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Location: Allentown, PA

I'm a Christian wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. I'm a member of the board of directors of EmPoWeReD Birth. In my "spare time" I'm a doula, and a certified childbirth instructor.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Modeling and Explaining

As is my normal custom on Monday/Wednesday/Thursday, I picked up my 4 year old daughter Katie from preschool at 3:00 last Thursday and then returned with her to work. It was a “snack day” at work—without any advance coordination 3 people had brought in sweet snacks to work for folks to munch on. My daughter was very happy. I let her pick two chocolate bite sized-muffins—a treat.

We returned to my cube. I sat across the peninsula from her, got out my snack that I had packed—sliced cucumbers and mushrooms and some dip. She eyed my snack and said “I don’t like those.” I replied “I know, I forgot to pack some carrots that you would like. But vegetables help you grow big and strong, don’t they?” She was thoughtful as she started eating her first muffin—which was more than a bite for her.

After finishing the first muffin she climbed up onto the desk quicker than I could respond, and reached for the cucumbers. “I want to try these to see if maybe I do like them! They will make me grow big and strong!” I instructed her to sit back down, but slid the dip across the desk toward her as she went. She tried the cucumber, and was pleased with it. As she munched, she wanted to know specifically what cucumbers would do for her, so I explained that some people think that cucumbers help to clean out your insides. I could have talked about the vitamins in the skin, or the fiber in the skin, but I try to keep simple messages about food benefits, so when my kids ask what a food will do, I generally just give one or two benefits at a time.

The second muffin sat untouched as she proceeded to eat about ½ cup of sliced cucumbers. She even bravely tried a mushroom (I told her that it had iron, which would help her be awake—a simplification of the fact that iron is an important part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood). She wasn’t impressed enough with the mushroom to eat more than one bite, but she said that she liked it. She said that she was going to tell her older sister that she should eat cucumbers “because they help you grow big and strong.”

Yes, she did eventually get back to finishing that second muffin. But my gentle instruction and example has opened up her diet to another food that will help her to grow “big and strong.” I’ve tried to make a habit of this.

I’ve gone through a recent change in how I handle “food” issues in my house. During Roshashana (I’m not Jewish…but I have friends who are) I learned about a “list of sins” that some Jews meditate on during that time. I specifically looked at the list of sins related to parenting. One of them was “expecting of my child that which I don’t expect of myself.” That hit me squarely in regards to many areas, one of them being food. When I sit down to eat, if I don’t like something, I don’t eat it. Even when I’m visiting with someone, I will only eat a “polite” amount of a food that I don’t like, or I will try to escape eating it all together if I can without causing hurt feelings. If I’m not hungry when I sit down to a meal, I don’t typically insist on finishing that food before I’m “allowed” to eat something different as a “snack” later. But I—like many parents—have in the past insisted that my children eat food that they don’t like. I have insisted that they finish all the food served at a meal before they can choose something else to eat.

But I’ve changed that lately. I’ve strived to make available many nutritious and child-friendly snacks like fruit, cut up vegetables, cheese, whole wheat crackers (my kids LOVE Triscuits), boiled eggs, and yogurt. At meals I do expect my children to try each food, but if they don’t like it, I don’t insist that they finish it. I’m serving much smaller portions so that if they don’t eat at a meal, throwing it away is not a big deal. I have already taught them how to handle food that they don’t like that is served by someone else. They will readily tell you that they should just rinse the taste out of their mouth with their drink, and not voice their dislike because it will hurt the feelings of the person who prepared the food. I’m spending a lot more time explaining why various foods are important. And I’m being more careful to model healthy eating myself.

And you know what? My kids are choosing to eat healthy food. Jessica and Katie have *asked* for brocolli, carrots, and dip for their bedtime snack several days in the last week. Yes, they like their treats too. But I see them understanding more now about why to eat foods, and taking ownership for themselves. They will choose to eat a healthy food before a junk food. This is a skill they will need to have when they are older and I’m not there to control their eating. My kids do “snack.” They eat healthy food frequently. I see a lot of benefit in that…but that’s for another entry. ;-)


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