We just got back from Spring Break – a week at the beach with 2 other families (total of 6 adults and 7 kids in one house). It’s interesting to travel with other families – everybody sort of adapts their parenting styles to fit one another. Nobody wants to be the parent saying “no” to what the other kids are doing, or on the other hand, letting their kid do something the other parents are clearly disapproving of. For the most part though, it seems that everybody eases up on the rules a bit (it’s vacation, after all!).
This trend applies to eating and snacking habits as well. We plan meals as a group – factoring in what the majority of the kids will or won’t eat, so no one is asked to eat anything too challenging or unusual. And any rules about snacking kind of go out the window. The adults are snacking more freely, so it’s only fair that the kids are too.
After a few days (or hours), the kids pick up on their new reality and it kind of becomes a free for all. The snacks are readily available, and the naive hope that my kids will make good choices in the face of their new-found freedom is quickly dashed. But I don’t necessarily make great food choices on vacation either, and I can’t expect them to have more self control than I do!
And yet, for some reason I still find myself trying to limit the snacking a little. And I have no idea why! Normally, I limit junk snacking (crackers, cookies, gummies, etc) because I want them to be hungry for the healthier food I will serve at meal times. But for the most part, they weren’t eating particularly healthy meals on vacation anyway (hot dogs and hamburgers at the house, kids menu items when out). So why do I really care if they fill up on junk?
I think it’s habit more than anything else. At home, when my kids ask for a snack an hour before dinner, I say “no.” I don’t even have to think about it. So, when I see them grabbing their fourth pack of gummies at 5:30 pm, my autopilot parenting kicks in and I hear myself saying, “Seriously? You don’t need that right now.” I don’t even think about these words until – like a parent yelling at their kid in the grocery store – I realize I now have an audience beyond my kids. This makes me consider, maybe for the first time, how my snack shaming might be perceived.
Do I sound like some weight-crazed mom, counting her six year old’s calories? I’m horrified by the thought of my friends seeing me this way. But then I have an even worse thought – what if that’s what my kids think of me? Is it possible that they think I’m monitoring their snacking because I care about how they look?
The absolute last thing I want to do is make my kids feel like I’m worried about their weight. I really don’t even want them to think about their weight in terms of what they eat. Yes, I want them to connect healthy food with feeling fast and strong and energized, but right or wrong, I’ve been trying to avoid the idea that certain foods make you “fat.” In fact, I’ve been trying to avoid “fat” as a concept at all. I don’t even use the word fat! I’d rather have my kids hear me say the other offensive f-word than hear me say the word “fat.”
Maybe it’s naive, but I’m hoping they see bodies as different, sure, but not “wrong” or “right.” I’m sure the culture we live in will teach them that idea eventually (if it hasn’t already), but I don’t want them to think that I see bodies that way.
And now is the moment, where I remind you that despite the topic of most of my writing here, I am not an expert on feeding kids. I’m not an expert on nutrition and I’m definitely not an expert on helping kids develop healthy attitudes about food. Sure, my kids are what most parents would consider pretty good eaters, but who knows what eating disorders lie in their futures? (I realize I said that lightly, but it is a very legitimate fear of mine – for reasons we don’t have time to explore today.)
Anyway, all this to say, spending the week with other kids and families, with snacks free flowing, made me realize I may need to rethink my current snacking strategy – which has always been very time based. I scheduled feedings from the time they were newborns and just kind of stuck to that schedule – even as what I offer them to eat has changed considerably!
But I don’t have a schedule for my own snacks. Some days I’m hungrier than I want to eat for a reason other than hunger – so of course, my kids will too. And if I keep controlling when and what they eat, how will they ever learn to choose for themselves?
I’m not exactly sure what that means for us, but add it to the list of things I’m working on. And if you have any suggestions or thoughts on the topic, please share!
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