I’ve never really been one who cares much about New Year’s resolutions, particularly because diet culture has hijacked the new year with propaganda about weight loss agendas.
However, one thing I love about transitioning to a new year is the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned, how far we’ve come as a family, as things I want to carry into the new year.
The truth is, we’re always learning, aren’t we?
And our experiences shape us into who we are and the people we are becoming. Nowhere is this more true and important than with parenting and in building freedom in your own relationship with food and your body.
The motherhood journey is a sacred one, and I continue to find myself refined by the lessons I’m learning day in and out around how I parent my children and what they are teaching me about myself.
Because feeding our children is such an integral part of parenting and how we engage with our kids, there are so many things we can learn from this alone – both about ourselves and our relationship with food.
Even as a dietitian mother myself, I am constantly seeing things from a new perspective when it comes to building a trusting feeding relationship with my children, which is an extension of intentional and positive parenting in itself.
It is from this perspective that I hope to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this last year, with the desire to encourage you on your own journey in feeding and parenting your children.
Because the reality is raising children and positive parenting is HARD work. We’ve been more isolated from community more than ever before, and I want you to know that you’re not alone on your journey.
Especially when it comes to raising intuitive eaters who have a positive relationship with food and their bodies and ending the legacy of diet culture, I hope to offer you the resources you need to support your family in a meaningful way.
Finding Healing Through Challenging Seasons
The time since the pandemic has been especially challenging, as I know you understand. I mean, that is the understatement of the year, isn’t it?
And I know you’re likely facing many more situations that have made life difficult on so many levels. I just want you to know that I understand and I’m right there with you.
During the summer of 2021, I received a phone call that nobody ever wants to get. I lost my father unexpectedly in a tragic way, and our family was instantly plunged into the depths of grief.
My dad was the rock of our family, and in addition to being an exceptional father, he was the most wonderful grandfather to my children. It’s been a devastating loss, one that I know we’ll continue to navigate through for the rest of our lives.
As you may have also experienced, losing someone you love has the capacity to shift your life in an instant. The things that used to matter don’t mean so much anymore.
It’s like having a filter to weed out the things that are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It’s been a process of learning to let go of lesser things to hold space for those relationships and experiences that mean the most in the course of a lifetime.
This experience has been monumental in shifting so much of my own perspective about what it means to feed a family during grief, to continue to nurture and care for my own mental health, and reshape the priorities that mean the most.
I want to glean what I’ve learned, even from the hard experiences of our lifetime, because I believe that’s the only way we can really grow and heal and move through the challenging aspects of life.
As a mother who has recovered from an eating disorder and who is no stranger to mental illness, I’m continually learning how to care for myself under the ever changing landscape that is motherhood.
And that is the intention of this reflection, really. To pause long enough to reflect back on what I learned, what was helpful to me, and what is no longer serving me that I want to leave behind.
I’m choosing to share this publicly because:
1) I want you to know that you’re not alone.
No matter what your journey has looked like, you’re not navigating the challenges you face by yourself.
In many ways, we’re experiencing a deeper level of grief collectively as we continue to wade through the wake of the pandemic and all its destruction.
I believe when someone gives voice to their pains, it gives others permission to do the same. It holds a space for the hard stuff and gives heed to the more difficult and delicate parts of life that need extra, loving care.
2) If anything I’ve learned can be helpful to someone else, then it’s all been worth it, in my humble opinion.
I’m not somehow claiming to have all things figured out by any means. However, if I can help you by sharing what I’m learning on my journey to make your life a little easier, I truly can’t ask for anything better.
While 2021 has been a heavy year for me filled with unexpected twists and turns, there are nuggets of wisdom I’ve been able to pick up along the way. Allow me to share some of these with you below, my friend:
Lessons About Feeding Kids and Food Freedom
It’s Time to Reimagine the Family Meal:
We can get so hung up on the minutiae of a family meal or what it should look like to feed our family that we miss the big picture. And I get it, we just want to do things right.
We want our kids to be well-mannered and try eating different foods. We want everyone to sit together at the table and eat the same thing.
All of those things are worthwhile things to pursue, unless they’re coming at the expense of your family’s sense of connectedness – which happens more often than you think.
