Why it's ok to reward your kids (and yourself) with food
Not the headline you were expecting from a dietitian, right? I know. It’s not the typical viewpoint for someone like me. But let me explain.
Prior to having kids, I likely would have told you some boring unrealistic textbook strategies for getting your kids to eat healthy…with no earthly idea of just how frustrating it is to feed those demanding, tiny little humans I love so much.
My oldest daughter will be four in November and it’s safe to say I’ve learned far more about feeding kids since becoming a mom, than I ever did in school. Life experience is the ultimate teacher, right?!
Almost all kids go through phases of “picky eating” or just flat out not wanting to eat things. Like the blueberries she LOVED last night at dinner… so, you buy the Costco-sized container at the store today only to have her throw them on the floor in disgust… not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…
One thing to keep in mind when feeding your kids (and yourself) is that the end goal is not a perfectly well balanced diet. The end goal is to have them develop a healthy relationship with food, so that when they’re older they can make good choices and have a stress-free relationship with food.
As a dietitian, I have a few food philosophies and goals, I want all my clients and readers (young or old) to keep in mind:
- Don’t let food stress you out
- Indulge a little, but be responsible about it, and no bribes
- It’s ok to celebrate with food
So, let’s look at each of these points and how you can achieve them and put them into practice with your kids and yourself:
Don’t let food stress you out
Food is a beautiful thing. It gives us energy, keeps us healthy, and tastes darn good (most of the time, ha). My goal for each and every person I meet is not just for them to eat “healthy,” but also for them to have a healthy relationship with food. So what does this mean?
No counting things. Calories, carbs, protein, fat, fiber, etc. If you’re eating a generally well balanced diet, being honest with yourself, and not being lazy about eating out too often (and not making bad choices when doing so), things tend to fall into place.
Don’t stress if the tyrannical toddler (again, just being theoretical here, not speaking from experience… at all…I promise… I’d never say that about my precious angel babies… Did I also mention I’m fluent in sarcasm?) doesn’t eat what you served them. As a parent, your main job around food is to offer your kids healthy choices. You do NOT have to make them eat it, and you definitely do not have to make them separate meals. I can’t tell you how many times my daughters have gone to bed without eating dinner. I always offer them a healthy dinner, and if they don’t want to eat it, that’s their choice. If this happens to you, just remember… no child has ever intentionally starved themselves. If they get hungry enough, they’ll come back to eat it. But only if they know you’re serious about not giving in to their other requests.
If you want something… eat it. It’s as simple as that. Listen to your body. This leads me to…
Indulge a little, but be responsible about it, and no bribes
You probably expect me to say that there are no bad foods, and everything fits in moderation right? Well, I’m not going to say that. Let’s be real, a fat piece of decadent chocolate cake isn’t good for you. Can’t really get around that one. But is it ok to enjoy said piece of chocolate cake on your birthday once a year? Absolutely!
But now, I know you’re thinking… well, what if I want the chocolate cake more than once a year? Or want to offer your kids a treat more than once a year? And what about when you get a craving for a milkshake or chocolate chip cookie late at night? Well, don’t stress (remember? ...that was my first point!) I’ve got you covered:
If you want junk food, make it yourself.
Whether its cookies, chips, a milkshake, or ice cream… if I’m going to eat it, it has to be made in my home or be a healthier option from the grocery store. Convenience makes eating junk food way easier than it should be. By not keeping a chocolate cake in the house, I force myself to decide how badly I really want it. Is it worth taking 45 minutes to an hour to make the cake? Or maybe my kids are asking for chocolate milk? I don’t keep those things or ingredients on hand usually, but I do keep a healthier alternative like Sneakz Organic on hand for those treat occasions (out of sight though, because goodness knows they’d be begging for them all day every day if they could see them in the pantry or refrigerator), or a batch of my Oatmeal Chocolate Chip High Protein Cookies.
These are both better options that I’m totally ok with as treats for myself and my kids. (Get the cookie recipe here.)
No bribing allowed.
While I do think it’s ok to reward your kids with food (i.e. the occasional cookie at the grocery store, or Strawberry Milkshake, you should never bribe them with food. No “Eat this piece of broccoli, and you can have a cookie,” scenarios… please. Don’t do it to yourself either. Don’t let yourself have a cookie simply because you worked out today. Both of those scenarios are completely self-defeating.
If you’re smart with indulgences, there’s no reason to stress about them (again, going back to my first point). Like the Sneakz Organic Milkshakes I mentioned above. Not only do my kids love them, but they’re lower in sugar than traditional flavored milk options and pack ½ a serving of veggies in each one. They see it as a treat; I see it as a #momwin.
It’s ok to celebrate with food
Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries… they all revolve around food usually. And you know what? That’s ok! Nearly every culture in the world celebrates with food. It’s part of us. It gives us life and brings joy to the table and any gathering. Let’s embrace that. Instead of lamenting about how awful it is that everything revolves around food, let’s focus on eating real food and celebrating with friends and family. Those happy occasions aren’t what cause us to trip up, it’s the continual (and quite frankly, irresponsible) indulgences that do us in. So how do we do this?
Don’t do leftovers. Eating those indulgences over and over will definitely make a poor impact on your health… but just one time, is totally fine.
Pick the truly special occasions. As a fellow mom, I get it. Sometimes, just making it through a Tuesday and keeping two tiny humans alive all day is a reason to celebrate. But, maybe not a reason to go eat a big steak dinner and dessert, along with a couple glasses of wine. Pick the occasions that you know a certain food indulgence will truly add to your celebration, and bring you joy.
So what are your thoughts on rewarding your kids and yourself with food? How often do you “indulge”? What are some of your favorite “smarter indulgences”? Leave a comment and let me know! Or hop on over to Instagram and join in on the conversation.
*Note: The above recommendations, advice and strategies are intended for generally healthy individuals. Please consult with your doctor or dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.
This post was sponsored by Sneakz Organic. All ideas and thoughts are my own.