There is no doubt about it, being a parent is one of the most rewarding – albeit challenging – roles you will ever have.
If you are anything like me, you started upping your efforts and prioritising your own health well before your pregnancy was confirmed. And once you saw those initial two lines on your pregnancy test, you then spent the subsequent months doing all that you could to remain healthy, minus the occasional indulgence (hey we’re all human!). Even through bouts of morning sickness or extreme fatigue, you worried about whether you were doing enough for your baby’s health. Am I right?
Then, since giving birth, your determination towards health shifted from yourself to your baby. Perhaps in the process, your own health took a back seat. Perhaps you still spend hours overthinking your family’s health or maybe you have been so caught up in the busy-ness of mum life you don’t even know where to start. Whilst I don’t know your exact situation, what I do know for sure is that as a parent there is nothing that you wouldn’t do for your child. So let’s start with helping them form a healthy relationship with food. Read on for my helpful hints.
Set up a healthy routine
Children thrive on routine. By setting up regular mealtimes throughout the day and eating in a relaxed family environment, you’re able to set a great example of a healthy routine. With the absence of distractions such as television or phones, it is also easier to encourage mindful eating and teach your children to tune into their own hunger cues.
Refrain from labelling food
Food is just food. There are foods that are ideal for eating every day and other foods that are better as an “on occasion” choice. When we remove the emotion from food and refrain from labelling them as “good” and “bad” we choose not to feed into the unhealthy diet mentality. This is important, as children are very impressionable. They can associate eating “bad” foods with negative emotions such as guilt or become obsessed with only eating “good” foods and tie this up with their self worth.
Heal your own relationship with food
Our children are constantly learning from us. They learn the good and the bad and hear and see not just what we say but also what we do. This doesn’t mean that you will eat healthy 100% of the time or that you need to be serving up nutritionally balanced meals 24/7. It just means to be mindful of your own food behaviours and do your best to lead by example.
Don’t make them finish their plate
Where possible allow your children to serve themselves and encourage them to try a small amount of everything on offer. If they don’t like something, try your best to remain calm and offer it again another day. Encourage your children to tune into their own intuition and eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.
Let go of using food as reward or punishment
When we put certain foods on a pedestal such as dessert or fast food, we are teaching children that this item is something to be sought after. Try to reward with items other than food such as an experience like going to the park or picking out a new story book.
Choose your words wisely
Refrain from talking about your body, their body or anyone else’s body in a negative manner in front of your children. If we are calling ourselves fat or telling someone else that they need to lose weight, it can give our children the impression that their self worth is tied to their weight.
Be patient with yourself and don’t strive for perfection
It’s not realistic to think that we’ll get it right all the time. So try your best to not let your mum (or dad) guilt get you down, as we are our own worst critics. A huge part of living a healthy life is maintaining meaningful social connections and this means celebrating birthdays with cake, going out for pizza or whatever it is that you and your circle love and enjoy. Laying the foundations for developing a healthy relationship with food means striving for balance and not perfection.
Words: Angelica-Hazel Toutounji
Angelica-Hazel is an degree qualified nutritionist at Natural Health by Angelica-Hazel. She is also the owner of an organic tea brand called Saha Botanica and a mama of two.