Julie Lyles Carr: Food Wars

Monday, July 9, 2012

Food Wars

Oh, can I relate to this question....

Hi Julie.
Please help me. I need advice...
This may sound silly (or maybe you know exactly what I am talking about), but the children are driving me c-rrrazy in regard to food. Yes, food.
I feel like I spend 90% of my waking hours telling them whether or not they can eat right now, what they can eat, how much they can have, what not to eat, how often they are allowed to eat, what there is to eat and asking them why the week's worth of food is gone after 3 days.
I don't want them to have a scarcity mindset, and I don't want them to go without or deny themselves or get a complex and develop an eating disorder. On the other hand they need to learn to control themselves and eat some variety and eat when they are hungry and not just bored and oh look some food.
But how, oh how do I do this???? We have had countless talks (speeches) detailing the above paragraph, and the next day it's back to "so and so ate the whole container of ____" and "why is all the ____ gone already??"
Okay I think you probably know what I am talking about, so, if you have a minute I would love to talk to you about this sometime (soon, if possible...)...
This is a battle that frequents our home.  Does it ever.  Grocery shopping for 10 people, a couple of them with food allergies, is a huge investment of time and money and effort.  Factor in a teenage son who is hungry AllTheTime and seems to grow an inch a month and the cupboard often seems to be in shambles and crumbs.  And when you add in that we homeschool, meaning AllKitchenAccess AllTheTime and you can better see the skirmish and boundary battles that crop up.

I have some techniques that do help.  Help a lot, actually.  But in the spirit of full disclosure, my strategy easily gets off track when I'm in a heavy season of work or have a project deadline or am just plain distracted.  But when I follow my own rules, it really, really helps.

1.  Make a weekly menu list, one that includes snacks.  One that includes eating times. Print it up.  Stick it on the fridge.  And stick to it.
There are several sites that offer free printables for menu planning.  When I'm on my game, I post our weekly menu for all to see.  There's something authoritative about it for the kids and it takes the burden of being the Mean Kitchen Cop off of me.  And be sure you schedule the times when these meals and snacks will take place.  My kids do just fine knowing that snack will be served at 3:00 and that it will be yogurt and pretzels.  They know what's coming up, they know the plan.

2.  Take a good look at what you are purchasing and serving. 
We seem to have far fewer kitchen skirmishes when I'm only bringing healthy food into the house.  The kids simply don't binge on carrots and ranch dressing.  They just don't.  They will binge on Goldfish and chips and Ritz crackers.  I have theory on this that is now being backed by nutrition science.  I think one of the reasons we tend to overeat is that we are eating things that are nutritionally vacant.  We eat stuff that makes our tummies feel full but provides negligible fuel.  And so, before we know it, we feel hungry again, scrounging around in the pantry, grabbing more empty food.  I'm not saying that you never have treats in the house...but dessert doesn't have to follow every dinner and kids do learn that if they want a snack and all that is in the house is good, healthy fuel, then good, healthy food it is.  Yes, there will  be whining and wailing as their palates adjust, but your pocketbook and mental health will ultimately thank you.

3.  Read those eaters.
I seem to observe a consistent theme...my kids' eating habits are not always linked to true hunger.  Sometimes, they're just bored.

I think they get the I'm Bored I'll Just Eat Something thing from me.
Sorry for those genetics, kids.

But I've seen it enough and experienced it enough to know it's true.  When my mind and body are craving a sensory experience, one of the easiest ways to fulfill that is with a handful of M&Ms.  But sometimes, taking the time to put on some great music, or looking at some beautiful photography, or taking a walk, those things can fill that sensory need and divert attention away from the pantry.

4.  Set the example.
Bleh.  I know.  But when I'm constantly grazing, it's like a free parking pass to my kids~~they think the kitchen is wide open and available based on the way I'm using it.  When I monitor more closely my own patterns and habits, I get better buy-in from the kids.

5.  Be a hard nose.
I totally agree with Victoria's concern about setting kids up for eating disorders or for having a scarcity mindset.  Those are absolutely things that have to be considered when teaching healthy eating habits to kids.  I've seen moms with the best intentions set their children up for major food issues through over-control and denial, denial, denial of treats and sweets.  So how do you set maintainable standards without activiating the switch for food issues?

I default again to the weekly menu and watching what foods you are bringing into the home.  When kids know what's coming up, it helps them feel a sense of control.  You're not 'controlling' them, constantly nagging.  The menu is the governor.  The schedule is the governor.  And when the choices for food are healthy and kids are allowed to eat to satiation, they quickly adapt to the routine and the food choices.

It's a bit trickier having adult and almost adult children still living in the home.  One of my kids has significant gluten sensitivity issues and prepares a great deal of her own food since she often can't have what I've prepared for the rest of the crew.  Several of the older kids are out in the evenings at classes and dance and extracurricular activities and come in late, reheating leftovers, making sandwiches, scrounging up a meal.  Just because I left the kitchen clean and stocked when I went to bed doesn't mean it will stay that way through the night...while some may battle cockroaches and mice in their kitchens, we have an infestation called OlderOctaKids.  We're still getting our dance together on this thing, but we're getting there.

And there's this...

I absolutely hide certain food items from the kids, the big kids and little kids alike.  I mark certain items in the fridge and pantry as ingredients for future meals~~and everyone knows to leave those items alone.  I make the older kids check in with me before they prepare any foods, not out of a place of hyper-control, but out of respect for the person who operates in the home as the master chef. I purchase the food, I prepare the bulk of it, it is only respectful to honor the kitchen and the primary chef by checking in.  It's the manners I would expect them to have in anyone else's home and I certainly expect it in mine.  I know some families who offer wide-open pantries and fridges to whoever walks in.  That's great.  But I have a thing called Grocery Money that needs to go a long way in a month and I have another thing called a Life and I don't want to spend any more of it at the grocery store than I have to simply because a bored kid decided to eat 16 ounces of sour cream on a whim.  Nope.  Got better things to do and go and see.

Hence the checking-in, ingredient-marking and Yes-I-Sometimes-Hide-Food tactics.  I think about Ma Ingalls sometimes, out on the prairie.  Without grocery stores and Costco around, she had to plan ahead for the long winters.  I love how the Little House on the Prairie series often highlights her cooking and recipes.  It doesn't at all sound like to me that Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up with a complex about food.  But there was planning and structure and rules and it was Ma's kitchen.

And that's how we play it over here...most of the time...when I'm not distracted or behind...or PMS-ing.

Ma's Kitchen.  Now go forth.

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