“How am I going to keep my kids out of the pantry?!” She lamented. “I’m going to have to put a lock on the fridge”
I’m not an expert in many things, but this much, I can tell you… putting lock-down on food in your house, during times of high stress, is only going backfire in unexpected ways.
Your kids, whatever age they are, get that the world as we know it has changed. And while locking the fridge seems like it’s going to solve one problem it’s going to cause a whole lot more anxiousness and fear in them than is already present.
That’s because humans are hard-wired to go into fight or flight mode when food is scarce. The sneaking and begging and whining, isn’t them being ‘naughty’ or bad, it’s them displaying the very human response to scarcity; fight or flight. They’re fighting.
It’s awful but fortunately, so avoidable.
Now, I’m not suggesting you have no boundaries at all when it comes to the pantry. You are the parent and need to choose what goes on the table, enforce appropriate manners (if you’re eating, is it at the table, sitting down?), and let everyone know when mealtimes will be.
Here are some suggestions I encourage you to take, that will remove the stress out of food in your household:
- Make sure they know there will be plenty of food the whole time you’re doing physical distancing.
Let your kids know that no one is going to go hungry. Reassure them that when you put a meal on the table, they can eat as much of it as they want. It can help to have something on the table that feels comforting and easy to eat. If they only choose to eat the comforting food, allow them to. Remember nutrition is a long game. The more they are allowed to trust their own body, the more likely they are to eat nutritious food as teenagers and adults, and the less likely they are to keep ‘topping themselves up’ between meals.
- Give them choices.
If for example you only have one tub of ice-cream to last the week, get them to help make choices about it. “Shall we eat it all tonight but have no ice-cream for the rest of the week, or shall we space it out?” Once kids understand that they can freely choose, and be aware of the consequences of those choices, it gives them a sense of responsibility and freedom. Feeling free calms down our biological need to fight.
- Use neutral labels.
Please, if there is one thing you can do that will make a big difference it’s this. Stop calling food good/bad, healthy/unhealthy. Kids under the age of 12 are black and white thinkers. If they love a food that we call ‘bad’ – they can start thinking they are bad. Kids can imagine they are unhealthy if they eat ‘unhealthy’ food. This can set up unhealthy psychological issues that can be very hard to break. Besides, what is considered healthy and unhealthy is a nuanced and highly debated science. Context is often more important than the food itself. If I’ve already eaten ten carrots, eating one more is an unhealthy choice. If everyone is enjoying chocolate cake, joining the community spirit and enjoying the pleasure is a healthy choice.
Instead of saying “have an apple, it’s good for you” instead simply say “have an apple, that’s what’s for afternoon tea – dinner is in an hour”.
- Provide as wide a variety as you can.
Even if a child only chooses the comfort food, seeing you eat a variety of different foods sets up the idea that as they mature, that’s what they will do too. You don’t have to explain this to them, they will notice and as they grow, they’ll naturally gravitate towards more variety.
- Allow them to serve themselves
Put all the dishes on the table and get them to dish up what they want. This increases their sense of freedom and responsibility.
You might see some challenging and unsettling eating behaviour from your little people during this time of lockdown. Their world has changed and they are trying to make sense of it. So many of the health and wellbeing rules out there lead to more stress, not less. You can decide to go against some of those rules and instead act with calm, confidence and compassion.
Try to keep a simple, predictable and consistent daily mealtime rhythm. Don’t fret about their daily nutritional intact (more to come on that next month) and remember that your child is almost never trying to “drive you nuts” when it comes to food they are almost always “responding to their biology”.
Please reach out any time if you need any extra support! I am always happy to help
You’ve 100% got this!
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