We don’t often think of food’s importance in terms of our kid’s emotional well-being. Obviously, we know how vital nutrients are for growing little bodies. Eating, after all, is one of our primary needs for survival. But I’d argue, it’s equally important how our kids experience the meal and what they feel while eating.
Was it rushed or playful? Was it made by someone grumbling or with love? Did they feel scolded or encouraged to try something new? Did they enjoy it or was it a sense of tension for everyone involved? Did their plate look attractive or sloppy? Full or bare? Did you roll your eyes or laugh when the lid came off the sippy cup?
Let me just say: I am definitely not perfect. I’ve been guilty of all the above – both good and bad. But, for me, in addition to eating healthy, one of my main goals in raising my kids is that they don’t have “eating issues.” By that I mean, they feel scarcity around food—gobbling candy at sleepovers, snarfing down birthday cake at parties or trying to sneak junk food when mom’s not looking; or, the reverse, exercising their power by not eating.
As a life coach, something I teach my clients is the “abundance vs scarcity” mindset and I’ve found it’s helpful in my kitchen as well.
- Abundance mindset trusts that there is enough time, love, attention, money, food in this world for everyone to win and have enough.
- Scarcity mindset believes there is not enough time, money, attention, love, food in this world. If you win, I lose. If I win, you lose. There’s only one winner, one second place, and so on. If you want something, you better act quick, before it’s gone.
When it comes to food, I want my kids to experience abundance. There is enough food, enough time to eat it; and, if you leave something on your plate, it will be there or you can have something else later. I realize this squarely goes against some philosophies of letting kids feel a little hungry, if they don’t eat, so they are motivated to eat for the next meal. I absolutely agree with that too. I don’t think it’s a black-or-white. Those are important boundaries, rules and lessons to teach kids. But, what I’ve seen is that the more kids feel scarcity (imagined or real) the more it effects their eating.
Here are some ways that I intentionally practice abundance around food.
- Overflowing fruit bowl: I like to display a beautiful bowl of fruit on the counter with attractive fruit, easy to see, easy to reach. The very act of visually seeing abundance communicates there is food available, healthy, yummy and ready to go.
- Inviting presentation of meals: When I make my kids meals, I try to go the extra mile to make the food look beautiful, wiping off drips or smears on the plate, using fun placemats, cups, dishes and silverware. I want it to look like a mini-restaurant. I make sure their plate has lots of different foods, it looks attractive and the food isn’t mushed together or touching.
- Leaving the plate: Here comes the hard part. When my kids get excused from the table, if they still have a decent amount of food, I give them about 20 minutes to come back and eat more if they like. I want them to feel comfortable walking away from food when they’re full. If they know it will be there if they get hungry again, it’s easier to leave it. I don’t want them to overeat in scarcity because they’re afraid of getting hungry. Now, I know this is not a highly popular one. It’s a personal preference. If it’s not your style, that’s totally your call.
- Semi-open snacking: I don’t present snacks to my kids. I let them tell me if they’re hungry in between meals. If they ask for a snack, I usually give them a snack (with the exception of boredom and right before meals, which can be a blurry line, I’ll admit). In those situations, I explain that yummy food is on the way, or in the case of boredom, I use fun distractions.
The bottom line is that eating healthy is so important to our kids, but it’s also important how they experience their meals and they feel that there is an abundance in life–enough food, laughter, love, smiles and time for everyone!