We’ve had a few posts here on Mamamia about things we should and shouldn’t say to women, men, children, pregnant people, straight people, gay people, people who are suffering from illness, people with mental or physical disabilities and so on.
And today I am writing about things we are not supposed to say to kids when it comes to food. As I said above, I’ve often thought that sometimes people were oversensitive about what others should and shouldn’t say when it comes to certain things, but after more thought, I realised that these were “ideal world” scenarios as opposed to “you will be locked up and arrested if you break these rules” situations.
Whilst I do want to discuss what we aren’t supposed to say to kids when it comes to food, I also really want to acknowledge that we, or at least I, very often do say these things. Sometimes we’re stressed. Sometimes we’re not thinking. Sometimes we’ve had no sleep the night (week, month) before and we can’t see straight. And sometimes we just make mistakes.
I really like the ideas behind all of these suggestions and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being aspirational. That said, it’s definitely a good idea to be realistic with yourself and know that at some point or another most of us have muttered some (if not all) of these things to small people, be they our own or the children of others.
1. “Finish every single mouthful on that plate or you are NOT leaving this table!”
Due to the healthy appetite I had from the moment I entered this world, my parents never said this one to me! They didn’t need to.
Luckily for me, so far, I haven’t needed to either. Again, let me say I’m not on a high horse about this and if I had kids that didn’t eat enough I probably would be pulling this out left, right and centre.
However, because my kids eat a really good breakfast and lunch, I don’t freak out at dinner when there is still half a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese left on their plate. I simply double check they’ve had enough (and don’t just want to leave the table because Peppa Pig has started), and then put the remaining food in the fridge to have cold for lunch the next day.
As you know I am not a dietician or a doctor, but I’ve heard the pros talk about this being the wrong thing to say because apparently it doesn’t allow kids to regulate their own level of fullness. It undermines their ability to judge when they have genuinely had enough. It has also been stated by some adult overeaters as the reason they have eating disorders later in life.
2. “I hate apricots/pawpaw/sultanas/steak. DISGUSTING!”
GUILTY! I do this all the time. If my husband or a friend offers me something I don’t like or even if I’m watching a cooking show on TV and I see food that I don’t like, I shout “Gross! No thanks.” Really mature, I know! It just comes out. I’m working on it though because if you think about it, if you were a kid and your Mum or Dad yelled out in horror that something was disgusting, you’re likely to believe the same before you’ve even tried it.
It’s for this reason that I consciously give my kids more apricots than the next person! To counteract my inappropriate criticism of them in the past! Whilst it absolutely wouldn’t be the biggest tragedy the world has ever seen if my kids ended up disliking the same foods as me, if I can help it to not be that way then I might as well try.
3. “That’s really bad for you!”
Lots of parents are known to say this to their kids when it comes to cake, ice cream, hot chips, chocolates, lollies and other such foods. What I think, as discussed in a post a while back, is that nothing is really bad, but perhaps certain things are “sometimes” foods that are better eaten only on special occasions.
Personally, I think that anything at all, eaten in moderation, is okay. It’s my belief that by labeling things as ‘bad’ we can create associations of some foods being ‘wrong’ to eat which might lead to guilt and overeating when inevitably the opportunity to eat these things away from adults presents itself. I have friends who have bans on certain foods, so I know for sure some readers will disagree with me on this one, and that’s fine too.
4. “James is a really fussy eater, Tommy was never this fussy”
Sometimes when you label people, both kids and adults, as something, “naughty”, “the class clown”, “always crying” etc then they subconsciously and sometimes consciously, do their best to live up to their name. Whilst this can work in a good way “you are such a caring little boy Mike”, “you are a good kid for always sharing Sarah”, it can also have the reverse effect. Perhaps trying to help James with his fussy eating would be a better approach!?
5. “If you stop crying right now you can have some hot chips!”
Again, GUILTY! I mean seriously, as a parent, bribery has been my best friend on way more than one occasion. Whether this is right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. But the more I’m becoming familiar with this parenting gig, I am realising that food isn’t necessarily the best thing to bribe with! A game of cricket with their friends, an extra 15 minutes up-time at night, another book at bedtime are probably smarter bribes to use.
6. “Don’t eat that it will make you fat!”
Surely I don’t have to explain why this is a no-no. But I will. Firstly, to paint fat as the worst thing in the world that you can be is just two thousand bazillion shades of wrong. The end. Secondly, one chip, or even ten for that matter will not make you fat so it’s just an incorrect statement full stop.
Along these lines, is also adults saying to kids that they will need to exercise to burn off the fat or calories of a certain food. It’s not good for the same reasons as above. It’s also better to refer to our bodies as strong, healthy, fast, amazing, capable, and active as opposed to fat, thin or otherwise.
Do you say things to your kids that you know you shouldn’t about food? Were these things said to you when you were growing up?