Guest blogger Gina Blitstein continues her exploration of nourishment and food.
Food is a complicated issue. While much of the world starves, we in our first world of plenty seem to be constantly controlling and limiting our intake of food to control our weight and alter our mood. Think about how crazy that sounds to our adult minds. Then consider how that information could affect a child’s concept of food. It should come as no surprise that children miss nothing that we do or don’t do; say or don’t say. We wield enormous influence over children’s attitudes about everything and that is especially true of the subject of food.
That’s true because, as I mentioned, food is a complicated issue. We gorge on it, restrict it, delight in it, demonize it. Food not only nourishes our body but it touches us emotionally. There is little else in life that is as important to us both physically and emotionally as the food we eat.
Yet I believe that we do ourselves and especially our children an injustice every single day where food is concerned. Somewhere along the line in our hectic lives, eating has become a hurried gorge-a-thon rather than a celebration of food and the people we love. I especially find fault with the all-too-prevalent child-themed restaurants where children are entertained and bombarded with stimuli and yet are expected to eat. We need to show how much we cherish them not by indulging their every advertising-fueled fast food whim but by helping them recognize the true power of food.
I’d like to share some wisdom I’ve acquired over the past twenty years as a childcare provider about instilling healthy attitudes about food and eating. As the adults in their lives it is our job to teach children that playing is playing and eating is eating. Both are enjoyable yet totally different activities and are not to be done simultaneously. Make sure that children are allowed the time to shift focus from play time to meal time because if they don’t learn that eating is important in and of itself, they will never give food and nutrition the importance it should have in their lives.
Preschoolers in my daycare learn the right thing to do for your body is to eat good food, sit still, chew carefully, and fill up their stomachs so they can grow and be healthy and strong. It is a lesson in self-care and self-respect. It is never too early to start taking responsibility for your own body, and eating is a tangible way to begin teaching that important lesson.
Food should nourish both the body and the soul.
Is that an impossible dream? Can we really reclaim mealtime as a time to care for ourselves and our families? I do believe we can but it will take some attitude adjustment and action. Here’s what I propose:
- * Limit meals eaten away from home as much as possible - especially fast food.
- * Include children in planning of meals so they learn that food is an important issue worth our consideration.
- Include children in shopping for food so they can learn about different types of food and what it looks like before it is processed into a ‘nugget.’
- Encourage children to help in the kitchen - in age appropriate ways, of course - so they can experience the preparation of food.
- Teach children that eating is an important and enjoyable activity - it is a chance to enjoy flavors and aromas and to fill their empty stomachs.
- Remind children that every food you eat doesn’t have to be your ‘favorite’ and that variety is important.
- Make meals a pleasant social time for togetherness and sharing.
Remember to offer a wide selection of food to children. Exposing children to only those foods with which they may be familiar limits the types of foods they will learn to love. Children’s taste buds are growing and developing right along with the rest of them, so it is vital that they experience a wide array of tastes and textures from an early age.
I believe that food is a powerful influence throughout our lives. We all have pleasant and indelible memories associated with food. Let’s vow to make some lifelong food memories with our kids so that the issue of food won’t be complicated for them.
What are we telling kids about our food values with our words and actions?