After writing last month's post about No Limits on Screen-time I started thinking about how "no limits" isn't really an accurate description. Because there are times when our screen time is naturally limited - sleeping comes to mind immediately. (No, I'm not being facetious, I really mean that is a naturally occurring limit to screen time.) Another would be wanting to be certain places at certain times (although in our family we do tend to bring little screens with us in the car, so I guess this is a limit on the "Big TV".) Anyway, a better way of looking at our technology use is that we have lots of choices and try to support each other the best we can.
With that in mind I believe that the ideal situation in feeding my family is having lots of choices available and allowing individuals to decide what and when they eat (and usually where in our house.)
The two main challenges I've had to overcome in implementing this "ideal" are:
1) My background with food - I've never been that interested in cooking as a child or young adult. (<-- I guess I can't call myself that anymore?!?) My mom didn't enjoy cooking that much and it wasn't something we did together. We did LOTS of other things together and did eat a healthy diet (she was always great about having a vegetable at every dinner!) but we were also very busy. School (my mom was my math teacher in the 9th and 12th grades!), band, sports, and keeping up with the family business (golf course) were our main focuses. When I went to college I had a meal plan and rarely cooked. So I first started cooking at a very ripe age - in my 20s. I didn't REALLY become interested in food and cooking till AFTER having children. Starting a new interest when you have babies is probably the most challenging time to do so - because you don't have the time, energy, or mental resources to do so.
2) Societal expectations - We are mostly expected to control our children's "intake" in our culture. "Three more bites and then you can have dessert," and "No, you already had X lollipops, you may not have another," are common phrases in our culture. Children are praised for being "good eaters", "cleaning" their plates, or reminded of the "starving children in Africa" as if eating more will somehow help.
Other pressures are our ideas that eating poorly will negatively affect our kids' health - their teeth, their weight, children's diabetes is on the rise etc. I'm not arguing the truth of these trends. However, the fear of these things adds to an already controlling culture. We don't trust our kids to make the best choices for themselves - the same way we don't trust them to choose in regards to technology, sleep, and just about any other issue you can think of. I think this is the biggest challenge we face as a culture. Especially because there is so much food to choose from and we keep learning more about how our food is grown and raised affects us. It is easy to want to control everything that goes into our children's mouths - after all we want the best for them. But for me it is not worth sacrificing the trust in our relationship. So I work hard to push back against these societal expectations and pressures.
We've really both been on the same page about moving our family in healthier directions while not stressing ourselves or our kids too much, because that is just as important! We don't try to force our kids to eat foods but we do try to offer lots of options.
And now that I've acknowledged my partner in crime, here are the ways I've personally grown:
1) Focus on Myself: Because I believe that the best thing I can do is model healthy eating myself, I focus on MY diet instead of worrying what my kids are eating all the time. I eat healthier than I ever have, since having kids. When I was in college I went through a phase of focusing on "Strive for 5" (trying to get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day). Now I don't bother counting, but because I eat so many fruits and vegetables, I'm confident that I'm getting at least that many every day if not more. Green smoothies are a regular part of my diet since Mike bought a Vitamix for my birthday a couple of years ago. I'm also expanding my cooking repertoire slowly but surely - and enjoying it! Some things Mike and Marisol also eat, and some things only I eat.
2) Offering "Monkey Platters" to my kids: This is a popular term in unschooling circles, started by Sandra Dodd. Marisol calls it a "tray of food." They really eat a lot of healthy food when they are given choices in this appealing way. Last night Marisol ate a whole tray that included green beans, a cheese stick, strawberries, baby dill pickles, and celery with peanut butter. Gerry's go-to foods right now are strawberries and dill pickles too. He will also eat raw carrots sometimes.
3) Releasing (and Re-releasing) Fears: Feeding my kids has been a challenge for me - one that I didn't anticipate. (Although, now looking back I'm not sure what I thought - that somehow it would be easy even though I'd never spent much time thinking about food or cooking?) My daughter is kind of like the "poster child" for Unschooling. She does makes a lot of choices that jive with societal expectations of what is "healthy" so it's easy to give her a lot of freedom. My son on the other hand has a HUGE sweet tooth. So it is more difficult with him to let go, relax, and trust him. I mentioned above some of the healthy foods he eats regularly. The truth is he eats a lot of sweets and "processed" foods too. His main go-to dinners are out of a freezer box - we feed him fish sticks (the best quality ones money can buy!) almost every day. But he is healthy and happy and growing so those are the things that I work to focus on. Because he's really in a narrowing phase of foods I keep offering foods I know he likes and I trust he will start expanding his options when he is ready.
I feel like I could write a book about feeding my family! There will always be more learning and growing to do. One aspect that I didn't touch on here that deserves a whole post (or book?) unto itself is breastfeeding. My children's first food was probably the best I've made and the easiest. And it always has given me comfort knowing how much nourishment and comfort they've received through breastfeeding.
I loved looking at all the pictures we've taken of food we've made or eaten out at restaurants in the past year or so. Some things have become regular additions and others we've only made once or twice. But it all looks so yummy! I think this is a pretty good representation of where we are right now. I'd love to hear about your challenges and strengths when feeding your family!