By Anna Thomson
The foods that we love, or associate with love, are often deeply rooted in our childhood memories. When we become mothers, feeding our children becomes one of the many outward expressions of our love and intrinsic desire to nurture and nourish. But what happens when our children constantly complain or reject that which we have carefully prepared? At the very least it may be frustrating, but it can also feel like a rejection of our love and care.
First, it helps to let go of the idea that our efforts will be rewarded or that children will recognise that we are nourishing and loving them through our food. In our house my children sometimes sigh initially when it’s what they call a ‘Downy Dinner’ – a downer because it doesn’t match what they want (what their friends have) although it’s what their bodies need. It has become a bit of a running in joke, just like their belief of the incredible misfortune of having a mum who is a nutritionist…
Teaching children a new way
We need to teach children to be open to food that isn’t immediately easy and tasty, that it can be just ok. By opening our hearts, minds and palates to variety we can learn to love and appreciate a whole range of foods, but it takes time. It would be far easier to rely on those easy wins. Foods that our bodies evolved to crave and contributed to our ancient ancestors’ survival: fat to store for lean times, sweet for the vitamins and phytonutrients held within fruit. Today many kiddie favourites are high fat, salt or sugar foods and often the cheapest and most processed options. They’re highly seductive and palatable, they’re easy food love but they will not love our children if they become lodged in the everyday.
We show children our love by exposing them to what they need to learn and appreciate. Never has it been more crucial to support immune competence, the food we eat provides the nutrients for optimum function. The microbiome is implicated in so many aspects of physical and mental health but relies on being fed a diverse range of plant species. By exposing children to variety, seasonal abundance and all that is available locally, it also demonstrates our love for the planet and the natural cycles.
How we model love
Equally as important, we need to model what self-love looks like. We can do this by eating nourishing food that sustains and supports health. Not the crusts and the dried-up leftovers from their plates that many mothers exist on. We do not need to jump up and down from the table to satisfy everyone else’s needs and wants without honouring our own. When this constantly occurs our poor bodies don’t know what to do; is it a stressful flight or fight moment or is it time to rest and digest?
We show our love through habits, holding our children within a positive food space, tightly held in terms of what we choose to buy and prepare but with room to explore – and to let it go from time to time. But it’s the constant that creates our children’s food normal, within the context of shared family time, fun and conversation.
Those fond childhood memories we treasure, they are experienced and stored up throughout childhood. It’s the feelings we attach to the food that we crave. We can love strongly by creating these memories. I don’t doubt that my children as adults will reminisce with some affection most of those ‘Downy Dinners’ served with love that with time they also learned to love.
Guest writer: Anna Thomson is a registered nutritionist and founding director of Nourishing Families CIC, a social enterprise dedicated to supporting parents and children build a lifelong, healthy relationship with food.
As a mum to three children she lives and breathes (or cooks and eats!) this work daily. A recent two-year stint in rural Kyoto, Japan together with her family continues to inspire and influence her work.
Soul Food September:
Throughout September, Soulhub is sharing personal stories from Guest Writers including Nutritionalist (Author of Gut Gastronomy, Broth & Amazing Edible Seeds) Vicki Edgson, Soul Food Live every Tuesday with Carey Davies-Munro, Q&A’s with nutritional specialists Sue Camp & Melinda McDougall, podcasts with Nicola Moore, and education about our relationship with food.
Focused on Food & Mood, Food & Health, Food & Energy and Food & Love – Join us to learn, share and create. Sign up to our soul-newsletter, to get weekly reminders.