Because when you’re in survival mode, it strips it down to the bare bones and gives more clarity and insight into what matters most, not just with life, but in the day-to-day things, like feeding our kids and actually sitting together to eat.
In the time before my father’s death, we sat at the dinner table to eat most meals as a family. We cooked at home. We made homemade meals more often than not. We had a pretty steady rhythm around food until the rug was abruptly pulled out beneath us.
Suddenly, with so many different things competing for my attention and underneath the umbrella of grief, what felt so second-nature (eating and having family meals) became strenuous and taxing.
What I’ve learned especially in those moments is that the what of what you’re actually eating and the how of how you’re eating actually matter far less and pale in comparison to the why of gathering your family together around food.
Some nights, all we could muster was picking up fast food and eating it together in the car, and that is what was required to make sure everyone stayed nourished for the day.
Family meals are not about cooking your food a certain way or following prescriptive rules for gathering in order to “make it count”.
You can be eating over your kitchen countertop, sitting on a blanket on the floor with your kids or eating in your car. There is no superior way to feed yourself and your family, and whatever you can manage in the season you’re in – especially if it’s a tougher season of loss, illness or change, is okay.
What’s important for keeping family meals centered around connection is understanding what you and your family members have capacity for, including your kids and setting aside any expectations for how you think things should be in order to better meet your needs.
This helps take off any unnecessary pressure, guilt and stress, and allows family meals to be a source of joy, not a burden.
2. Connection over correction every time:
To piggyback on the last point, how you engage as a family during meals matters.
We might feel inclined to get our kids to eat in a certain way or to eat certain foods or amounts, because that’s what diet culture says is the most important aspect about raising a healthy child.
Especially under stressful situations where we feel like everything is out of our control, we might grapple toward anything tangible that we feel like we have some semblance of control over. Micromanaging how our kids eat can offer this false sense of control.
However, these things actually matter very little in the grand scheme of raising healthy children and in actually enjoying mealtimes as a family.
If you’re finding yourself hyper focused on how your child is eating or what they’re choosing to eat from the foods you’ve provided, and if that is deterring you from actually connecting with your kids over mealtimes, try to take a step back and focus on the bigger picture.
At the end of the day, mealtimes can be a real opportunity to nurture the connection between us and our children and to support them in building a positive relationship with food and their bodies.
But this won’t be possible if we’re trying to micromanage them and how they eat, which will deter them from learning critical skills necessary for building positive associations with food.
This will strip you from actually enjoying your kids at mealtimes too.
Especially if you’ve had a long day or if your family is going through a difficult season of life, focusing on connecting with your family over food at meals versus correcting your kids to eat in alignment with your own expectations is fundamental for bringing more joy into your home.
For more support with this, be sure to check out this post here: “Healthy Eating For Picky Eaters Starts With Connection Over Nutrition”
3. Mealtime burnout is real:
The rhythm of having to constantly feed your children, plan out meals, and run through this whole process and everything it entails, day after day, is exhausting.
The pandemic has certainly escalated this responsibility that families bear, and it’s no question that mealtimes come with a heavy mental load.
It’s constantly thinking about what you’re going to eat and feed your kids, taking inventory of the groceries you have and getting the food you need, ordering groceries or going grocery shopping, dealing with food refusal and endless kids’ requests, and actually preparing a meal and cleaning up afterward.
It makes me tired just writing it out. And thinking that you’re constantly doing this day after day in some aspect of your parenting.
When you’re plunged into a difficult situation, maintaining this mental load of mealtimes can become even more challenging, especially when your capacity has become quite limited.
It’s important to recognize that and understand you can’t feasibly maintain all these tasks without burning out in some shape or form.
You don’t want burnout to then prevent you from being able to feed yourself and your family, especially during those times where you need more support as a family.
Having some accessible options to help you continue to stay fed can mitigate some of the mealtime mental load so you can prioritize taking care of yourself, your family, and your own mental health and sanity.
I know for me and my family as we went through grief, this looked like eating a lot of cereal and frozen pizzas because that was just the easiest option at the time that required minimal preparation and clean-up afterward.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations to maintain the juggle of what goes into mealtimes helped alleviate this mental load of feeding a family, giving myself permission to channel that energy into caring for our family as best I could under the circumstances.
