I’ve been cooking family dinners for a little over 3 years now. I’m not a natural cook or foodie, just a mom who wants to teach her children the value of family meals — and expose them to good-tasting and nutritious food.
In that process, I’ve learned some important lessons. These lessons, which I’m listing as commandments, have helped me keep things in perspective, lessening the guilt and adding more enjoyment to every meal.
I don’t get it right every time, but I sure do try. Because guilt is one of the most de-motivating emotions out there — and parents certainly don’t need more of it.
1. Thou shall not compare yourself to others
It’s easy to compare your cooking to others’ and feel inferior. Just visit some top mommy food bloggers and you might get that feeling that you’re not doing enough.
When I start to feel inadequate, I remind myself that I’m in this race alone. I have my own preferences, cooking abilities and am doing the best that I can. I look back and remember how far I’ve come — and use those talented food bloggers for inspiration, not another way to feel guilty!
2. Thou shall value food exposure
Let’s be honest — it’s hard when children don’t eat what you cook. It’s enough to make any parent question his or her cooking abilities.
Research shows that continued food exposure is the most effective strategy for increasing food variety in kids. So if your child doesn’t eat broccoli, again, feel good that they were exposed to it. With each time they see it — it makes that food familiar and more likely to be eaten in their future.
3. Thou shall care about thine own eating
I think it’s important to put more value on what the adults in the house eat. Hey, if my kids don’t eat veggies, at least my husband and I do — and that counts. And research shows kids eventually eat what their parents eat.
I’ve even started making my husband’s lunch after realizing that I’d been ignoring him. And guess what? It always comes back empty!
4. Thou shall not make eating healthy boring
I always consider nutrition when making and planning meals but I’ve let go of the “shoulds.” The goal, instead, is to consider taste along with nutrition and learn to blend the two.
I used to serve steamed broccoli but realized I didn’t even like it. Now I roast it or sauté it in olive oil and garlic. The key is to make healthy tasty — and drop the boring standard nutrition fare.
5. Thou shall drop the food agenda
Having kids help you in the kitchen and saying “yum” really loud while eating green beans are all fine if you’re doing it for the right reasons. In her books Ellyn Satter always says kids can smell an agenda a mile away — and I think she’s right.
Whenever we do something to get our kids to eat, they can see right through us and tend to rebel. Make it a habit to check in with your real reasons for doing something — and when it comes to feeding, keep your eye on the prize.
6. Thou shall not blame thyself for picky eating
When I see a kid my daughter’s age eat the very foods she shuns, those negative voices pop up:
“Maybe there’s more I could be doing?”
“His mother must be a natural in the kitchen.”
“She –” (I try to stop at this point)
I remind myself that much of kids’ eating, including their fear of new foods, is inherited, age-appropriate and different for every child. Yes, parents have great influence over their child’s eating but each person learns at their own pace.
After all, how your kid eats at 30 is a better indicator of the job you did feeding, than how they eat at 5.
7. Thou shall not fix it if it isn’t broken
I was talking to a friend who was saying she should change things up in the kitchen.
Her: I see what all those moms are doing and it makes me feel guilty — I should try new recipes and meals
Me: Do you serve a variety of food?
Me: Is your cooking low stress?
Her: Yes, it’s only three of us — and my daughter has really stepped up the eating since starting kindergarten.
Me: Maybe there’s nothing to fix.
Her: You think?
Me: Yes. Try new meals if you want to, but don’t do it out of guilt.
8. Thou shall plan meals ahead
Nothing makes me feel guiltier than starting to cook a meal only to find the main ingredient missing or having to run back to the store all week long.
Bottom line: When do a good job of planning meals for the week, everything seems to go better.
9. Thou shall take time off
We all need a break from the grind of feeding. Whether it be date nights, takeout on those stressful days, or opting for the easy meal, little breaks from cooking — and feeding kids — is essential.
I’ve come to know those days that I just can’t cook — and I don’t feel guilty for it because the next day I’m back stronger and better.
