Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An education through eating: A multifaceted food battle.

If you haven’t already noticed, through my blogs, my FB page, my LinkedIn, twitter, etc. accounts, I feel very fortunate for everything I have and the wonderful things and people around me. Being a minimalist and an environmentalist has opened the doors and my eyes to so many things. To me it is so natural-but I know to others, this natural flow and transition is not. This was not a change in me that came over night, but one that came in pieces over the course of years since about 2005.
I have never been small, but I also have never been heavy. Under all circumstances, other than pregnancy, I have always been within the parameters of "healthy weight and BMI." But even that to me has been a struggle. Between loving to eat and self-image issues and being muscular due to sports and training season "bulk up,” it always bothered me, to this day it still does sometimes.
I however, refuse to blame it on Hollywood or Barbie or what have you. It is my choice to let affect me what does, and if it does, it is my choice to help myself, by either removing myself from the stimuli, change thought pattern, of seeking the help of a professional. They have just as much right to market a product as I do to ignore or acknowledge its existence. Responsibility, as an adult, is mine alone.

I also have some scholarly background in this area, so I am better able to pull the emotion out and look at things from definitive perspectives only. I can differentiate the two and detach from the feelings sector. I also have two girls. They too will come to battle their self-image in some way, at some point. I have learned much along the way, and am trying to help them where I can, and where I am competing, is with the unknown. I do not know what they are being told in school, how much the connotations of skinny and obese resonate in their minds, what images appeal to them, which they are indifferent to, and which affect the whole of their being. SO as a mother, who worries, I go about this simply. I cannot stop them from eating, but I can teach them how and what to eat and the reasons behind it.

Below is a statistic, and my first article on food and education.
*Two out of three adults and half of children either overweight or obese this stat from both Center for Science in the Public Interest and Brookings Institution.*

What eating should be about.

(This paragraph is from the article above.)
You should not ever eat because you are bored. Boredom includes your hands for those that “need” to eat while in front of the TV or a snack in the car on the way somewhere. Eating should be about nourishment, and about one learning the signals their body emits when they begin to need replenishment. Sometimes children will come up to me, or their parent that I am in the presence of and say they are hungry only about 30-45 min after I know they just ate…..And I say to them are you really hungry or are you bored. With what you ate only a little while ago you should not be hungry. So find something to do or I will find something for you to do. My children of course know better- because when they tell me they are hungry, I ask if they are bored…if they tell me they are bored they get to do chores “for fun”. I have punished and reinforced that over the last few years to the point I think they got it now. If you eat when you are bored, you never allow yourself to get hungry. If you do not get hungry you never learn the signals your body gives off. You would never know if you have eaten too little, too much, or the correct amount. This can be detrimental to an adults health, and this can forever affect the development and growth of a child. IF your hand habitually tend for your mouth in front of the TV, learn to knit. Or better yet go read a book instead.
(End of paragraph)

Our story:
So what my kids and I do, which brings out the geeky Socio/antho side of me, is we "try foods." Back when I was married and had cable TV I would watch food network and PBS cooking shows. They came up with awesomely plated, beautiful edible art. Iron Chef America was probably hands down the favorite among me and my girlies. So then, next grocery store trip we would buy and find things-"the secret ingredient," My eldest would time me, and I would have to make 5 dishes/sides for dinner. We would turn on the stove timer and her and her sister would go play in the bedroom. When that time went off she would come flying around the corner to judge them, her dad would come home shortly thereafter and we would eat.  This taught the visual aspect. Food as an art.

Sometimes it was a lesson in chemistry and home Ec.

Baking with my kids was always amusing, because anyone who knows me knows I can cook, but I cannot bake. Baking is a science where the ingredients are not added to taste and they MUST be nearly perfect to get good results. I messed up on so many loaves of bread and various cakes and cookies that I enlisted the help of my anal retentive perfectionist child. She, when adding flour, if the cup did not measure perfect, she dumped it out and tried again. Baking too longer, but it was
good and perfect. And I bought a breadman. They add the ingredients, once the dough is ready I take it out and let it rise for an hour or two in bread pans and we bake them...... homemade bread which lasts about 3 days maybe before it is devoured, and I know all of the ingredients my kids are ingesting. If they should not want the ends or we have new bread before the loaf is finished I will make bread crumbs and croutons with the harder ends. Nothing wasted; I know the ingredients once more.

A lesson in science:
Do you remember back in preschool or early education classes when you planted the bean seeds in the paper towel in a cup and got to watch them grow? The roots, the shaft, the stem, the actual plant?
I love to garden. My children and I planted herbs and green onion on the window sill of our apartment. They love to watch them grow and change and the pick and eat them....basil and green onion they just snack on like little rabbits. But this serves as a science lesson in botany, in the importance of watering living things, and photosynthesis and its results.

A social and cultural lesson.
My children and I go out to eat probably once a week, if not more. But it is not to fast food places. Eating must, in my eyes serve a purpose. Conversation, family bonding, nourishment, experience, etc. So we typically go to local ethnic restaurants. Going to ethnic restaurants allows you in to a culture, custom, eating habit, and varying palette. These foods can take on different fine motor skills, as in the use of chopsticks, sharing of food, like tapas style, a visual show of food, like hibachi, and just food as a textured art, like sushi. Sometimes my children and I at home will eat whatever our meal is with chopsticks because they teach and perfect develop fine motor skills and hand eye coordination while allowing you to eat slower and realize you are full before you are stuffed.
Typically when venturing out to a new restaurant, we split a few items among the three of us. And going in to it we know there is a possibility one or all three of us may not like it, but the experience is there. We look at the names of the items, ask for the correct pronunciation, and ask if there are ethnically proper ways of eating. This decreases their ethnocentric tendencies and allows for the mastery of please and thank you, chewing with their mouth closed, and global customs allowed at various tables. This becomes a lesson for the three of us, while we are being nourished physically; we are being nourished mentally as well. We are communicating, bonding, creating memories, and learning, while appreciating and enjoying each other’s company.

So, while I cannot control what it is they eat, I can control what they are eating, when they are eating, and put the focus on the food and reasons for it, not on whether or not you are skinny or obese. We as parents need to change our focus. We need food to live, but we should not live for food. If we change this emphasis, if we change the center focus of the argument, we no longer are asking the children to look at the surface body image of another to gage ourselves against. These hyper focus topics cause tunnel vision and distract from all the parts that made up the result. We no longer make them question what is healthy, what is desirable, if they have what it takes, or look a certain way to fit in. I can leave food about the food alone. And tackle image issues as just what they are, fickle and ever-changing with the newest trends, hormonal, and on the outside, when it is what is on the inside that matters more.

A Tip for Parents:

Do not ever, under any circumstance use food as a reward, a bribe, a comfort, etc.  Linking food to emotions, good or bad, makes food the comparible crutch drug addicts and alchoholics use and need to get by to normalicy.

This does not mean that a family event surrounded by food, (like a holiday or other celebration) will wreck the child.  The gathering is about the theme of the gathering and being with family creating memories- being fed is just an added bonus. 

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