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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Parenting, Food and Guilt

The anxiety over what your children eat begins the day they are born. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed? I know so many women who chose not to breastfeed, or were not able to breastfeed and spend far too much time beating themselves up and feeling guilty about it. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to breastfeed both my girls, but whether it will really make a significant difference to their future health and well-being is debateable.

Once your kids start eating solid foods, the stress and guilt only increases. I was so smug with Big A because I had her eating only organic, whole foods for the first year with absolutely NO added sugars or salt. I hand made everything. She ate squash, brown rice and white kidney bean casserole, mexican black bean, corn and brown rice casserole, organic chicken and sweet potatoes, brown rice pasta with tomato sauce and pureed veggies, organic spelt bread with organic apple butter, unsweetened organic yogurt, sugar-free organic spelt blueberry muffins and a whole host of organic fruit and veggie purees. She was breastfed until she was 20 months old. Unfortunately, it all fell apart when she was about 14 months old. That's when she simply began refusing things. No more beans, no more rice, no more pasta. By the time she started daycare at 16 months it was all over. She was introduced to regular cereal (Rice Krispies, Special K, etc.), crackers and other refined carbs that are forbidden in our house. She was also introduced to all sorts of good things she would never eat at home: chili, chicken breasts, vegetable soup, tuna or egg sandwiches, etc.

Although losing control of her diet made me a bit crazy for a while, I eventually came to accept it. Although, like most kids, she would love to eat a steady diet of chocolate, cupcakes and ice cream, we do our best to limit that stuff as much as possible without being too restrictive. Nonetheless, I have spent most of her life second guessing myself and agonizing over everything she eats or refuses to eat. I had myself convinced that every mouthful she eats has some impact in determining her future health and risk for disease. Since everyone in my family seems to die of cancer and my mother had breast cancer at age 52, I feel like I have to do everything I can to protect my children from this fate. The burden of this responsibility was making me insane and I'm happy to say I've gotten control of this craziness a little bit. First off, I've realized that Big A's diet is not that bad. The daycare options are usually pretty good (not 100% to my liking, but pretty good) and overall what she eats at home is pretty good too. Last night she asked for tofu sausages and broccoli for supper. Could certainly be worse! She loves the organic, nitrite-free turkey hot dogs I buy her and the organic whole wheat pizza and she loves yogurt and fruit. She enjoys all kinds of bread and is perfectly happy to have her organic peanut butter on 100% whole wheat, or spelt or whatever we give her. At my in-laws, she enthusiastically eats grilled fish or chicken, salad and the veggies she is served.

As for Little A, she isn't doing so well again lately. She just wants to eat fruit and rice cakes. But again, it could be worse. She doesn't seem to favour only sweet things (she prefers rice cakes to muffins or bread with almond butter or apple butter) and she generally likes ALL fruit. My big concern with her is simply that she may not be getting enough of the calories and fat that she needs.

In any case, a recent study that showed fruit and veggie consumption only decreased risk of cancer by 4% jolted me back to reality. You do your best to keep yourself and your family healthy, but ultimately there is so much of it that is out of your control. The best you can do is set a good example for your children. Eat well, exercise and don't smoke. Adam and I do our best in this regard and we have certainly succeeded in the exercise department. Big A is a natural athlete and generally loves all sports. She plays soccer at daycare on Mondays, she has two hours of sports play on Wednesdays that my mother-in-law takes her to, she does gymnastics on Saturday and she swims on Sunday. She also sometimes asks to walk on our treadmill. Usually she just goes about 5 minutes, but once she went almost 25 minutes! And Little A is proving to be just as active. She is almost walking and all she wants to do is move. Getting her to stay still long enough to change a diaper or dress her is an increasing challenge.

So I'm vowing to stop beating myself up and keep reminding myself that I'm doing my best. I am also going to focus on the positive and try to stop obsessing about all of our dietary and lifestyle imperfections. While we can all strive to improve ourselves, as parents, lets try to let go of the guilt and pat ourselves on the back for what we are doing well!

Editing before bed today to add this:

The girls snacked on organic strawberries on the journey home from daycare. Big A ate a poached egg, steamed broccoli for dinner...and I let her have a chocolate chip bran muffin for a treat (I made them for Little A's party on Thursday). Little A ate a bite of spinach pancake (and threw the rest), some fish, some kiwi, watermelon and the rest of her yogurt from breakfast. Oh, and Big A walked the whole way home from daycare. So you know what, I'm thinking we're not doing so bad!

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