weekly treats we will buy or make together as a family will happen no matter what. Mommy feeds you so much good, real food at home and that’s where you eat most of the time. You are such a healthy girl who is an excellent eater and also gets plenty of exercise so eating junk food at school or with friends once or twice a week could never erase that. Now eating cupcakes everyday (or twice a day) would not be a good thing, but a couple times a week is nothing for anyone to worry about.” And you know what, in the grand scheme of things – even though my daughters have their moments of course – they both really are super good eaters. They eat a wide variety of whole foods including lots of vegetables and are also fairly willing to try new things. So I wasn’t just talking the talk with her – even with highly processed junk food often feeling like my personal nemesis, I truly believe that eating it on occasion will not erase all that goodness.

And interestingly enough, even though my daughters have honestly never verbalized a complaint about our frequency of treats before, my 8-year-old seemed to really understand what I was telling her and even acted a little happy about this change. My kindergartner is still oblivious to quite a lot and frankly doesn’t even know what day it is half the time, so I spared her this “talk” because I didn’t think she’d even notice the difference at her age. But I do think what will go even further than this change is for me to (continue to) not act like the occasional junk food they eat is the end of the world (i.e. no guilt trip) while still educating them in a casual, non-threatening manner. I have also always been super careful about never criticizing my body in front of them, and I think that is another very important part of raising daughters with a healthy image as well. Now this parenting gig is something I am figuring out as I go (just like everyone else!) so we may continue to make adjustments as we move forward…but I can say that I do feel good about our renewed direction.

So today my 8-year-old came home from school and announced, “I had 3 oreos at lunch since it was a friend’s birthday.” Then she told me, “I read the ingredients, too.” And I said with a surprise, “Oh really, what did it say?” then with a laugh she said “I don’t remember.” Sounds like we are on the right track with having a carefree, worry-free kid who is slightly more aware than the others. :)

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469 comments to I don’t want my daughters to worry about food

  • Amber

    I honestly think what you were doing with your girls was great. My parents did the same thing with treats here and there and if there was a bday party that was our treat. Now I have had eds and currently am dealing with binging, but it wasn’t caused by my diet. It was caused by other girls my age at the time, tabloids and media, and my mom. I had never in my life ever heard anyone female say they were happy with their body and once I hit middle school I was perfectly healthy and girls who were smaller than me would call me fat. That is the one word a girl should never be told. Never tell her she will get fat, looks fat in some outfit, or is fat. That is what leads to eds. I think if you educate your kids from a young age when they get older they can make the call on choosing healthier food. I have made a promise to my self that my child will eat healthy whole foods with no added sugar unless it is stevia sweetener, no processed foods I will breast feed as long as possible and make my baby’s food myself. This not only gives them a healthy start but they try all sorts of different foods. I know a little girl who has been raised this way and she never wants cake or sweets. She is more than welcome to have them but she would rather say no thanks than I can’t. She is younger than your daughter and makes better choices than most adults. She was being raised like your girls. You have to emphasize health over weight and image and just give them structure in their diet.

  • […] choice, not PUNISHMENT! (just don’t go out to eat every night) hahaha Make good choices! This blog post was amazing at describing this.  Her point of view was based on her young daughters and not wanting […]

  • Lisa

    I really enjoyed this post and from the perspective of a child whose parents tried to instill the value of healthy eating and a respect for our bodies, i understand your choice to aim for this with your own children, it taught me to be a great cook more than anything else. again, from the perspective of a child who never really had those ‘bad’ foods and was very aware of that at the time, i have spent much of my life since overindulging in all types of foods i was never allowed to have early on. i don’t like the relationship i have with food now, in terms of how i ‘see’ it, i developed a strong good vs bad food philosophy. i sometimes wonder if my parents had allowed the odd item such as ice cream/store bought biscuits/juice/white bread into the house whether the way i respect, value and use food now would be quite different.

  • Andrea

    I applaud your efforts. I believe teaching your kids to be aware of what is in the food we eat can be empowering, and to empower them with the ability and knowledge to make good choices is a wonderful thing. Now, if you yourself appear anxious and worried about food then yes this could lead to some problems but if you are teaching them that (as they get old enough), yes, unfortunately food companies and regulatory agencies do not have a history of putting forth the best regulations or using healthy ingredients and it’s up to us to take responsibility for treating out bodies with love and respect by learning about the quality of the food and making wise decisions…by doing this you can spare, as you know, your children potential future grief such as health problems due to the ingredients in processed food. I mean, if it was normal for kids to chew tobacco at birthday parties and at school what would we do? Some people get all up in arms about limiting processed foods as if it will certainly lead to some sort of eating disorder, without considering the health ramifications of eating processed foods. I look forward to the day when more people realize that eating all these foods as part of a daily diet is as unhealthy as smoking and who would want their child to be smoking? Thanks for sharing your journey! :-)

  • Tracy Richardson

    Lisa, I appreciate your willingness to be real with your readers, and the willingness to listen to reasonable feedback. Your blog has helped to transform this family’s eating and grocery shopping habits. I applaud your efforts to make people more aware of what we are consuming, and I have a strong hunch your kids will grow up with a healthy approach to food.

