This happened when we were traveling on vacation last week. A most beauteous spread of fresh fruits, whole grains, omelet-made-to-order station, fresh made smoothies, and my child picks this.
Yep. This is my life, too.
I share this because even as a mom, a Registered Dietitian, a foodie, a chef, a believer in all things healthy, and dreamer of a collective and massive cultural shift to optimal eating behaviors for all, I STILL am faced with a sweet and innocent face buried behind a bowl of sugar.
I know what you are thinking. “What did you do?”
I will tell you. But first let me tell you what I did NOT do.
- I did not shame him. He was pretty darn proud of getting this breakfast cereal all on his own. (Magically only 1 piece fell. That’s pretty impressive.)
- I did not take it away. It was his. Who am I to take it away? That’s like erasing a child’s homework, or stealing a prized toy. There is a boundary, which has a strong connection with trust between my child and I.
- I did not get mad.
- I did not laugh at him*
* (I did smile behind his back so he didn’t see me. He exhibited his beautiful 6 – year old autonomy. Such optimism and confidence! Gotta love it.)
This is what I DID do. The three Rs:
- I recognized that he independently got his own breakfast. “Wow, look at you. Great job helping yourself to food!”
- I reflected on what I saw. “Are you really hungry this morning? That’s a really big bowl!”
- I redirected him to healthier and more balanced food choices. “Hey buddy. Looks like you want to refuel this morning. Lets look for some nourishing food options together.”
We approached the fruit and I asked him what looked good and then suggested that he pick three different fruits to add to his plate. I encouraged him to add protein to his breakfast and he agreed to a cheese omelet. The result was a balanced meal, where most of the food choices were made by him. I only helped to guide him there and encourage him along the way.
The bowl of sugar was NOT my idea, but I allowed him to have some after he ate his other food first. As predicted, he did not have much “room” left for what was in the bowl since he was mostly”filled up” with the balanced breakfast.
As a parent, I feel strongly about creating boundaries for my children. I do not let my kids run into oncoming traffic, nor encourage them to play with matches. When it comes to less extreme examples, it can be less clear of how to respond. It can be tricky trying to set a boundary without embarrassing, criticizing, or punishing kids.
When it comes to meal time, we can play a tremendous role in supporting, and not directing, our children with their food choices. In parenting, often times we need to pick and choose our battles, and here is a wonderful opportunity to not make this a “battle” at all.