We are in the middle of the holy trinity of “food” holidays, with probably the biggest one this week – Thanksgiving. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving abundance and Christmas cookies can be a lot of fun. But they can also bring on a lot of stress.
I originally set out to write a “dos and don’ts” list regarding the holidays, kids and food. The further I dug into the topic, however, I realized it was a LOT to break down into a 500-word blog post.
Instead, I’m going to just ask you all – and this doesn’t just fall to the mommies, either – to think about how you talk about food with and in front of the kids in your life, especially around the holidays.
(Disclaimer: I am not a professional in regards to this topic. I’m just a mom of two young girls who has worked with college-aged women for two decades and has seen too many people suffer from eating disorders and poor body image. I’m trying to do better for my girls, but it’s a huge learning process.)
For too many people, these holidays are full of “traps” – sneaking “too much” Halloween candy, “stuffing” ourselves at Thanksgiving dinner, “overindulging” in the many Christmas treats. It can lead us to skip meals to “leave room” for the big meal of the holiday, or to feel badly because we didn’t work out enough to “work off” the food we ate, or sometimes to even skip holiday parties or events because we “can’t trust” ourselves around the food that will be there.
This is a lot to overcome for ourselves, but think about how your children hear those phrases. Do we want our kids to think of food as bad? This is a hard habit to change, but I’m trying really hard to talk to my girls about food as fuel for our bodies – which is admittedly easier from an athletic standpoint – and to teach them to have better awareness of how their tummies are filling up when they eat, because there’s a delay between eating the food and feeling it, and stomachaches aren’t fun!
It may seem a bit contradictory, but I think we also need to consider how we are talking about what people don’t eat. Sometimes that “picky eater” just feels uncomfortable at a large table of people, and calling attention to what they’re not eating makes them more anxious. Someone who isn’t eating a particular type of food may not be doing it to lose weight, but because that food causes health problems for them. I’m on a low-sodium diet to help control my Meniere’s Disease, and that did cause me to lose weight at first, but I cut back on sodium so I don’t end up with a case of violent vertigo, not because I want to “look good.” While we tend to respect that diabetics have to monitor their sugar intake, I have unfortunately seen that other dietary restrictions tend to get dismissed as some sort of weight-loss fad.
I think the best piece of advice I read was to focus on the connection the food and meals bring us, not the nutrition. We can share memories about the family member who made that traditional dish, instead of expressing hurt or disappointment that our child isn’t eating it. We can tell our kids how happy we are that we all get to be together for a meal, instead of focusing on what that meal is.
Regardless of what any of us eat or don’t eat, we get to gather around a table and share a connection. And that’s the most important thing about the holidays, especially this year.
(There are a lot of people who know a lot more about this than I do. If you’d like to check out some of the resources that helped me shape this blog, drop me an email or connect with me on Instagram!)