I’ve just spent an hour in the kitchen. Preparing, cooking, cleaning up. Then, one of them asks me to make them something (or to make it themselves). I say, “No.”
They whine and complain. I listen without trying to reason with them. But it’s still “No, the kitchen’s closed“.
Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to do another thing. Can’t wash another dish. Can’t wipe up another mess. *Most* of the time, I let the kids eat whatever they want to, but sometimes, it’s just ‘no‘.
And, I get it, sometimes that meal you made just doesn’t quite cut it. Sometimes they want something else.
But, I feel like I have to meet my needs as well.
The past few years, I’ve been doing the dance of finding my balance in the kitchen. Meeting my need of not wanting to spend all my time and energy in the kitchen, while honouring the kid’s needs for autonomy in choosing the food they eat. And, it’s all just become easier since getting a dishwasher, yay! But still…
Being too restrictive on a child’s diet can backfire. Kids who are only allowed to eat certain foods at certain times, often rebel by sneaking food. And being too permissive with a child’s diet means you can accidentally end up missing ques that indicate there is a deeper issue going on besides them just wanting a certain food to eat.
Making ‘Special‘ Meals
To save my own sanity, my biggest rule is that I generally don’t make my children seperate meals at mealtime. Occasionally I do, if it fits. Otherwise, they eat what we’re eating. Even the baby. Even the toddler. I might modify what we’re having but no… not I’m not making a cheese sandwich after I just prepared a stir fry. They can make it themselves, but they have to clean it up afterwards. And, if they’re too little to clean it up adequately, then the answer is ‘no‘. It’s not because I’m mean and controlling or only care about their nutrition, it’s mostly because my capacity for doing work has exceeded its limit.
While I often say ‘no‘ to extra requests for food, I do understand that kids have their preferences and maybe they don’t feel like eating what I’ve made! I do my best to accomodate. We often discuss what we all want for dinner before hand, but it’s just not possible to always make what everyone wants.
Can Children Truly Self Regulate Their Diets?
Children have a great capacity to self regulate their diets! When kids are not clouded by stress or pent up negative emotions, they regulate their diet quite well. Even when they tend to binge on junk food, after a while, if they’re given just as many healthy options, and their emotional needs have been met, they will get sick of the junk, and start eating the healthy stuff. It can be tricky to get to the bottom of it all, and sometimes those underlying emotions are quite elusive, but I’ve witnessed my children and others, being allowed to self regulate their diet and it’s true! My oldest daughter can be offered any amount of junk food. The worst of it! And, she does a great job controlling herself.
The catch is that in order for children (and adults) to be able to self regulate their diets, their emotional and physical needs have to be met first. In other words, they need to have been able to cry when they wanted to cry, rage when they needed to rage and laugh when they needed to laugh. As well as feel connected to the people and places around them. (Imagine how you feel when you are upset and you’re not *allowed* to express it, that’s often when we tend to over or under eat). Not to mention, kids need to have had a decent amount of exercise in order to make them feel hungry.
Some kids are better at self regulating their diets than others. My younger daughter is not quite as good at self regulating. She gets a little off balance more easily and tends to not release her pent up emotions as freely. If she binges uncontrollably, or starts whining for a certain food, I stop her. She cries. I support her cry, and afterwards, she tends to stop eating the junk and will eat her healthy food. It’s very interesting if we really pay attention.
Sometimes, the only thing stopping a child from eating healthy food is a big emotional release. One day, I was making some yummy kitchari (Indian style of rice, veggies and beans). My older daughter was crying and having a temper tantrum because she wanted to go out to eat and the rest of us didn’t want to. She whined and cried for at least 5 minutes. After she cried and settled down, she happily sat down and ate her entire bowl of kitchari without any complaints. The cry was not about the type of food being cooked for dinner, it was that she was overstimulated from a big day and needed to release her emotions.
My Needs Are Important Too!
No matter if my kids are self regulating their diet well or not, I need to feel like I’ve been loved and appreciated for my work in the kitchen. I can take some feedback, like, “Um, mama, this dinner was not so yummy, can I have something else?” If it’s no problem, I don’t mind making that extra something, or I don’t mind letting them make something themselves (as long as they agree to clean up the mess). But, I have my limits for how much I can prepare and for how much effort I can exert. If it’s too much, I tell them the kitchen’s closed.
When kids graze, they’re often eating their food without much awareness. A little attention to food gives kids a sense of appreciation to what goes into their body. Food that we put into our body should be honoured. Food is life giving. It’s production takes time and costs not only money, but takes a toll on the planet. We put it into our body to keep our body functioning a certain way. In ayurveda (the ancient science of life), it’s said that you should eat your food with your knees bent (in other words sitting down). Eating with awareness helps with digestion and food choices. If a kid (or anyone) is running around while eating, there is not much awareness of what goes in the mouth.
When my kids graze all day (even on healthy food), then they won’t eat the meal I’ve cooked. I get annoyed. Like, why did I even bother cooking? Kid’s stomach’s are tiny! If they haven’t been grazing, when I put food on the table, they sit on that seat, no wandering around, and they eat, man, they EAT! It’s really lovely to have us all sitting there together enjoying a warm nourishing meal. They have quite a bit of free time the rest of the day, so having a few structured activities of eating together is a nice to way to all come together.