What to Eat, or How To Eat?
Cooking, eating, feeing our kids, and staying healthy. This is the stuff of life. Food is personal, food is political; it is family, culture, love and comfort. And at its most basic and essential, food is fuel. But when so much of what is available to put into our bodies is highly refined, questionable, unhealthy, even dangerous, and when there are so many differing opinions on what to eat, things get complicated.
I too am concerned with what we eat, but in many ways, I think that *how* we eat is perhaps even more important.
In addition to what we eat, *How* we eat can perpetuate obesity, body-image problems, low self-confidence and disease. On the other hand, *How* we eat can also inoculate our children against all of these, I firmly believe. I don’t know a single parent who isn’t concerned about these issues, especially in our age of extremes: abundance and lack, information and ignorance. (In a nutshell, how we approach food, meals, eating and nourishment with our kids is the subject of the book I’m working on. I’m hoping it will be ready for release in March. But ssshhh. I’m not really telling anybody yet.)
I have written quite a bit about food in the past, and I will be doing more of that in this space. Am I uniquely qualified to give advice on this topic? A couple of answers: 1. No more so than anyone else. 2. Maybe. (I’m just about to complete my certification as a Health Counsellor through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I am currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist through CSNN. If you’re interested in accreditation. Which I am not, particularly, to be quite honest.)
But number three, the long and most sincere answer, is that I’m not really aiming to give advice, but to share my story, and to share some of the strategies that I have learned to deal with the thorny issues surrounding feeding a family. Because I have probably made more mistakes as a parent when it comes to food than anyone else I know. These mistakes arose from my genuine attempts to be a 100% organic wholistic super-mum, and…they backfired for many reasons, which, in retrospect, I think I have come to terms with. I think to a degree, we all harbour unrealistic expectations of the kind of parent we will be for our first child…and maybe our second as well.
Balance is a funny concept. It has taken some experimentation to really figure out how I define balance, for myself and our family. But I have thought at great length about Food and how we approach it in our culture, and I have found specific ways to achieve balance and ease in our way of eating and nourishing our family.
In my early parenting years, I struggled a lot with extremes and rigidity around food. My kids did not eat sugar. Ever. Not out in the world, not at home, not during holidays…never. My kids did not eat wheat. My kids did not eat *anything* that wasn’t 100% certified organic, ever. Life was miserable. Everyone was anxious.
We do need moderation. And we need to live in the world. But I have also realized that I don’t need to compromise my ideals. Balance does NOT mean, just heading to the grocery store and buying some healthy foods and buying some junk foods and embracing the laissez faire. Balance does NOT mean eating fantastic, wholesome meals, and then following that up with dessert every night.
Defining Your Family Culture
The middle way came to me like a revelation, and once I began to live like this, so much of my work as a parent became so much easier.
It comes down to creating a strong family culture around food. In our home, we don’t buy or use or serve refined sugar, or really any refined foods. Our freezer is stocked with grass-fed, naturally raised meats from farmers who live within 5 minutes to an hour from us. We eat eggs from our chickens. I have a huge basket of squash in our cold living room, and a box full of apples from the orchard down the road. We are eating tons of kale right now, and I have more in the garden. We buy some items from our farmer’s market weekly, and I do buy oranges, bananas and broccoli from the grocery store. Etc. We eat simple meals made from whole foods. Generally, we are grain-free, sugar-free and free of refined foods…with exceptions.
At home, “treats” aren’t part of our repertoire. Nor is dessert. We eat 3 meals, and this is normal. Our kids eat what is served, and there are no complaints. This is just normal everyday for us.
But when we go out into the world, our kids know that other people do things differently. And this is ok. If a neighbor offers them a muffin, it’s fine. They get to try things out.
If they go to a party, hurray! It’s a special occasion. What fun. They eat cake along with everyone else.
When we go home, we talk about it. “I had a piece of chocolate at the gallery today.” says Horus. With sparkly eyes he asks, “Do you approve, Mum?” And I will say, smiling, Not really. But that’s ok. Things are different at the gallery than they are at home, aren’t they? And the kids understand.
I am very conscious about maintaining our family food culture, celebrating that, but also of validating their experiences of the outside world. Chocolate is tasty, and special. Our kids feel secure knowing that they can count on our meals being a certain way at home, but that their mother is totally relaxed about the experiences they have with food and tasting, outside our home. And I think the key to creating a healthy attitude towards food is this combination of a solid family food culture, and an easy way of being out in our community, and relaxed interactions with other people.
Holidays, again, are a different story. I talked a little bit about this in my Hallowe’en post, and I’ll be discussing our approach to Christmas in the weeks to come. We celebrate with aplomb. And I do love Christmas.
Also,as promised, the “introducing solid foods” post, really is coming right up!