In the 45 minutes duration of my son’s soccer lesson recently, I witnessed mini packets of shapes, rice wheels, grain waves, potato stix, biscuits with lollies stuck to them, cupcakes, juice poppers all being enjoyed by younger siblings. It was between 9.45am and 10.30am. No children asked for food at any point. All were offered it by parents incessantly. All went on to do other things such as scootering, running, climbing a tree, while eating the snacks.
I therefore wanted to write about an observation I’ve made recently, in an effort to put it out there, that we largely have the way we feed our kids – and ourselves – a little wrong. I’m certainly not saying that you do or I don’t or anyone’s “guilty”, because we can’t be guilty if we don’t even realise something’s wrong – that’s the thing with this problem, it’s mindless.
I am here to suggest that we are all swimming in a pool of mindless eating, so here’s a post on the observation, the negative effects, and of course, what to do about it.
Snacks were born from marketers seeing an opportunity to amplify a problem and resolve it by offering something to buy as the solution. There was indeed a problem. We couldn’t last until the next meal. We were hungry all the time. Bingo. Make small profitable, stable shelf life packets to respond to this so called societal hunger crisis. Snacks gave birth to eating on the go. Snacks took us away from sitting to a table to enjoy a beautiful big meal, because come meal time, who’s hungry anyway? We’ve eaten too many darn snacks!!! Snacks were built out of the rise of grain and sugar based meals from the 1970s, because you just can’t last until the next meal with 2 pieces of bread and a tiny couple of bits of things on the inside or a few sugary flakes or puffs. You get hungry. You need something more. What a genius economic business growth strategy, right? Now I’ve got nothing against people making money, no. At the expense of health though? Children’s health? Then, yes, in that case I do take issue.
My research mission: Trying not to look creepy, I tasked myself with sitting at a playground bench and watching parents with their kids. Within minutes, no matter what time of the morning, you’ll start to hear ‘want a banana? want some biscuits? how about a ginger bread man? here have a rice wheel, c’mon! here’s a sandwich sweetie, just take a little bite’… You’ll start to see parents feeding and suggesting food while kids are half way up play equipment. You’ll observe that the child probably had food furthest from their mind as they were in the middle of pretending to be on a rocket ship. You’ll see drink bottles being flung about mid-ladder. You’ll see cupcakes loaded with fake coloured toppings being brought out at 10am after a big run around, when a big drink of water was all that was needed. I’ve never once in the weeks of observing, ever heard a child say they were hungry to their parent. I’m not saying that a child won’t be hungry ever between meals, not at all – in fact many kids are constantly hungry which is why I wrote THAT PIECE to help. I’m simply saying that in hours of watching and observing, I’ve not yet heard one say it and stop playing to come to their parent seeking food.
We have to stop pestering our kids to eat and most importantly,
we have to stop them eating while they are busy doing something else. While we’re at it, we have
to stop doing it too!
Two questions therefore we need to ask ourselves
1. Do we create mindless eating – eating around the clock, at any hour, without thinking about the food we’re eating or stopping to enjoy it.
2. Are we taking away a child’s natural instinct to be able to communicate to us, when they are hungry or thirsty.
3. Are we feeding ourselves / our kids the wrong foods that they only last an hour before the next pang of hunger strikes? And, is there anything truly wrong with a hunger pang in the first place?
We are instilling a fear of hunger when it should be a feeling that is welcomed. It’s an important conversation our body has with us, when we give it the chance to speak. Should we not be teaching our kids to listen to their bodies?
The reasons we want to feed our kids in this mindless way are well meaning. We never want to have an upset child and always want to provide for our child. Whenever food was around back in our hunter gatherer days, we’d feed our children as much as we could. We can relax now though. We can grab food easily and when needed and that’s something to be extremely grateful for, when some in the world cannot. We are going to be just fine even if we come to feel peckish. I feel sad thinking about the poor kids who really don’t have much food and feel hungry all the time. I wish we could be feeding them instead of overfeeding our own!