If you need more help with this, be sure to check out this post here: “Meal Plan: How to Deal With the Mental Burnout of Feeding Your Family”
4. Feeding is learning:
As parents, I think there’s this constant pressure of what we need to teach our children and how we need to help them build their skills. We want to raise healthy and competent children, and there’s so many expectations of what this should look like.
Don’t get me wrong – we definitely have those responsibilities as parents. But sometimes, it’s easy to get so caught up in this that we forget about what we’re learning in the process, too.
There’s also an expectation that we need to show up perfectly in order to help our children as best as possible, but I believe this is a fallacy around parenting (and especially feeding kids) that is hurting us as parents and the positive impact we can have on our kids.
At the end of the day, our kids don’t need a perfect parent. Quite frankly, that doesn’t even exist, so give yourself permission to release yourself from this unrealistic expectation.
I believe our kids need us to show up as we are, without hiding behind a facade. When we show up in all our humanness, we give our children permission to do the same: to make mistakes and learn from them, to have the safe space to sit in big feelings – like grief, sadness and frustration.
Our children can be our best teachers if we’re open to learning from them and understanding more about ourselves in the process, especially when it comes to feeding them.
This is definitely true in our feeding relationships with our kids. We don’t have to do anything “perfectly”. Again, any type of arbitrary rules are rooted in diet culture and robbing us of the deeper ability to connect with our children in a meaningful way, especially through our feeding interactions.
How we engage with our children around food can give us so much more insight into ourselves and our own relationships with food and our bodies. There’s much to glean from our reactions to our kids and how they eat that can help us to continue to grow in our own ways.
Food and mealtimes don’t need to be perfect in order for our children to learn and build a positive relationship with food, and I think as we experienced grief together as a family, this concept was really cemented into me.
Even on the days where I could only muster to put a frozen pizza in the oven and serve it with cut up fruit, it still was an opportunity to connect as a family and a learning experience for myself and my children.
On the days that I felt like I had very little to give to them or when it took every ounce of my energy to simply show up, I had to give myself permission to be present with them exactly where I was, not as I thought I “should be”.
Through my multiple feeding interactions with my kids, I’ve found that I’m learning more about myself, especially under difficult circumstances, and learning about myself gives me opportunities to heal those deeper layers that I didn’t know even existed.
Give yourself permission to not have it all figured out. Show up anyway. The learning never ends. And you might find out something about yourself in the process.
5. Cake for breakfast is always a good idea:
In the weeks that followed my dad’s passing, some dear friends sent our family a decadent chocolate cake.
It was the most unexpected surprise that truly blessed our family in the best way.
I was completely tapped out, in regards to actually planning and preparing meals, with grief being so all-consuming. And with cake being something that we typically eat on special occasions, it brought a sense of joy back into our home. It momentarily alleviated some of the pain we were feeling through the pleasure that should be part of eating foods we love and enjoy.
We get to have cake? And it’s not even someone’s birthday?
It’s like I had forgotten how the simplest of gestures could lighten our family’s load, all through a food that we connected around and shared with so much joy.
We had chocolate cake with dinner that night, for breakfast the next day and again at lunchtime.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t somebody’s birthday or that we were in a season of mourning.
We ate and shared it together because it tasted delicious and was something we all enjoyed – even multiple times a day with meals and snacks because it was available for eating.
It helped break up the boring repertoire of our survival meals and brought our family so much delight during a difficult time. If I had bowed down to societal expectations around feeding kids or following arbitrary food rules about how much sugar I should allow my kids to eat in a day, we would’ve missed out on the joy that should be part of eating together as a family.
To me, that is part of experiencing food freedom as a family – having the flexibility to enjoy moments that matter most (and not allowing them to be overshadowed by food rules), and allowing the food you eat to add to your joy and togetherness as a family. Even during a season of grief and loss, this was still possible, and that brought me so much hope and gratitude.
Having freedom in your relationship with food and being able to share that with your family means that eating and feeding is deeply connecting and nurturing on multiple levels, an anchoring sense of pleasure and joy – even during the most painful moments we’ll encounter during our lifetimes.
My hope is that you can experience this with your family, and that a peaceful relationship with food can be a strong foundation for you that helps you weather any season along your journey.
I hope this gives you some encouragement on your own journey, wherever that may be, and please know, you’re never alone. If you have any thoughts or questions about anything I’ve shared, please feel free to leave them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!