Got a family to feed?
Sometimes, in our quest to raise kids who have a positive relationship with food, we fall into unrealistic expectations for ourselves or our kids.
The diet culture we want so badly to break away from can sometimes show up in the form of rules when it comes to feeding our families.
We can create rigidity or unconscious rules about how we feed our kids, giving ourselves no flexibility to be human. But this construct very much comes from diet culture. It’s not about rules or picture perfect meals or always serving veggies or fruit at every meal.
Feeding Families During Times of Stress
Feeding is more than a transaction, it’s a relationship.
As an example, over the past month our family has been navigating the loss of a loved one. To say this past month has been hard would be an understatement. Grief has a way of pulling the rug from beneath your feet, and everything you knew about the world has instantly changed.
We went from having regular meals and snacks, cooking and eating mostly at home and having routine trips to the grocery store to relying on take-out, grazing throughout the day on whatever foods we could pander from the pantry, and leaning on the generosity of friends and family who helped bring us meals.
Any semblance of a meal schedule we had suddenly went out the window. Basic things like grocery shopping felt overwhelming , and cooking actual meals? The will and desire was gone, too. Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes, but during this heavy season of grief, it lost its joy and luster. It became something I was dreading instead of a time in my day I was looking forward to.
But even with all the changes we experienced around eating as a family in this season of grief, we also found the unexpected gift of connectedness over food. Eating together, no matter how messy it might’ve looked, was how we were finding our way back to each other through food.
While we’ve slowly gotten back to a rhythm around food and eating, going through this reminded me of how much pressure we put on ourselves as parents. How much we feel like we have to conform to a certain standard when it comes to feeding our children. And when we can’t live up to our expectations because of outside circumstances, we can start to feel like failures.
Adjusting Expectations to Feed Your Family
When feeding your children rests on unrealistic outcomes – such as getting them to eat certain foods or amounts, feeding your family can become frustrating when those outcomes feel impossible to attain. And there’s nothing like unexpected life challenges that can disrupt our hidden agendas and reveal the foundations we’re standing on.
When we are walking through grief, mental or physical illness or surviving a worldwide pandemic, food or feeding your kids might not look the way you hoped. You might feel guilty or even shame yourself unnecessarily for eating cereal for dinner or picking up fast food on the way home. Maybe the mental effort of sitting with your kids at mealtime becomes too much. Maybe you’re tired of the mealtime battles with the picky eaters in your home or don’t have enough mental space to plan out another meal or grocery shop. Wherever you’re at is OKAY.
This is where it’s important to stay focused on the big picture.
Because at the end of the day, what matters most is not what your kids ate or that you scheduled structured meals and snacks. What matters most is the connection between you and your children, that relationship that’s growing and flourishing.
Even if you ate cereal together for dinner or picked up fast-food for the 3rd night in a row, if you managed to connect with your children over food in a positive way, you’re succeeding in the areas that matter most.
Keep this in mind when life throws you for a loop or you feel off track.
Inevitably, things will come up that disrupt your plans or agendas, but don’t let it get you off course or make you lose your way toward the things that matter most for your family. The last thing you need is more stress around food and how you’re feeding your kids. The reality is that stress is far worse for your health than anything you or your family could possibly eat.
If you find yourself in a rut or are going through a rough patch, and feeding yourself and your family feels like too much to bear, keep these tips in mind. And please remember, you’re not alone:
Go back to basics:
All food counts as nourishment, and if you’re going through a tough time in your life, the last thing you need is added stress about what to eat or feed your children.
Don’t forget that all the convenience foods out there that diet culture gives a bad rap can actually help play a pivotal role in keeping you and your family fed. Things like processed foods, frozen foods, foods in cans, etc. can help you put together a delicious meal for your family, especially when you have very little mental energy to do so.
Recently, I fumbled upon several cans of chicken soup in our pantry and was so grateful I could use them to put together a comforting meal for my family after an emotionally exhausting day.
Throw out those expectations of what you think your food needs to be and use what you have available to feed yourself and your family as best you can. There’s no wrong way to eat, and relying on basic foods can be a great way to fill in the gaps when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
2. Ditch the guilt:
To piggyback on the last point, don’t allow guilt to interfere with your ability to feed yourself and your family. Food guilt is diet culture’s best friend – they go hand in hand together.
