Almost a year ago I wrote about my food struggles with our beautiful, spirited daughter, Charley.
Her full story can be read here, but the gist of it is that she was an extremely difficult baby and toddler and pretty much hated all food except for packaged, processed garbage. Out of pure desperation and exhaustion, we allowed her to survive on that, until last June when we made a goal to have her eating only whole, unprocessed foods in our home (progress, not perfection) by age 5.
“Our goal is no packaged foods by age five. At home, she will have only whole, unprocessed foods. I don’t want her to miss out on some of the wonderful parts of childhood; ice cream on hot days, treats at her grandparents house, or cake at birthday parties. We won’t restrict things like that which are outside of the home. But her food in our house will be real.“
Charley is 4 years old now, and you can’t imagine how many times I have regretted posting that article. Most of the time I’m on board and still fired up about changing her eating habits, but when it’s 5:30pm and I’m in the midst of the dinner battle, I often wish I never made that goal and I wish I had never posted it publicly. On the flip side, when the battle is finished, I feel so glad that I made that goal public as it keeps me accountable. Accountability in any health challenge is key.
Charley has come so far with her eating and her little self has changed quite dramatically because of it. Here are a few things we have introduced since the original post back in June of 2014.
1) If you don’t eat what is served for dinner, you don’t eat at all.
Totally harsh. I know it is. But we’ve implemented this rule a few months ago and guess what? My kids are both still alive and functioning well. They do go to bed hungry sometimes, but they sleep fine and wake up ready for a big healthy breakfast. I know some parents warm up the leftover dinner and put it out again for breakfast for their child, but I don’t do that. We start each day fresh. (Note: I didn’t implement this rule at the beginning of our journey to whole foods, as I do think it is quite a leap, especially for a 3 year old. We made this decision and rule after about 7 months of slowly transitioning from packaged to whole.) Also, this applies only to dinner time, where we sit and eat as a family. Her breakfasts and lunches are often different than mine, but still whole and unprocessed.
2) New Food Chart.
Charley has a simple sticker chart that we keep taped to the fridge. Every time she tries a new food (trying a new food is quite intimidating for her – she has a very sensitive gag reflex) she gets to put a sticker on her chart. When the chart is full, she gets to pick out a new toy from the toy store. Huge thanks to my friend Alyne for this idea. Notice that she does not get a sticker for eating everything on her plate. We aren’t even going there at this point. Prior to this sticker chart we were bribing her with a couple chocolate chips or smarties, but we knew it was wrong and not helpful, plus, SUGAR. We don’t need any more of it.
3) Charley is involved in preparing her food.
This girl loves to be in the kitchen with me. We make everything from scratch and I love passing that down to her, and dreaming of one day when she will pass it on to her children. She has her own adorable little apron and recently received an awesome children’s knife set for Christmas from her auntie and uncle. These knives are sharp enough to actually chop but are totally safe. She loves them! You can find them here.
4) We are consistent with our “rules” and the way we talk about food.
I wrote the post Why We Don’t Use the F-Word and Other Family Rules some time ago, and we stick to this. We continue to encourage her and remind her that food is fuel for her body, food gives her energy and strength, and strength is beautiful.
Since we started this challenge back in June, Charley has been sleeping like a rock. She’s in bed sometime between 6:30-7:00pm and sleeps until around 7:00am, with barely any exceptions. This is a huge improvement from before, where she was waking up every 1-3 hours during the night and not able to fall asleep until after 8:00pm. Her intense mood swings have calmed down, although they haven’t vanished. She is still our spirited little girl and struggles with transitions and other things, but the amount of outbursts and temper tantrums has decreased hugely. We can clearly see now when she does have excess sugar how much of an effect it has on her behaviour.
It’s still not perfect. Every once in awhile my kids still eat Annie’s noodles, although way less often. They both still fight me on most vegetables and fruit. Often I want to throw my hands up in the air and give up, but then I remind myself to think of her future…
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for her to enter her teen years not hating her body? To live her young adult life knowing that her worth is not dependent on a number on a scale? To grow up already having healthy eating habits and exercise built into her life, rather than having to begin them at a later age, making it so much more difficult? To look in the mirror and feel strong, capable, and loved? Most adult women don’t feel that way about themselves, and it’s time to break that cycle. We need to stop passing it down to our children. The cycle can be broken, and as a parent, you have the power to do it.
For some of you reading this, it may seem so simple and obvious. You probably fed your child only whole and unprocessed foods from the very beginning. You can’t figure out why some of us didn’t do that. Be kind. You may struggle with some other aspect of parenting that comes easy to us, or you may not. Either way, be kind.
For others of you, the struggle of getting your child to eat only whole and unprocessed foods seems impossible. This post isn’t meant to make you feel guilty about that. It’s meant to be an encouragement and a promise to you that if I can do it, so can you. You can start somewhere and make slow, consistent changes. It’s really really really difficult, but it’s worth it. Break the cycle.
Recipe for the cookies can be found on The Jordan Project blog.