The Issue: The Food Police…Eating Across the Generations

Food, glorious food!  Whether for nourishment, comfort or a treat, food clearly is a source of contention between the generations of parents.  We know this from conversations with other parents and grandparents as well as from personal experience. So…for all  children who have ever been challenged by the ‘Clean Plate Club’ and for all adults who wrestle with ‘Just how much and which food is enough for good health?’,  herewith our two perspectives as food for thought!

 

She Said MOM

I am grateful to be able to say that mealtime is not a dreaded event in my house. I know that it is fraught with anxiety in many homes with young (and maybe not so young) children. I am fortunate that my son likes a lot of vegetables, fruit and other healthy foods and seems to eat what he needs without being cajoled. He does love (love!) chocolate, pasta and sweets. In fact, chocolate is the standard of how much he loves something…if he loves it as much as chocolate, it is really special.

This is all good, when I am the only one directing his meals. Add grandparents, family and other adults and it gets more complicated.  I am the sugar police, battling others who want to make my son happy by giving him sugar. Not that I don’t do sweets, but they are in moderation. I don’t do sticky/hard candy or gum. My son and husband have created the word “wuice” for my watered down juice (and this is the 100% juice). Before you chalk this up to paranoia, let me tell you that I police with backup – straight from my pediatrician and dentist.  I even asked my dentist to write me a note about sugar and juice. Sounds silly, but trust me – as a mom – my radar for rolled eyes is very acute! I felt vindicated, when I attended a presentation at our local library by a dental hygienist who brought empty bottles of 100% juice and other drinks filled with the actual number of tablespoons of sugar they contain. You would be amazed!

In our house, we don’t force eating. We do have a few rules though: 1) please take a bite before deciding you hate something (you might like it!); 2) eat the healthy food first; and 3) if you choose not to eat dinner, that’s it until breakfast. These rules work – no threats, just the understanding that this is your choice, if you make it. And yes, my son has gone to bed choosing not to eat dinner and awakened the next morning perfectly fine. I do share with my son the story of how he was sure he didn’t like ice cream until he tried it and now he loves it.  The tables were turned recently, when I told him I don’t like crabs.  He responded, “I’d like to see you try them”.  Which of course, I had to do!

I try to take the emotions and power struggle out of eating – which generally leaves room for conversation and family time. I firmly believe my pediatrician’s advice that children eat what they need.  They have not yet learned the adult issue of emotional eating. My son will actually turn down dessert, when he is full, whereas my husband and I have been known to stuff ourselves to an uncomfortable point just because that chocolate looks sooo good.  I am trying to teach my son  that healthy eating is about balancing the ‘good stuff for your body’ with the ‘foods that are yummy but don’t help your body grow’.

She Said GRAND

As a baby boomer, my parents endured the Great Depression and WWII rationing.  So, the ‘clean plate’ club was de rigueur for our family.  Whether or not we liked what was served, we had to sit at the dinner table until we ate it all.  Waste not, want not.

When raising my children, I tempered that attitude toward food, yet I was not very flexible when it came to ‘finish your dinner or no dessert’ and no snacking between meals. I did not force food on my children, though. Still, quite a difference between my food rules and those of my own parents. And so it continues with today’s parents and grandparents.

Talk about differences… When did skipping meals become ‘ok’ with parents?  While my own son and daughter may have eaten grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly day in, day out for months at a time, I never, ever recall letting them skip dinner just because they weren’t hungry…only if they were sick. And then what do you do, when the child is hungry a few hours later or cries out in the middle of the night from hunger?  Start your own ‘on demand catering service’? And another foreign concept to me: Hearing a mom or dad say to their child, “At least taste it.  It’s ok to leave the rest. At least you tried it.”

 

Ok, MOM really is on a soapbox on this one!  So, figuring out a balanced approach could be tough.   Here’s how we’re handling – or at least trying to handle – the issue of ‘The Food Police’.

MOM

The clean plate club is a tough one. Not too long ago, I heard someone tell my son that he should eat all his food, because there are starving children. Think about that logically: Even at 4 years old, I think that kids question how not eating their food in their house is going to affect starving children elsewhere. I mean, unless you are actually going to wrap it up and mail it…….

Personally, I feel that too many people of all ages have eating disorders and issues, and while I believe that there are many contributing factors, I don’t want to add to this by creating control dramas with food. If pediatricians are telling us that kids eat the amount of food their bodies need and if I am giving my child healthy food choices for the majority of their food intake, then that’s all I really need to worry about. So, if your child or grandchild is a picky eater, talk to the doctor. If the children are getting what they need – even if it’s a steady diet of the same three meals – and the pediatrician says don’t sweat it, DON’T SWEAT IT!

