Buddy Hackett once said, “My mother’s menu consisted of two choices. Take it or leave it.”
That’s what my mother’s menu consisted of, too. We had the choice of eating the dinner she prepared or leaving the table hungry. If we didn’t like what she prepared, we weren’t allowed to make ourselves a PB & J. If we snuck a banana or anything else for that matter, we were in big trouble. Why? Was my mother abusive and mean? Was my family dysfunctional because the children weren’t allowed to call the shots on what was for dinner? Am I in therapy now because I was made to eat my vegetables?
Nope. My family had issues like any other family, but it was pretty “normal”. I’ve noticed however, that what was fashionable in the childrearing of yesterday is now considered barbaric and obsolete. Today, we are told, that if we “make” our children eat what’s in front of them will develop eating disorders. Not giving children “choices” will harm their self esteem, so say the “professionals”.
The very words “eating disorder” sends us into a tailspin. Consequently, after years of permissive parenting at the dinner table, we suddenly realize our children may have never eaten an honest portion of veggies in their entire young lives. In our perfectionism (and boy, parenting is the place where we wear our maternal stripes with pride!) we have been more concerned about our children’s psyches than teaching them an important life skill—eating nutritiously. Because we want to be better parents than our own parents, we want our children to have “perfect” childhoods with no conflict whatsoever. We buy all of that, don’t we? And, to use a food analogy, the proof is the pudding—just take a look at the kids.
Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions. According to the International Obesity Task Force, there are about 22 million children in the world, UNDER 5 that are overweight or obese! In another study, the Canadian Medical Association reported that obesity among young boys ages 7 to 13 years old, TRIPLED between 1981 and 1996.
That’s just the children. What about the adults? In the United States, 7 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese (according to the Centers of Disease Control)! The problem of obesity or what we like to call Body Clutter, is a FAMILY problem. And we, the parents have a huge responsibility to teach our children how to be healthy (by eating right and exercising) and we do that primarily by example. You can’t preach healthy living if you’re not doing it yourself.
I don’t pretend for a minute to hold all the answers to this and other child rearing dilemmas. Like you, I struggle with my decisions as a parent. However, as a nutritionist, I have to look at the statistics and they are absolutely mind blowing. That’s how I want you to evaluate what I’m saying–look at this from a nutritionist’s point of view.
Believe it or not the family dinner table is one place that you can make a difference in your family health quota. By serving a healthy, balanced meal at least once a day, you’ll be making great progress. But the problem is schedules, sports, dance classes, band practice, church…did I miss something else that has you going almost every night of the week? We often find ourselves in the car at dinnertime schlepping kids to yet another activity during dinner time. Or we’re driving thru for a quick bite (and feeling guilty about it) or going out to dinner (again—there goes the family budget!).
How do we get back to the dinner table anyway? The first step would be to reevaluate your family’s schedule. What is the reality of your schedule? Are you out of the house almost every night of the week? Can any of these activities be combined and done in one night instead of two? Can you eliminate anything?
If you’re out nearly every night of the week, ask yourself these questions honestly: how often are you eating fast food? And even if you are eating fast food, how often are you making the healthiest choices on those menus?
Body Clutter is a FAMILY project– becoming healthy and fueling yourself and your family with the right amount of quality food is a lifestyle, not a diet. Talk to your family about food—have a family meeting. Tell them your intentions and invite them to come aboard. You might not get the warm welcome you’re hoping for when you’re talking about a healthy diet! But stay persistent, buy healthier foods and make them for dinner (how about adding a nice green leafy salad a few times this week for dinner? A bowl of baby carrots for the table? See how easy this can be?). Take a family walk after dinner and leave the TV in the OFF position. Just these little babysteps will make a huge difference.
Remember, you can’t organize clutter; you have to get rid of it. That means body clutter, too.
You are so right, the parents have to lead by example, and it doesn’t have to be hard. It brings to mind when I wanted my daughter to start eating more vegetables. I personally didn’t care for broccoli at the time, but I found that if I dipped it in Catalina dressing, I could get it down. My daughter on the other hand, would eat the whole bowl – raw and plain. She still does.
They’ll eat it if you put it there. A friend at work has kids 3 & 5 yrs. old. She came in the other day and said, “I can’t believe it – broccoli is their new favorite food!”
Even my dog loves broccoli.
I still eat my with dressing, but I eat it, and so do they.