Your relationship to food, and what to teach your children

Here are some thoughts about our relationship to food, and what we want to teach our children. During Nutrition Month we are looking at many different aspects of food and nourishment, including our own attitudes and what we convey to our kids by our behaviour.


I was in line at a cafe the other day behind a young mother with a little girl in a stroller. She was taking ages perusing the minimal menu.


“Is any of this, like, low fat?” She asked,
waving her hands around the display of delicious looking baked goods.


“Umm, not really,” the girl replied


She sighed, “I didn’t think so. Well what’s the soup?”


“Roasted carrot with honey,” replied the girl behind the counter. “It’s super good.”


“Hmm…is the honey in the soup or is it drizzled on top? Like, can you get it without honey?”


“No it’s in the soup. But I don’t think there’s too much.”


“Yeah, but, sugar is sugar, right?” She laughed nervously. “Never mind then. I’ll just have the toast to go. Does the peanut butter have sugar in it?”


“Umm, I think a bit, yeah.”


“Oh,” she sounded disappointed. “Ok well I’ll just have toast with butter and a latte. A non-fat latte.”


“Ok,” the girl rang it up on the register.


“Oh no, wait wait wait,” the woman said excitedly as if she were about to stop a terrible disaster from occurring. “No butter, no butter. Just dry toast.”


“No jam or…anything?”


“No, nothing. You got that the latte is non-fat, right?” She double-checked.


I watched her pay and wheel her stroller away. She was petite and thin by anyone’s standards; if I looked like her I certainly wouldn’t be so worried about peanut butter. I had to wonder if her daughter would grow up considering dry toast a sufficient meal and fearing the terrible natural sugars in honey; if she would spend agonizing minutes looking over menus and seeing every item as dangerous and fattening, opting to eat nothing instead of making a decision that would throw her into a turmoil of guilt and regret; if she would grow up thinking no matter how good she looks she could always look better if she were thinner.


We’re usually quite conscious about setting examples for our kids in the way we talk and act; we don’t swear around them, we say please and thank you, we try not to make negative comments about peoples looks. And we’re careful like that because we know kids are kind of spongy; they soak up what they see and they internalize it, and that’s how they learn how to be in the world. This certainly holds true when it comes to food and eating habits.


No problem, you think. I don’t have an eating disorder, I would never tell my daughter she weighs too much, or tell her not to eat the occasional treat because it’s fattening, or put her on a diet. I’ll teach her to love her body and who she is inside and out.


And doubtless you will do that. But, as parents find out time and again, when it comes to young children actions speak louder than words. If you’re “watching what you eat,” then guaranteed your child is watching you watching what you eat. So much of what children learn occurs at the subconscious level, so although you might not be verbalizing your stress about eating certain foods or amounts of food, if every meal provokes anxiety and guilt in you, it won’t go unnoticed by your little one. And if you’re allowing your child to have what she wants while denying yourself, your conflicting messages will be confusing and distressing, and, unable to make sense of it all, your child could very well default to mimicking the behaviour she sees.


That may explain why some studies have found girls as young as 4 and 5 exhibiting disordered eating habits. She’ll notice if you put a plate of food in front of her for lunch and you sit down with nothing for yourself. She’ll hear you if you say to the host at a birthday party “The cake looks delicious, but no sugar for me until I get rid of these 10 pounds!” She’ll observe the change in your face when you go from enjoying a cookie to panicking about the calories you just consumed.


There is a lot of pressure on women to always be dieting, and extra pressure on moms to lose weight after having children. It’s hard to be impervious to that. And if you do have more serious issues around food and body image, they probably run deep and it will take you time to work them out. That’s understandable.


Be conscious of what you’re projecting, and remember, they’re paying attention. As they grow, your kids are going to have to fend off all the unhealthy and negative messages about their weight and appearance that are so prevalent in the media. To do that, they’re going to need a very solid and secure attitude towards eating and food. You have the opportunity to provide that for them. And in doing so, it will not only help them, but it may help you as well.

