Navigating feeding your children is hard work. Finding a balance to what they eat can feel even more daunting. Here is what I know – your children have an innate ability to listen to their bodies. When you trust them they know exactly what and how much they need. Yes, they are quite capable of listening to their bodies and eating what is right for them, this includes foods which are classically deemed as “junk food.”
Let me set the record straight, I strongly dislike the term “junk food.” Junk food implies that these foods are lesser than, bad or unhealthy compared to other foods. Demonizing these foods for yourself or your children can have a lasting negative impact on their relationship with these foods. From research we know this will cause them to feel a sense of fear, guilt and shame around these foods.
I challenge you as parents – always lead with trust versus control. You can try and even sometimes “succeed” at trying to control what your children eat. However, what happens when they are old enough to go to a friend’s house, sneak money to buy snacks at school, or are out on their own (think college or first apartment)? What happens when you can’t control what they eat anymore? Have you taught them the skills to listen to their bodies?
Take this scenario – your child(ren) go for a play date to a friend’s house. The mom puts a variety of food on the table to include cookies. How will your child respond? Will they frantically grab for the cookies in an effort to “get enough” of them because they don’t know when they will come around again? Will they devour all the cookies and reject the other food on the table because they don’t have cookies often? Or will your child take a cookie, eat it, eat the other food, and move on?
In the first two scenarios it can show a child struggling with “getting enough” of these foods. When a child has a fear of not getting enough of them, they will feel panicked and preoccupied with them.
With all that being said, I highly recommend when deciding on serving dessert type foods, look past the small picture of what you are serving and rather to how this will help your children to have a good relationship with all foods.
If this appeals to you, I would recommend:
Start By Serving These Foods Regularly
It really begins with your child knowing they have unconditional permission to have these foods. As the parent, give them permission by serving them regularly. What does regularly mean? It will be different for every household, but there are no hard and fast rules with how often to serve them – it’s about being flexible. There may be days your child has more than one (think birthday parties, holidays, family outings, etc…). There also may be days that they don’t have any.
A child that knows that these foods come often are much more likely to be relaxed around eating them. Serve them enough that your child does feels relaxed around them.
Experiment with Serving them with Meals
Children benefit from learning that all foods are good to eat. If a child can look at all foods on an even playing field with no food bias, they will eat these foods and move on easily. If you are struggling with thinking this way, check out my blog post on Why Making Peace with Your Body and Food is Important for Your Children. The best way to do that is to serve them with a meal AND allow them to eat them in any order they want.
This is the recommendation my clients resist the most, but when they finally get the courage they tell me it’s the best thing they ever implemented. Yes, at first your children will dive right into the dessert and devour it, however, the more often you do it the more relaxed they will be.
Let me share my M&M experience with you. Every Sunday we go to my parents house for dinner – my mom has fun sized bags of M&Ms in a candy dish by the front door. Around 18 months old, my daughter realized these treasures that her grandmother had. She would grab a package of them every Sunday; I requested she put them on the table to have with dinner. At first she ate every morsel of them before she ate her dinner, but as time went on she started eating dinner first -or- would go back and forth between the dinner and M&Ms. One day she put them on the table, but never even opened the package. Now she rarely even requests them. Does she still like M&Ms, yup, however, she knows she can have them whenever she wants so she isn’t concerned with them.
Be Flexible with How You Serve Them
Experiment with how you serve them. Serve them with meals, serve them with snacks. Try serving in unlimited amounts and sometimes just a smaller serving with other foods to fill up on. Remember your children will do best when they feel they are getting these types of foods enough – what classifies as enough for them may be different from day to day. Truly listening to your child and teaching them to listen to their bodies is very important.
I’d be naive to not realize that this will bring up a lot feelings for some of you. Dessert or “Junk Food” have gotten a really bad rap in our society today. However, food is just food – teaching your children to learn to manage all foods will help them to have the best chance of having a good relationship with them!
If you are struggling with these thoughts – check out my Intuitive Eating Mastermind. It starts on May 6th and includes 6 sessions via video conferencing (dates and times in the link).
This is what one of my participants just wrote to me, “I think one of the messages that has been really helpful for me is the thought of “normal” eating. As I’ve tried to be better about not beating myself up for eating junky food, I realized that I’m also not getting as worried about my daughter. The other day, I found almond milk chocolate pudding in the store and bought it. When I told my daughter that I had found pudding that she could have, she was so excited. She had one and loved it. She asked for another one. Prior to this program, I would have said no. Instead, I thought to myself ‘If I was getting to have a food for the first time, I’d want to have more too so I gave it her. She enjoyed it and then that was it. She didn’t ask for any the next day. It was just a fun moment that didn’t end with a push and pull over food.”