  • Andrea Taylor

    I am in love with your site. I have two younger girls 11 and 8 who are so excited to find your lunches in their box. We eat real at home almost all the time. I tell my girls sometimes foods that are “bad” are really good for you in a way. When your friend blows our her birthday candles and hands you a piece of pink frosted cake. When your Grandma bakes Great Grandma’s apple pie. When we eat one of Santa’s cookies. These are not foods I want my children eating everyday but they are memories I want them to take with them forever. These are “bad” foods drenched in our happiest memories. Enjoy life as it comes at you. We eat fresh, wholesome, homemade foods the majority of the time, the rest I chalk up to living.

  • […] from home without a parent or grandparent by her side. As I’ve shared before, I absolutely do NOT want my two young girls to ever “worry” about food (or anything for that matter). But that doesn’t mean I won’t educate them along the way […]

  • Michelle Mowat

    I have really been going over this in my head nonstop now that our 100 days is almost up (10 more days!). I want to continue to eat whole food, but it was SO MUCH easier when I could use the “excuse” of being on the 100 days. Now that we are ending, I was really thinking of doing 2 “treats” a week. And then our two kids (6 and 8) could choose while at school whether or not they wanted the treat or to have a treat with us as a family. But I do see your point, too. Thankfully, we just got a letter from our son’s teacher…this year they bring their own snack to school! Yay! But for my daughter, it still is a snack every day and probably will be junk :(

    So you are saying that even if we have 4-5 get-togethers/birthday parties/etc in a week (exaggerated to make the point), you still would let them choose whatever foods they want??? And then would you just not have a family “treat” that week?

    Another situation I have is my in-laws like to take the kids for weekends or even in the summer, for all week. What they feed our kids bothered me before the 100 days, and even more-so now. So you are saying that (like your daughter just going to camp for a week) you suggest just letting them choose again?

    I definitely do NOT want my kids to be stressed out about weight or image or anything like that…we are also super careful about what we say about ourselves and other people. But I never really thought about food before.

    I am so nervous to end our 100 days!! Yikes!

    Thanks for posting this…a lot to take in right now…any suggestions would be welcomed!!!

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Michelle. You will be fine. At this point you have developed at habit that will serve your entire family well. Try to relax about it a bit and don’t feel as if you have failed if some weeks are less that perfect. I promise they are for all of us. Regarding the treats–this comes directly from the post: “We’ve decided that you can eat the foods you are offered (within reason) when you are not at home, and they will not count as your ‘once a week treat.’ The weekly treats we will buy or make together as a family will happen no matter what. Mommy feeds you so much good, real food at home and that’s where you eat most of the time. You are such a healthy girl who is an excellent eater and also gets plenty of exercise so eating junk food at school or with friends once or twice a week could never erase that. Now eating cupcakes everyday (or twice a day) would not be a good thing, but a couple times a week is nothing for anyone to worry about.” So, while I am sure Lisa is very hopeful that it does not occur more than once or twice a week, I think she can accept (within good reason) the decision to be a bit more flexible and allow the girls the room to make their own choices. Hope that helps a little. You’ll do great I’m sure. Once you are aware at this level, you don’t go back. :) ~Amy

  • MaryPat

    I just had to come back and re-read this post….Last night, I found out that my 10 yr old daughter had eaten almost all of her halloween candy! I’m pretty devastated, for a variety of reasons. First, because we try SO hard to educate her & her older sister about WHY we want them to eat “better,” read labels, make LOTS of homemade things, including sweets! I’m disappointed in myself because for whatever reason, laziness, forgetfulness, I never got around to the “sort and toss” with her after halloween. Another thing I’m upset about is that she would sneak behind my back…I just don’t know how to handle this! I talked with her briefly, trying not to come down on her too hard, but I’d appreciate any advice on how to handle this! Ugh, now we have a candy-filled advent calendar, “thanks” to Grandma :/ that I’m seriously considering not letting her do!

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