Good big meals, teaching to stop and eat and enjoy is how the French do it – there might be a little afternoon tea, but that’s it. It’s way cheaper, way healthier because you avoid literally hundreds of additives and weird numbers if what you’re ‘losing’ is processed snacks. It’s way more sustainable because you avoid so many plastic packets and it allows little bodies immune building time, by having times where they’re not digesting food.
Or, if you find you’re a family that prefers smaller meals and a couple of small snacks in between, then let them be real food.
This is a wake up call to see if we might be over feeding unnecessary foods to our children – both because they might not be hungry and possibly also because many of the foods in question are processed snacks that there is zero need nor benefit from.
If your little one is always hungry try reading this post for ideas or if they’re super fussy and disinterested, then this chocolate shake should sort that out as an addition to the breakky table or for a pause on the bench at the park.
If you have hyperglycemia, type 2 diabetes or other blood sugar related issues, then of course, more regular eating is essential, however you can improve your condition or your child’s with an experienced practitioner’s advice and council and even reverse those issues, sometimes completely. If you have a child under 2, they’re small and have small tummies and little tide over snacks are important between meals, but just one mid morning and one mid afternoon are fine. Incessant eating means lots of time spent digesting and not enough time replenishing the immune system.
If you’ve realised: Oh CRAP, this is me: Do not panic. Today is the day you can change it. I am a recovered mindless eater and still have to catch myself. The other day in the kitchen, I caught myself doing squats while eating a piece of dark chocolate. True story. Some might say that’s actually productive cancellation theory. I say, mindless eating.
So, what to do?
Step 1: Do you eat mindfully? If not, start today. Implement a policy at home and out, where none of you eat ‘on the go’ ie, moving. No walking, driving, TV watching, I pad browsing while eating. If you have to stop and do nothing else every time you eat, chances are you’re going to realise that eating is not a priority and you’d rather be doing something else. Eat at meal times.
Step 2: When you eat. Concentrate on it and get your kids to aswell. The taste, texture, the sensation it gives you and when you are starting to feel full or lose pleasure from the food. Our minds lose pleasure from a food that we’ve had enough of. This is particularly dangerous with processed foods, as they mess with these natural messages and we can risk never being told we’re full – especially from trans fats, chemically made salt and fake sweeteners.
Step 3: Between meals, never suggest food to your child and if they ask for food, try saying ‘lunch is in a little bit’ if you’re less than an hour away from lunch. If they’re super hungry, have a few cheese squares, celery sticks or crackers with jam and nut butter at the ready to stave off the hunger until meal time but keep it to a minimum to encourage them to eat their main meals. Stop buying processed packet snacks. There’s absolutely no need for them. Cancel one a week and go easy on yourself at first, but phase them out. Shop with the chemical maze app by your side and learn what’s in them. You’ll be horrified by what we’ve been spun over the past decades and empowered to take control back of YOU deciding what your kids are nourished with, not marketers. It’s not your fault. Most of us totally fell for them, including myself until 12 years ago. Pop tarts for breakfast anyone?
Step 4: Up the nutrient density of your meals. Can you add a little butter to your veg, a stock based sauce to your meat, coconut cream or cream to your soups, stews or curries? Read this post to get more ideas. Slow and steady burning energy from nutrient dense foods, means calmer, more relaxed kids. Now, who doesn’t want a piece of that action!?!?!
Step 5: Don’t call processed foods, treats. Your kids will thank you for this a million times over once they’re grown ups. Read my article on redefining treats here. or check out my book on the subject, including 68 recipes here.
Step 6: Clear your own food issues. Secret eating, constant browsing of fridge, reward treats that aren’t real treats (see step 5 link)… You won’t be able to be the example you want to be for your kids until your own issues are gone. Man, I had some issues. Secret eating, browsing non stop for food. I grew up not eating very mindfully, so I had a heck of a lot of work to do there. It can be and needs to be done.
I’d be keen to here your thoughts. Your journey, a realisation, a success story in cutting out processed foods? Mindful eating is a life skill and it’s up to us to teach it, even if that means learning it first ourselves.
If you fancy getting deeper into food and thriving kids – everything from psychology, to deficiencies, fussy eating and more, the next round of my THRIVE e course is open for registration so hop over and check it out here.
Real Food. Happy Bodies.