Many children are now in school, whether that be at home or with their peers and teachers in a school building. But, we all know that children are always learning…from their teachers, parents, peers, and whatever they focus their attention on. One of the best (and hardest!) things about this is that children often learn best by the examples given to them by their parents/guardians. So much so that YOU must BE the very person you want your child to be when he/she is an adult…want your child to be hard-working, honest, responsible, and respectful? Then you must be hard-working, honest, responsible, and respectful. Want your child to love God? Then you must love God. Want your child to contribute positively to the world? You must lead by example. I suspect that they notice our efforts and learn much from us even if we strive for the best but fall short…which is not only acceptable and better than doing nothing, but also human. On that note, there is something else they learn from us at least once a day, if not several times each day: how to eat and what it means to have a relationship with food.
The list of things we must teach our children seems infinite–especially to someone like me who has only experienced the beginnings of parenthood (my three babies are still too young for kindergarten). Though the world of homeschooling overwhelms me, I know that my children have already learned a lot from me by simply observing. This is only natural! Hopefully I’ve set mostly good examples…no pressure, haha! For this, I am glad to have fixed my once disordered relationship with food and have learned how to fuel my body effectively. So, here are some things I try to teach my young children about food:
- Only eat when you are hungry: As a former binge-eater (and I used to purge, too), I am now aware that tuning into my body’s hunger signals is key to maintaining a good relationship with food, as well as remembering that “eating and drinking is not an end in itself, but a means to preserve life.” After all, it has a purpose. At meal times, I do not force my children to eat if they aren’t hungry. I’ll often have them try their food (one or two bites), but if they aren’t developing an appetite, they can stop eating if they’d like. They know this and let me know if they don’t want to eat.
- Stop eating when you are full: Similar to the point above, I do not force them to join the “clean plate club.” They stop when they are full and their food is simply stored away for another meal (pretty easy way to save money on food, too:) ). The only time I ask them to finish their food is if they have one or two bites left. And often times, if one child is extra hungry, he or she can simply finish his or her food and also have someone else’s who didn’t want to finish. It works great for us!
- Food is a tool: Food is not purely for pleasure or entertainment. The purpose of food is to provide us with energy and nutrition to fight disease and maintain good health. Once I sorted out my poor relationship with food and realized that I was not using it for its intended purpose, I was able to readjust my habits. I talk to my children about using food to benefit their health–for example, I’ll explain the benefits of drinking raw milk or milk kefir to them as they drink it, and what body parts benefit from choosing this specific food to eat. I hope this will help them view food as a tool for health in the future, instead of abusing it out of boredom or depression like how I used to.
- Food preparation is a creative activity: I used to draw, be in choirs (I LOVE to sing!), and take pictures of nature. But being a mom has put a lot of restrictions on my free time. However, in order to take care of our families and participate in making life happy and fulfilling, we must take care of ourselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Because of this, I try to have fun with making food for my family. I used to view it more as a chore, but now it has become a creative hobby that I look forward to. I hope my own joy in serving my family has inspired a similar joy in my children. My children are excited about helping me in the kitchen and I tell them how it will be fun to one day cook with them in the years to come. They often pretend to make food for my husband and I and want to watch us make meals. I hope it all works out! 🙂
- Food can bring either health or sickness: Much of life, though not all of it, is a result of our own choices. Everybody knows that there are consequences–both good and bad–that come from our own thoughts and actions. This point is related to food being a tool for nutrition and maintenance of health, but it is more for the long-term view of things. Eventually, our habits with food will make a significant impact on our lives–all the twinkies, McDonalds, and Skittles WILL eventually decrease the quality of your life, even if it doesn’t do so immediately. There has been sickness and young death in our family and I will one day discuss with the children, when they are old enough, how food can either be our friend or our enemy. All that milk kefir, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and organic produce will also have its impact…less disease, less pain, and slower physical/mental decline through the years is well worth it, especially because we will hopefully be able to meet and play with our grandchildren in the future. Even for the sake of maintaining good habits, choosing good food over low-quality food usually pans out.
- We avoid snacking: Though many people will disagree with this point, I’ve found that not snacking works well for my family. Because I already spend so much time in the kitchen, it is nice that I don’t have to spend the entire day there in order to prepare food for between meals. Also, it is easier to eat out of boredom or reach for poor food options when snacking is a more acceptable behavior. We simply avoid it, and the little ones don’t ask for snacks.
- Teach them where food comes from: The only screen-time our children get is when I occasionally show them videos about animals and where meat, dairy, and eggs come from (and of course, video chatting with family!). To my surprise, the children are not disturbed–in fact, they are interested in how animals turn into food. As a child, I would have been disturbed by this, but I also used to watch TV and movies where animals are often portrayed as having human emotions and personalities, and I did not know how steak ended up on my dinner plate, or about humane raising of animals intended for consumption. I am amazed at my children’s curiosity and hope I can one day outgrow my disgust of butchering animals. Next year, I plan to take my two oldest children to help catch chickens for butchering as I practice processing fresh chickens with a new friend of mine.
- Your example counts more than you might think: Our own example of healthy eating habits will probably be the number 1 way our children learn about food. For all you parents out there, I am sure I’m just preaching to the choir. In fact, I am wondering…how do you teach your children about food? I am sure teaching older children is a whole different ball game than teaching little ones as small as mine!
I hope you are enjoying the leaves turning colors!
Diane Stanislowski is a wife, mother, and researcher with the goal of restoring the practice of traditional holistic approaches to wellness and sharing evidence-based information with the public.
She lives in Grand Forks North Dakota with her husband and three children and receives raw milk and pastured meats from Bartlett Farms.