10. Thou shall remember that meals are about connection
When all is said and done, and the meal is on the table, or you’re staring at your beautiful baby getting ready to spoon-feed him, feeding is really about connection.
I can honestly say that I’ve had the most memorable times feeding my kids. Just yesterday morning at breakfast Little D was saying his numbers, making us all crack up. One, Two, Thee, Sik, Nine, Even. He was purposely messing them up to make us laugh.
When my kids are out of the house, I won’t remember the work or stress it took to make meals happen. Surely, the memories of uneaten meals will fade.
What I’ll remember is the connection it allowed me to have with them — laughing, talking, singing, and watching those beautiful faces change as the years go by. When I look at it this way, being the imperfect cook and taking the emotional hits that go along with feeding pale in comparison.
How about you? Are you able to enjoy family meals or is the guilt getting the best of you?
What a great post! I love # 4: Thou shalt not make eating boring. There are more delicious, easy, nutritious recipes in the world than I’ll ever get the chance to make! We try new recipes every week (not out of guilt, but just because we’re curious). The best cuisines in the world, like French, Indian, and Chinese, are loaded with vegetables. No excuse for steamed broccoli (unless it has lots of good shredded cheddar on it!).
Hi there! I love your blog. I feel very strongly about bringing my daughter (and future kiddos) up as healthy eaters, one thing I was not brought up on. I really loved your post on not rewarding with food. I think it is a somewhat revolutionary idea. So many people use food as a reward, and it never clicks with anyone that could be responsible for our society’s obesity and food disorder problems. I wondered if you could give me some advice on potty training rewards. I know so many people who use M&M’s, which my daughter can’t have anyways. Do you have some other reward ideas? Or should I just give her something healthy? She does love bananas?…
Thanks Kate! I can tell you what we did for potty training. Sean was utterly uninterested in using the potty, so we needed a “bribe.” It was summer then, and I always made the garage sale rounds. I bought a bunch of toys (cost = 10 – 50 cents or so!) and put them in a box. We called them “potty toys.” Every time Sean used the toilet, we gave him a potty toy.
If you’re not a garage sale fan, maybe other cheap toys? Silly bands? Stickers?
Keep me posted on how it goes!
Anne at Always Half Full says
Thanks to your blog, we enjoy family meals.
My favorite line from this post, “After all, how your kid eats at 30 is a better indicator of the job you did feeding, than how they eat at 5.” I will hold on to that forever.
Jessica at Nutritioulicious says
Great post! Love the 10 commandments – All parents should read this!
Katie Morford says
Nice Blog Carnival post. Love what you have here. Great advice, very honest, and good reminders….all ten of them. I especially like the one about dropping the food agenda. As a dietitian, I have to remember this one most especially. Thanks.
Fantastic post!!! Each one of your commandments are so true, I especially love number 10 🙂
Sara Miller says
Maryann, fabulous blog. I too love your comment about eating habits at 30 vs. 5. Earlier this year, I wrote about my family meals as a child and the lasting impact they left and that post made my mom’s year.
Family meals take some effort, but it’s time well spent in my humble opinion. Thanks for sharing your point of view. I hope your readers all take a moment to start or strengthen their commitment to family meals with the Eat Better, Eat Together pledge on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/mealsmatter.org?sk=app_278482078831778
Maureen Bligh, MA, RD says
Maryann, excellent blog post!! All parents need this advice to abandon the guilt. Meals are about connection (love #10) nourishment and enjoyment. Keeping it simple and including tasty foods from all five food groups gets the job done.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Thanks Maureen! I’m always reminding myself about the connection part…that’s what we’ll remember!
Stacey Viera says
#4 is fantastic. If the food isn’t cooked in a way that’s appealing, it won’t get eaten and…a food aversion is born. Roasting could solve 99% of our anti-vegetable problems in this country! 😉
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
I agree Stacey. I know roasting takes more time but I do it ahead of time and just heat it up before the meal. It still tastes good!
Great post as always, Maryann. I need to write your 10 commandments on a card and laminate and hang it on my fridge. The reminders are important.
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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Thanks and welcome!