Once a week, Big A and Little D go someplace where the cookies and snacks are endless, juice requests don’t get turned down, Ipads are available with every game imaginable and the TV stays on.
My husband and I call it Club Millie’s (AKA Grandma’s). Yes, this is my mom’s house.
This used to be somewhat of a sore spot with me. After all, I’m a dietitian who specializes in family nutrition. Yet I have strangely come to value it.
I have discovered that it can actually be powerful to allow children to explore and experiment with all types of food without judgment. At home, we do things differently than at Grandma’s, but they get to experience this difference for themselves, without my having to lecture or say a word.
I’ve seen my 6-year old go through all kinds of food stages. She used to eat these bars at my mom’s and now she doesn’t want them anymore. Lately, instead of gulping apple juice, she is stopping and drinking water because she realizes how thirsty too much juice makes her feel. My daughter has asked her share of questions, which has led to the best nutrition teaching possible because it’s based on her observations and interests.
What’s interesting is that neither of my kids asks for the food or other privileges at home that are available at Grandma’s. When we go shopping they aren’t trying to sneak food into the cart. They seem content with what and how I structure food (and screen time) at home.
What really helps me is the belief (strongly supported by research) that the most important environment my kids have, in terms of developing healthy habits, is the home. And even though my kids will go through different food stages as they grow, it is very likely that, as adults, they will choose the balanced eating style my husband and I model at home.
But if I push too hard, they may end up rebelling, becoming attracted to the very things I want them to learn to moderate. So instead of fear, I choose to stand in a place of confidence, showing I’m not threatened by the outside environment (because I’m not!). This doesn’t mean I won’t try to positively affect their surroundings as I have at my daughter’s school, I’ve just decided not to make it the enemy.
I also realize that when I let my kids loose in college they are going to be surrounded by less-than-stellar food choices. When they start working they will have all sorts of choices too — think donuts at meetings and cakes at office birthday parties and people bringing in their kids’ Halloween candy. Teaching children how to manage these foods is an often ignored, but important, factor in raising healthy eaters.
So my strategy isn’t to shelter my kids, but to expose them in sensible ways, using their experiences to help guide them to balanced choices. And because Grandma is already exposing them to this world, that means I don’t have to.
How do you feel about what happens at Grandma’s or other outside food environments?