Judy Banfield

I’m Judy Banfield and I’m here to help you feel better about yourself as a person and more confident and secure as a parent.

In my 30+ years of working with babies, young children and parents, I have learned that valuing and treasuring and deeply knowing yourself gives you the foundation to more confidently and joyfully, love, treasure, teach and guide your children.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. We need to know that 2/3 of our brain is fat! It uses fatty acids from foods to make the nutrients essential to thinking and feeling. Our brain needs the good fats for proper development and function!

  2. Thank you for this. I have struggled with food issues for over half of my life (as do a lot of women, unfortunately), and I am now the mother of a beautiful 14 month old girl. I would be devastated if she felt about herself the way that I have for so long, and I am already conscious of the fact that I need to deal with some attitudes, and fast, unless I want her following my footsteps. I can’t get back the many years that I wasted obsessed with my weight and attempting to live up to some unattainable ideal, but I can make sure that none of hers are wasted and that she always knows just how beautiful she is by being her own healthy self.

  3. I know I’m going to take a lot of heat over this, but I think that this is a very dangerous attitude to have and has led to our current obesity rates in North America. Canada has almost 50% of our population overweight or obese, but eating disorders only occur in 1.5% of our population. Obviously it is over-eating and not under-eating that is a concern in this country and we need to call the facts as they are, not simply tell people that they are ok as they are. People need to hear the truth and that truth includes fewer calories and more exercise.

  4. I am now a “Gramma” to two terrific children – a lovely, very cute and extremely bright girl age 9 and a ball of fire, active & happy boy 3 years old. Their parents have every right to be proud of the way each child is interacting in their respective worlds. Each child approaches food differently – the older one has never had a great interest in food and has tended to prefer natural foods over processed ones while the younger is a serial consummer of almost anything offered between his wake up time and late afternoon – but has an appetite dip at dinner. Their parents have taken reasonable steps to accommodate these preferences and both kids are healthy & have healthy attitudes towards food.

    My daughter – their mother -grew up as the middle child where her younger sister excelled and her older brother shone as a “leader” in their sport of choice – competitive swimming. My daughter did well enough in the sport to earn her share of accolades (best times, ribbons, medals etc.) during her early years – which is to say that by any normal measurement she was a wonderful swimmer.
    However, by the time she was about 12yrs., she was developing hips and breasts and her swim times began to slow. I suppose there was peer pressure and real or presumed pressure by her coaches but I began to notice that she was “weighing-in” on the family scale – first weekly, then daily, finally both before and after meals. It was time for an intervention and upon consulting with her physician she was referred to a Nutritionalist. After that the excessive weighing-in problem seemed to go away although she continued to lose ground in her sport to larger, faster individuals to her disappointment. After she finished high school and entered University, she dropped out of the sport; and when she was about 19yrs. she began showing traits of an eating disorder which became part of her life for 4 years.
    Her father and I finally confronted her with evidence both written and physically substantial and she was had reached the point herself of wanting to stop the behaviour. She was not so debilitated as to require admission to hospital, but she spent 6 months as an everyday – day patient at the Eating Disorders Clinic at our University Hospital followed by months of counselling – several times a week, then several times, a month, then randomly as she felt necessary.
    My daughter is now in her mid-thirty’s and is the mother of my two grandchildren. She is still aware of her caloric intake – but she will eat everything she fancies – in moderation; as a result she is now lean and healthy.
    My point in this story is that she believed that I thought she was “failing” at swimming because I thought she was “fat” and that is the reason I took her to a Nutritionalist when she was 12. Obviously, I did not explain MY reasons to her in a way that reinforced her. I knew why I took her to the Nutritionalist – my daughter obviously did not and so she put her own spin on the action. And 6 years later that became the catalyst for her actions.

    In addition to providing healthy food and meals, as parents we have to ensure that our children understand the principles.

    Thank you.

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