I’m allergic to fish. Yes, all fish including shellfish. I’ve been allergic to most fish since my first major reaction when I was 5 years old. I ate shellfish for years and then my first pregnancy put a stop to that. I started to notice minor, increasingly alarming reactions, to shellfish when my first kid was about 3 weeks old. My allergist tells me that the hormonal shifts during pregnancy probably pushed my body over the fish tolerance line that I was walking on for 15 years. It was really only a matter of time before my body shut down any kind of fish as a potential food group. Interestingly, my kids don’t currently have any food allergies but my fish allergy means that fish is a rarity in our household. And although I encourage them to try different kinds of fish and shellfish, they are hesitant and a little freaked to try it. Because they know that Mama can’t eat it or touch it. My allergy, my inability to eat a food group, has created a hang-up for my kids. I absolutely hate it! I loved shrimp and crab and lobster and calamari when I could eat it and I want my kiddos to enjoy those food but hearing ME say that I CAN’T eat those foods has put a red flag on those food for them. So let me tell you what my kids will absolutely never, ever, ever hear me say about any other food:
I will not tell them that some foods are good while others are bad.
I will not tell them that I can’t have [insert any food/food group currently on the naughty list] with them because I’m trying to lose weight.
I will not tell them that I can’t have pizza with them on Friday night movie night because it doesn’t fit into my diet.
You get my point. Its really important to me to teach my kids that a) food is just food, b) food will always be there to enjoy, and c) to pay attention to your body’s hunger cues.
Food Is Just Food
My kids understand that some foods give your body the building blocks that you need to grow and that you should eat lots of those foods. Fruits don’t last long in our house, we are avid gardeners in the summer and my kids will often be found eating beans, peas, and cucumber straight from the plant. Broccoli and red peppers are their current favourite veggies. They also understand that some foods are just fun to eat! An ice cream or a freezie on a hot summer day; hot chocolate and beavertails after skating in February; french fries and ketchup just because! And don’t get me started on the war against Heinz ketchup – I’m sorry, but I’ve yet to try a homemade/organic/all-natural version that stands up to the classic brand. It’s just a fun food and dipping one food into another is just amazing.
Food Will Always Be There to Enjoy
Most of us, and I would dare to say that all of you reading this post, live with the privilege of knowledge that there is plenty of food at our disposal and it is not going away. Those foods that are fun to eat, don’t have to be eaten every day or in maximal quantities. If you really feel like having chocolate covered almonds, have some. Don’t eat the entire bag. My oldest, at almost 7 years old, is really good at this one. His ability to self-regulate makes me do silent cheers in my head every time! He eats what he likes of whatever the fun food of the moment may be, then tells us that he wants to save the rest for later. Sometimes later comes and he’s happy that he can have more of his fun food, and sometimes the saved items just get forgotten as we go about our day and the desire for them wanes.
Pay Attention to Hunger Cues
Do you really want that handful of crackers right now, or are you actually hungry and may its time to think about a meal? What foods does your body actually need right now? Although I never tell my kids that I can’t have a certain food, I often tell them that I don’t feel like pizza tonight, or an ice cream right now, or anything sweet right at the moment. Right now I feel like having, something else or nothing at all. Take the value judgement off the food and just focus your actual hunger cues. Just because a food is in front of us doesn’t mean that we HAVE to eat it.
Our kids are little sponges but they are also little parrots. They watch us, they absorb our movements, language and reactions. My kids’ wariness of fish because of my food allergy has taught me so much about how important it is to model a good relationship to food. Food and the sharing of meals is not only foundational to every culture of this world, its part of the fabric that makes us human and is one of the most sensory experiences we have. Here’s my recipe for building positive food relationships with your kids: “add one part fun to one part nourish and know when you’ve had enough”.
The first image below is from our Pie Palooza event in September and the second is from the Monster Mac N Cheese Off this past weekend. Both events featured 24 dishes and 40+ adults and children who came together to eat, laugh and connect with new friends. This is definitely the fun part of the lessons I’m teaching my children about food!