Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Talking to your kids about food (or how I got my 2 year old to want to eat a carrot instead of a cookie.)

Lately my daughter (who is 2 going on 15 going on 3) has been obsessed with defining who is a kid, who is a grown up and when she is going to "get big."

It is also Christmas and every which way we turn we are given more sugar laden sweets as gifts, treats and but it's Christmas indulgences. And when you're two, a dinner of cookies and those cute little pretzels with hershey kisses and m&m's stuck to them make a much more appealing dinner than anything healthy mom can whip up. So how do you explain to a toddler (is she even still a toddler-- maybe I should go with preschooler) why she can't have one more cookie.

I have always been a little stressed about how to handle talking to my daughter about things like food
and body image (Thank sweet baby Jesus we aren't there yet.) I have always struggled with food and weight and navigating that whole scene. I was the epitome of a yo-yo dieter. If it was out there I tried it. Not eating. Diet pills. Fruit and veggie fasts. Soup diets. Crazy stuff. That in retrospect was so hard on my body. (Even though all I cared about at the time was getting into a smaller pair of jeans.) I don't want to pass those issues onto my daughter. I try really hard to not ever say anything negative about myself in front of her, body image related or not. I try to frame everything in the positive. (And that can be really hard. Seriously. I didn't realize how mean I was to myself until I tried to stop. Just like I didn't realize how much dairy I ate until I tried to give it up--but that's another story.) I do want her to understand why it is important that we can't have chips for dinner. Or hotdogs all the time. Why she needs to eat something other than mac and cheese at every meal.  So how do I walk the fine line between making it a big deal and teaching her how to be her healthiest, strongest self? (Especially with all the lovely, shiny, sprinkle coated, calorie and sugar drenched treats everywhere.) Because balance is important. Health and wellness are important but balancing that out with a treat every once in a while is something I think is essential to making this a lifestyle and not another crash diet.

Now, I teach a youth bible study and coach high school cheerleading -- some of the sweetest (no pun intended) gifts I am given are those of the homemade variety. Homemade caramel corn, those yummy pretzel things, fudge, cookies, candy, chocolate covered pretzels.....So not only are these treats at parties, the mall, and all those awesome places outside the house but they are inside my house now too. Just not having it in the house is no longer an option. (And I feel guilty throwing it all least until it's stale.)

With all of these treats stashed at the very top of my kitchen shelves this is how our dinner
conversations have been going....

B come eat your dinner....

Ummm....No, I don't want dinner. I want a snack. 

But dinner is a big snack. Come have a big snack. I made broccoli and potatoes--and potatoes are like chips. Or french fries. You like those. 

No thank you. I want a cookie.

No you can't have a cookie. 

Yes. Cookie.

No you can't have a cookie. Cookies aren't dinner. 

PLEASE! (because yelling politely is always better than just yelling)

I said no. 

I went potty. Two marshmallows. 

No, no marshmallows. 

You can have a cookie or a marshmallow after you finish your dinner. 






Five bites. Please. (I do resort to begging. It is pathetic.)

And then if I am lucky (and remember to lock the dogs in the basement) I can get her to eat at least part of her dinner. Or she feeds it to the dogs when I run to the bathroom or to turn off the stove or do something I suddenly remembered as soon as I sat down.

Tonight she miraculously ate her dinner. All of it. Without major prompting. She wanted a treat and I indulged her since she did a great job and didn't really snack on any junk today. (In all honesty I probably have thrown her a parade, or busted into her hidden Christmas presents, or taken her to Disney World so a marshmallow seemed like I was getting off easy.) Then an hour later she wanted another treat. And then we had another conversation like the one above. Except this time I didn't yell. (A bona fide Christmas miracle right there.)

Instead I calmly listed her options. Carrots, clementines, banana, pomegranate seeds, almonds, cashews.....And of course she still wanted the cookies.

So we talked about how she wants to grow up to be big. And strong. And slay dragons (because everyone needs to be strong to slay a dragon). And that she can only do that if she eats food that is good for her, like fruits and veggies (and of course goes to bed every night and gets plenty of rest--without getting up and staying in her own bed.) That it is okay to have a treat sometimes but if we eat too many it can hurt her belly. Then we talk about what a fruit is and what is a vegetable and that they make great snacks because they help our body grow strong. I started getting out her play kitchen foods and asking her which was a fruit and which was a vegetable. We played. We organized (and I snuck some cleaning up in there too.)

I also remembered a song from the Disney Junior show Doc McStuffins (We are pretty fond of Doc right now--She is not as cool as dragons and the girls who slay them, enter Alice from the ABC show Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. No doubt that Doc would move up the coolness hierarchy if she had a sword.) But it's a song about eating good food and how it's good for your body. So we sang that.

And she wanted a carrot. (A big one, like a bunny. With the stems still attached.)

Then dogs each got a carrot. Which made carrots even cooler because they make the puppies grow big too.

I know there will be tougher roads ahead in navigating this conversation but I feel like laying the foundation now is important. That taking the time to explain to her why it is so important that we eat real food. I try really hard not to talk down to her and to give her explanations to what I can. Hopefully, this will help when the conversations get harder. (And are not solved with a bunny carrot.)

(The Eat Good Food Song is at 1:45 if you want to check it out. *Warning* it will get stuck in your head. Possibly for days. Proceed with caution.)

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