Holiday gatherings so often revolve around food. For me, Christmas cake, mince pies and so on – are all tagged with nostalgia from my childhood, bringing happy memories of special times with my family.
This year, more than ever, I’ve given some thought as to how I support Laurence through the festive season and beyond, in terms of finding a sense of balance with food and not going overboard with the sugary stuff. I’m still very much figuring my approach out, learning what works and what I’m comfortable with. And I won’t pretend that if you catch me unawares or on a day when I’m zapped of energy, my response may be the same, but I do my best to be consistent with my lessons around food, so as not to confuse the boys.
This follows on from the post I wrote about cultivating a love of real food in children in terms of thinking about dealing with the ‘extras’ as I often call them. How to integrate them and enjoy them without loading them with any emotions such as guilt or reward, because ultimately I want the boys to enjoy extras and learn their own sense of ‘enough is enough’, rather than resorting to labelling them ‘bad’ foods – what a simplistic and sad way to view things that can bring so much pleasure.
Firstly I should say that I view homemade sweet bakes, made with good quality ingredients very differently to cheap, ‘junk’ foods, and so this is an important lesson that I want to share with Laurence. Christmas Eve very much revolves around time in the kitchen, such as making gingerbread together, or trying to – as even after an hour in the fridge, the dough can get very soft after just a few minutes on a hot day here.
Can you tell that he’s just a little bit excited here? Note that he has some sneaky evidence of ‘testing’ the dough on his face there…
Once we’ve made our sweet bake, be it gingerbread, cupcake or whatever, I will always try to gently curb how much we have without labelling it in anyway. I might say, that’s enough for now, let’s save the rest to enjoy for later. Or, if he asks me why we can’t have more (don’t children always ask why, why, why?) I’ll just casually say that if we eat any more our teeth might get yucky, or it could give us tummy ache. I find this last idea seems to work quite well because I’ll often say the same about foods we eat more often such as nuts (especially macadamias which we could both eat until we pop).
More generally I try really hard not to refer to these sweet little extras as ‘treats’ because I think that signals to little ones that they are some sort of positive reward. Once upon a time, such extras, be it something homemade or a little bag of sweets from the shop, probably was a treat, in as much as it was rare. But not in the world we live in now. We are all, children especially so, utterly bombarded by ‘treats’ which has shifted the perspective on how much is ok. This is to the point that surveys show that children usually get over a third of their daily energy intake from extras … pushing out all the good stuff they really need to grow and develop well. And in any case, all the research into behaviour suggests that if you actively deny something, it will only make us want it more, and as we are already programmed to love the sweet stuff, I’m not sure further encouragement there is helpful.
What that means for us is that treats, in a food sense, are tied to the seasons for example the first berries of the season or just like the other day, when a friend handed us the last of the peaches from her tree – I made a peach, coconut and honey crumble that we had with plain Greek yoghurt. These are nature’s treats in the truest sense and aren’t we lucky to have and appreciate them?!
The other way that we put extras into perspective is by simply not having them in the house and skipping that section of the store, if we can, when we go shopping. This, I think, builds that awareness with littlies that there are some foods we eat often and others we eat seldom, and that’s just how it is. If we ever do get something in then I would keep it out of sight and away from the other pantry items.
As I have previously written, I think food lessons are best shared naturally, in the course of our lives, rather than specifically saying, eat your broccoli and you’ll grow up strong. I mean, that might work once, but it’s not a nourishing foundation that will support a love a real food in the long term.
“Children who live surrounded by rules, instead of learning about principles, end up becoming adept at getting around rules, finding the loopholes in rules, disguising non-compliance, or deflecting blame for non-compliance (i.e. lying about what they did). These are the skills that they then bring into adult life.”
― Robyn Coburn
The final thing, for now, is that it’s important to me to not perpetuate a sense of guilt with extras. If you want some good quality chocolate or ice cream, have some and ENJOY it. Don’t feel guilty about it. What sort of bizarre relationship is that forming with any food?
On Christmas Eve we sat down with a tahini maple hot chocolate and a piece of homemade gingerbread, laughing at the milky foam on our noses and enjoying every last spicy crumb. Perfect.