I’m on a quest to help you rediscover the pleasure that should come with eating. I don’t want you to miss out on memories of your motherhood or your children’s childhood because of food or eating anxieties.
The good news is that optimal nutrition does not need sacrificing a positive relationship with food. Choosing to focus on supporting your children does not imply that you are neglecting nourishment or that you are no longer “caring.” There’s no way. You do it because you care, and you’ll discover that healthy nourishment for your children is the result. So, where do you begin? How may this appear in your home?
It may appear hard to work for something different in your home when you look at the large picture. Especially, if food is difficult to understand and feeding children is a stressful experience. We’re already inundated with “rules” about how to feed our children and how to produce healthy eaters. Diet culture has penetrated a lot of this knowledge. Does any of this ring a bell?
- Allow no packaged foods to be consumed by your children.
- Offer them no processed foods.
- Before the age of two, no additional sugar is allowed.
- Limit sweets in your home and don’t allow your kids to consume sugar.
- Nothing frozen should be consumed.
- Stay away from convenience foods.
But what do you do if your kids gravitate towards foods that are intended to be “off-limits”?
This is where I see power struggles between children, parents and their caretakers begin, and where food becomes a source of conflict.
Perhaps you’ve seen something similar before?
You want your children to eat healthy meals, on the one hand. You want them to be fit and healthy, with a strong immune system to boot. You don’t want kids to have behavioural issues, and you’re concerned about their physique sizes. You want them to succeed and grow into capable, strong adults.
Diet Culture Influences Common Child Feeding Rules
Food rules can influence how we feed our children in the most subtle ways – things we might not even realise are food rules.
It’s critical to comprehend how diet culture operates, as it frequently promotes a rigorous attitude to food and eating while also normalising these practices as the best way to create a healthy family.
Diet culture has been cloaked in the guise of “wellness culture” in recent years, but it is still an unhealthy obsession with the things we eat. Diet culture has become a mainstream aspect of how we conduct our lives, making it difficult to spot it when it appears.
It frequently manifests itself when it comes to feeding our children, which is why this is an important subject to investigate.
Here are a few instances of how diet culture can manifest itself in how we feed our children:
- Keeping a tight grip on the meals our kids eat or have access to
- Allowing children to eat particular meals based on external norms (e.g., “Processed foods are harmful, thus they can’t eat any processed foods,” “Sweets are unhealthy for kids,” “We don’t allow any sugar in the house,” and so on)
- Keeping your child away from events where other outside meals are offered that you are not comfortable with them eating.
- Are you worried about what your youngster is eating?
- Using a “good” versus “bad” lens to describe food
- Trying to teach your child about healthy eating, food selection, and so on
These items may appear to be “applauded” by diet culture on the surface. Diet culture honours and rewards parents who are overly concerned about their children’s health and the foods they eat.
But how much will it cost? Many families who become enslaved to tight eating rules or a black-and-white view of health wind up with more complicated challenges. Mealtimes are typically chaotic when our children are fed through diet culture. Parents may feel trapped in a never-ending cycle of power battles with their kids. When we try to get our children to adapt to our norms or views around food and eating, this doesn’t allow our children to keep their underlying intuitive eating talents.
We essentially take away the autonomy that we want our children to acquire and grow, forsaking the most crucial components of forming a pleasant relationship with food in order to stay in the diet culture’s safe zones. Please believe me when I tell that as parents attempting to raise healthy, capable children, we only have the finest intentions.
I don’t believe any parent is intentionally attempting to sabotage their children’s connections with food and their bodies.
The goal here isn’t to condemn parents in any way; rather, it’s to recognise the toxic milieu in which we’re trying to feed and raise our children. Diet culture has penetrated every aspect of our lives, including how we parent and feed our children. It’s all too easy for us to fall prey to its enticing hooks if we don’t take intentional actions to proactively combat it. To become a part of the system from which so many of us seek liberation. So many of these feeding methods are ones we were exposed to as children, or that our parents were exposed to, and so on – through the centuries.
It all starts with becoming more conscious of how it hides and lurks in your own home, as well as questioning the norms you’ve internalised about food and your body.
What food ideas do you have that are currently influencing how you feed your own children?
Understanding this and taking the time to honestly reflect on it can help you make a proactive decision for you and your family. Take a piece of paper and write down some of the norms or attitudes you have about food or feeding your children that are influenced by diet culture.
If you’re unsure, write down the first thing that comes to mind. When thinking about this, consider TRUST as a component.
If you or your children don’t trust themselves or each other around food, this can be a key motivator for rules, as rules provide an artificial sense of control.
Fear is what keeps rules alive, so think about what you’re afraid of when you evaluate the food rules that have crept into your home or the base from which you feed your children. Diet culture instils fear and fosters the notion that we can’t trust ourselves or our children. Returning to the basics and learning to live and eat free of food restrictions necessitates beginning from the ground up. Because feeding our children involves more than a transaction: it isn’t just handing them food and expecting them to eat it. (Diet culture portrays feeding our children as something to be controlled in this way.)
However, this overlooks the most important aspect of feeding our children: cultivating a trustworthy feeding connection. This provides a sense of security and connection, and it is in this environment that children can learn to trust their bodies and form positive dietary associations that benefit their general health. Cultivating such trust is crucial to having food freedom as a family and breaking the chains of any internalised food rules you may have had.
Learning to consume and feed your children outside of these dietary restrictions can be quite beneficial, not just to yourself but also to your children’s attitudes toward food and their bodies. This is why it’s critical to be aware of the eating rules you follow, whether consciously or unconsciously. What is the perspective from which you feed your children, and how has that perspective been formed?
When you can begin to study and comprehend it, you may begin to demolish it in order to feed your children outside of diet culture’s confines and structures.
This could include bringing in previously forbidden items or questioning your own dietary guidelines regarding what or how much your children “need to consume.” This may appear to be bending your rules about when particular foods are allowed (for example, many of us grew up with a dietary rule that said we could only eat sweet foods after dinner – but why? Who told you that this was the rule? And what is the point of it?
If you’re not sure if the dietary “rules” you have for your kids and yourself are related to diet culture, consider this: “What is the objective behind this rule?” Is there a regulation in place to provide you some control over a dish that makes you feel uneasy? Taking an honest look at this will help you comprehend the rules you may have around food, as well as reveal which restrictions may need to be questioned and destroyed in order for you and your family to enjoy more freedom with food.
Kanupriya Khanna, a Senior Consultant Nutritionist & Dietitian with over 18 years of experience in child nutrition, can provide expert advise and the right kind of diet for the children. Kanupriya Khanna is regarded as one of the greatest dietitians in Delhi because of her unwavering commitment to making a difference in people’s lives by instilling good eating habits and lifestyles. (Children’s Nutritional Needs During the Pandemic:)