Food: Balance, Choice & Freedom

A few things you will never hear in this house:

No dessert until you finish your vegetables.
Just a few more bites.
You’ll sit at the table until dinner time is over.
No, you can’t have that.

Things you very well might hear in this house:

Can we make cookies for breakfast? (Sure)
Can I finish this whipped cream? (Why not)
Can I have some beans for a snack (Of course)
Aw man, who ate all the asparagus? (It was me)

We talk a lot about food around here.. partly because I’ve studied it for most of my adult life, and just can’t help it; and partly because it’s fun! Shopping for it, growing it, experimenting with it, making it, eating it. I’m very much of the opinion that if nothing else, food is to be enjoyed.

We’ve never battled over mealtimes, and never limited what our kids could or could not eat. They are the only ones who know when they are hungry and full, and they should be the ones who make the decisions about what goes into their bodies. It makes me sad to see families continually fighting their kids over food, and turning something that’s supposed to be pleasurable into a power struggle between all involved.

I want to tell people to relax. To take a big deep breath and a giant step back. Battling, cajoling, and bribing with food is not only not a great thing for your relationship, but also completely counterproductive. I don’t know anyone who learned to have a healthy relationship with food through force, but I do know a lot of people who have unhealthy relationships with food due to force (and who ended up resenting their parents to boot)

I’ve read a lot of philosophies regarding food, particularly among unschoolers, that state that food isn’t good or bad; it just IS. I completely agree with that on general principle (and yes, absolutely: Hate and war are bad, but a cookie is just a cookie) But it’s a simple fact of science that different foods do different things in our bodies… some negative, some positive. Certain foods make us feel better than others. Most adults have realized this – whether they pay attention to it or not – and children realize it too when they’re given the freedom to do so.

Our refrigerator and cupboards are stocked with real, whole foods, and the kids are free to eat (or not eat) any of it at any time. They’re also free to request cookies, ice cream, candy, or any other “extras” any time someone’s going to the store. They all like to bring their own money for treats at the dollar store, they like helping me bake, and it’s definitely not uncommon for them to flag down the ice cream truck. They’ve inherited their mother’s sweet tooth to be sure, as well as their father’s love of burgers and hot dogs.

But their day to day chosen diet? They snack on fruit, nuts, raw vegetables, and yogurt. They eat whole grains, lots of greens, and a variety of proteins. When I go out to the store I always ask them if they’d like anything special, and two of the four usually have no request at all. Spencer always makes sure we don’t forget orange juice, and Everett usually has a certain fruit in mind. They eat, and enjoy, food, of all types and all varieties. And if we happen to have cookies and they want cookies before dinner? They have them. If they want cookies FOR dinner? They have them (and will most likely follow up with a “traditional” dinner sometime before bed.) They trust their brains, and their bodies, to know what they need… and they are healthy, happy, and strong.

When I started writing this post several hours ago, the kids were laughing as they finished off the last drop of whipped cream we’d bought a few weeks ago when we’d made fancy drinks in the blender. Right now, two of the boys are eating oranges. And about thirty seconds ago, Tegan came up to me, eyes wide, cradling something in her hands.

“Mommy. Can I have this??”

I had to look twice to see what it was. “Sure, if you want to.”

Her chosen snack? A huge ripe tomato. And she happily sat down and ate the entire thing.


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7 Comments

Filed under food, freedom, parenting, unschooling

7 Responses to Food: Balance, Choice & Freedom

  1. Pingback: The holy grail of healthy food | Glorious Adventure

  2. Kate

    I’m a Registered Dietitian and I get SO tired of people asking if a certain food is BAD for them. Ugh. Just ugh. So many people have an insanely inappropriate relationship with food. It’s very sad. I approve of how you go about it with your kids and I do nearly the same.

  3. I have all kinds of similar stories, but the most recent is from this summer. The 6yo and I made brownies while the 12yo was out for the day. The 6yo hadn’t even had any brownies yet, but when he got hungry that afternoon and wanted a snack, he chose lettuce and garlic bread. He had a “hankering” and he knew the brownies would be available whenever he wanted them. (*I* had a brownie.)

  4. Jennifer Sommerville

    Can you explain how dinner time works at your house? Do you make one meal and if they don’t care for it, they are on or do you ask everyone what they want for dinner and cook multiple meals?

    • hm, neither of those things really. We tend to make dinners that everyone likes, so it’s not an issue. We do like to try new things though, so very occasionally someone won’t like something… in which case they’re welcome to make a sandwich, have a yogurt, cook themselves some eggs, etc.

    • It helps tremendously to let the kids help plan the weekly menu. We have 10-15 (depends on our mood) main dishes to choose from, and the kids choose which ones they want that week. I’ve also found that they’re more likely to eat something different if they help cook it. If all else fails, they’re free to fix a sandwich or something.