If you are a Grand (or parent) who shows love with sugary foods, please consider how you would feel holding your grandchild’s hand, while they get their cavities filled or struggle with being overweight. Maybe part of the division here is that there is different information on nutrition today then there was when we were kids. But if you have that new information from credible sources, isn’t it your responsibility to use it?

GRAND

Whew!  So much to consider, where do I begin?

So, here goes…

What a change in the playing field these days…almost a 180 degree turn regarding the amount of food a person needs daily; what we thought were healthy choices; emphasis on portion control; no snacks between meals; and the like.  And here’s the thing about what and what not to do in child rearing:  It changes with every generation! And, yes, MOM, that does make a difference in parenting today versus even a decade ago – which can help clarify why there is a division on so many issues.

Now, back to the Food Police.  So much research has provided a football field of new knowledge about nutrition and food; it’s overwhelming.  MOM once told me that yes, the internet is wonderful, yet it also sometimes is just information overload which makes it difficult to determine what, and what not, to believe.

Through MOM, I learned about two years ago the awful truth about juice, yes I’m talking about 100% juice.  While I scoffed for months at her efforts to dilute the juice with water, both her husband and I oftentimes would succumb to her son’s pleadings to make it with more juice and less water.  So much so, that he would request juice ‘like you make it’ instead of his mother’s watered down version.  Guilty! (I must add that Mom and I both push water throughout the day, as that is one of my preferred beverages.)

Now, let me throw some kudos out to Mom and her generation of parents and give credit where it is due: It is today’s parents who are the driving force getting manufacturers and vendors to provide much healthier choices and the FDA to prohibit or change regulations regarding dyes, BPA-free products, less chemicals and more natural ingredients.

And, I need to share my ‘Aha’ moment: I now understand that having children ‘at least taste’ food and not finish is a great way to introduce new foods to children. It often takes several ‘tastes’ to like a new food because of color, texture or cooking method.  I get that now…thanks, MOM!

While I realize that most of the accommodation on this issue should and will come from my generation, here’s how I am comfortable dealing with all of these food issues:

  1. I learn what foods my grandchildren like and prefer not to have.  So at my house, I focus on what they do like to eat and child size portions. That ends some of the struggles.  Clearly, I don’t want meal time at my house to be unpleasant. And, I am learning not to push the ‘clean plate’ club anymore.
  2. I make a sincere effort to follow the parent’s preferences about food.  For example, I give my grandson only one sweet treat a day, when I am responsible for him at mealtimes or an entire day.  He knows this rule and usually abides by it, but sometimes it’s not easy when he wants to push for ‘just one more cookie’.  I will hold my ground! I will, I will…
  3. I wholeheartedly support her efforts to avoid inflicting, or laying the groundwork for, emotional eating on her son’s part.  I struggle with that daily myself!
  4. I will tell MOM that she is doing a great job of educating me about new nutrition and food knowledge and related recommendations.  In fact, I just did tell her.  HOWEVER, this is a huge learning curve for me, so it will take time and I will need several refresher courses.
  5. And when I do fall off the wagon, I will remind MOM to be gentle with me…I really do want what’s best for my grandson and all my grandchildren.  It’s just a whole new playing field and you’re trying to teach an old dog, new tricks!
Wrap up: MOM

I am grateful that my GRAND is open to the new information.  In fact, it was she who showed me the article that proved that kids can get as many essential vitamins from certain fruits as vegetables (fruits often being much easier to like!). And, I am learning that it is ‘okay’ for the Food Police to take a day off without long-term damage to my child – looks like we are working towards that middle ground!

 

A note from Remy (GRAND) and Blair (MOM):

 

This is our 3rd monthly feature….And we’re really opening up our relationship and putting it on the line, hoping to help others by sharing and discussing our relationship issues and those from other grandparents and parents.  From the ongoing feedback, we know we are not alone in this! Let us hear from you.  We promise not to divulge your identity and we’ll dig deep to help you with a view from both sides of the pothole, voicing the perspective of Mom and Grand.

Share your grandparent/parent questions, situations and issues with us and we’ll try to help!  Email us at info@momandgrand.com.

Look for our new Facebook page coming soon with chances to win prizes for ‘liking’ us and sharing the link with your friends and relatives …and lots of ways you can become an active part of this ongoing conversation between parents and grandparents.  We can help each other!

 

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About Remy Agee and Blair Selby

Blair Selby is currently 'a parent in training' by her preschooler. In her former life, she taught preschool; facilitated parenting groups; and sometimes even slept in. Remy Agee, 'Gam ' and 'Grandma', a GRAND featured columnist on school readiness, continues to learn about life and this amazing world from her five grandchildren and about today's parenting from their parents.