Monday, July 30, 2018

No Parents, Your Children Aren't "Stealing Food" (And Some Thoughts On How To Silently Cultivate Better Choices)

It's a concern I hear not infrequently when meeting with parents of children with obesity - that their son or daughter is "stealing" food.

I have no doubt too, that in some cases, those kids received some perhaps well-intentioned, but I think very misplaced, ire about it.

The stories are all pretty similar, and often occur on weekends or after school whereby parents come home and find evidence that their child has raided the fridge, cupboard, or freezer by way of wrappers, cans, dirty dishes, or a much emptier than before container.

As to what's happening, some thoughts.

First off, we all did it. I remember "stealing" Voortman Strawberry-Turnovers pretty much every Saturday morning while my parents were sleeping and I was watching cartoons. Some mornings I'd put away 6 of them.

And why did I do it?

Because they're were delicious, and I was hungry, and I was a kid, and they were there, and because I could.

Secondly, we all still do it. Who doesn't grab a handful of this, or a package of that, multiple times a week or even daily?

Plainly put, grabbing yummy, readily available, oftentimes calorie dense and unhealthy foods is part of the human condition.

And though I appreciate that parents who may be concerned about their children's weights and/or eating patterns find this behaviour alarming, believing there to be something wrong with their children, or that their children lack "willpower", is unwise and unfair.

If you're worried about your children's (or your own) grazing habits, here are a few things for you to consider.
  • Take an inventory of the "stolen" foods in your home. Are they cookies, candy granola bars, drinkable ice-creams yogurts,  soda, flat-soda juice, etc.? If so, could you buy them less frequently? And eventually not at all?
  • Are your children's other meals and snacks designed to be filling? Are they large enough? Do they include protein? Are they eating them or do they skip meals? Ensuring you're providing your children with filling, regular meals and snacks may lead them to come home less driven to raid the cupboards. And if they're skipping meals and snacks, are they doing so consequent to your own example?
  • Are your children worried they'll simply never get anything "good"? If your home is highly restrictive around treats, and your children don't know when they'll next be offered one, grabbing one when you're not there is not a surprising outcome. To combat snack and treat based food insecurity, plan them into your child's week and ensure they're made aware that they'll be getting them - and this too may provide you with a great opportunity to work on weekly treat-inclusive menu planning with your family which in turn is an important life skill.
  • Make the stuff you want them to eat more of more readily accessible and inviting. Wash all fruits and vegetables when you get home from the grocery store and leave them in visible, easy to reach, inviting bowls while relocated the stuff you'd prefer they eat less of to cupboards and drawers that require more effort to see. And note, I'm not recommending hiding anything or locking it away, just ensuring that the easiest things to see and eat and the foods you'd prefer that they grab.
So, if your kids are grabbing stuff, instead of approaching them with anger or overt concern, instead try to approach them with genuine curiosity to find out what's going on, and then turn back to that list up above. If they just really like those things they're grabbing, then planning them into the menu may help. If they report they're starving, exploring their daytime eating patterns and choices to look for ways to ensure they get enough to eat so as to not arrive home famished. If they report there wasn't anything good to grab, brainstorm other options and make sure they're readily available and visible.

And lastly don't forget who we're talking about. If the expectation of regularly making healthy choices just because they're healthy isn't a fair expectation for all of us fully grown adults (and it's not), why would it be fair to expect that of your children?

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