Food guilt is often the result of underlying rules around food, and breaking a rule makes you feel like you’ve messed up or done something wrong.
Remember – food is not a moral issue.
It doesn’t have the power to make you a “good” or “bad” person. It doesn’t have the ability to characterize your capacity as a person or a parent – unless you allow it to.
The best way to counter food guilt is to continually give yourself permission to eat. Practice gratitude over the food you have available to you and the opportunity to nourish yourself and your family – however this might look like.
Food guilt only compounds stress and anxiety, and if you’re going through an overwhelming time in your life, this is the last thing you need on your plate. Don’t let food guilt take over your precious mental space and emotional energy.
3. Ask for help where you can:
Sometimes I don’t think we realize how much thought and energy goes into feeding ourselves and our families. Feeding kids alone is a full time job, something we need to think and do multiple times a day for YEARS on end.
So if feeding your family is feeling overwhelming, you’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you.
This task alone demands a heavy mental load.
Now add on something challenging in your life – like the loss of a loved one, physical or mental illness, and something already challenging now becomes burdensome. You’re not a failure. It really is that hard at times.
Find the areas of feeding your family that you might be able to outsource, automate or delegate. This can be anything from serving meals to your kids, ordering or picking up groceries, sitting and eating with your children, organizing your pantry or fridge, helping prepare meals, or bringing a meal.
These can be people in your life that you ask to help or individuals you hire to help support you.
Unfortunately, feeding our families is not something that can fall to the wayside for too long, and there’s no shame in asking for help for as long as you need it. If it’s hard for you to accept the generosity of others who want to help, consider how accepting help might position you to pay it forward to others in need in the future.
4. Switch up your eating environment:
Having a change of scenery can do wonders with feeding yourself and your family, especially if you find yourself burning out or are in a challenging season where food feels overwhelming.
Something as simple as sitting outside with food and family can brighten up the day and take off some of the pressure and stress around eating. Even just eating in a different spot in the house can help liven up mealtimes.
When my kids were littler, I would sometimes set up a picnic lunch on the living room floor, complete with a blanket and basket. At the time, with babies and toddlers in tow, leaving the house felt like too much, but having a picnic style lunch on the floor was a simple change to our eating environment that made food more appealing and less stressful.
My kids thought it was the best thing ever, and it made the energy around mealtimes feel more positive. If you feel stuck in a rut, try switching up where you’re eating to bring some change to your routine. You can even pick up fast food and take it to the park. Remember, there’s no wrong way to feed your family. Do what feels best for you.
5. Give yourself grace:
It’s safe to say that life is just hard sometimes. Unexpected things happen that throw us off the trajectory we thought we were on.
You may have the best of intentions with how and what you want to feed your children, but the circumstances around you may make it hard to carry out the plans you had. Whatever season you may be in, I hope you can extend yourself grace and compassion through the journey.
Beating yourself up unnecessarily or being self critical about your eating and feeding decisions will only make things harder for you.
Focus on feeding yourself and your family as best you can without guilt.
Do what you can when you can. Ask for help when you need it. Learn to lean on the support of others. Focus on connection over nutrition – in the end, this is what will help you build that foundation of helping your kids have a positive relationship with food.
We want to model care and kindness when it comes to food and how we care for our bodies, especially during seasons where it might be hard to do. We want our children to see that there’s flexibility in feeding ourselves and to remember the joy that comes from connecting over food, even in difficult times.
At the end of the day, let’s not forget that food is not just nourishment, it’s also deeply comforting. It’s the way we connect and find our way back to each other – through joy and grief. It’s part of how we console and celebrate, in good times and bad.
Remember, feeding our families is not a competition, it’s not a race. It’s about connecting with our loved ones in whatever way that works best for our individual families. It’s about the relationship we’re building and nurturing along the way. There’s no one right way to feed your family.
Even during seasons of life where food or feeding the kids feels like too much to bear, do the best you can with what you have, and know that your best is good enough.
From my family to yours, sending you so much love and comfort, whatever season you’re finding yourself in.
What is something that’s helped you feed your family during a difficult time?