Arresting the food police!

Today’s guest blog is by Fiona Faulkner, author and mum, writing on how we can all get a bit angsty about the amount of chocolate and sweets are children are given over Easter.

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Arresting the food police

Ladies, lets face it: Easter can bring out the food police in the best of us.

The combined efforts of grandparents, aunties / uncles, next door neighbours and now even the school* ensures that at this time of year, kids are so stocked with chocolate, they could open up a mini branch of the Co-op.

Consequently I think it’s fair to say that some of us find it hard to resist the urge to micro-manage their consumption of the ‘stash’.

But is it possible that we get just a little bit uptight about how much chocolate / how many sweets our kids eat? Are we projecting our own food fears onto our off-spring?

Hey, I’m treading carefully here. I know too well the emotions attached to women and food / mothers and feeding. But stay with me…

Last week I witnessed one mum allow her child one egg for Easter. She threw out the others and proceeded to issue a lecture to her child (he’s 8 by the way) on why “you don’t need that much chocolate…it’s no good for you.” The sad thing was, he looked crestfallen, but equally resigned to his fate.

Another mum confessed to me that on Friday that she’d contacted her kids’ relatives and God-parents specifically to instruct them “please not to buy the kids any chocolate eggs this year. Perhaps you could give them pocket money instead?”

I’m not judging, #justsaying….

As a kid’s food writer, I’m frequently asked for my opinion on sweets and chocolate – but also find that my own eating habits (and, especially, those of my kids) are often watched very carefully. The assumption seems to be that treats in our house are under lock-down.

Actually far from it.

I’ve spent years watching and studying kids’ eating behaviours (and those of their parents). The whole thing continues to fascinate me. I’m basically a geek in an apron (with a laptop). And from celebrity mums to single-parents on pitifully small benefits, I’ve worked with them all: kids who’ve never eaten a scrap of veg; kids who live off toast and micro-pizzas; kids whose mums give them all the chocolate they want (as long as they “please eat up some more peas”); and kids whose parents blanket ban the sweetie jar.

So I like to think I know what I’m talking about. And when it comes to All.That.Chocolate (phew!) here’s what I’ve learnt:

NEITHER REWARD NOR PUNISH WITH FOOD

I base this on a theory called the ‘over-justification hypothesis’. The premise is that kids enjoy something less if they realise they’re being rewarded for eating it. So if you bribe with chocolate to get your kids to eat their greens, you’re heading into ‘good food / bad food’ territory. Those left-over eggs? My tip is not to use them to bribe with dessert.

LET THEM LEARN

Ok, so there’s one chocolate egg that’s their favourite. They really want it. It’s huge. You hear yourself negotiating the quantities they can eat. Here’s a suggestion: let them off the reins to decide exactly how much of it to eat. Create a sense of empowerment – reminding them that they are in charge of their own bodies (one day they will be, in the sense of what and how much they eat).

One of two things will happen: Either they’ll surprise you by self-moderating when they’ve had enough. Or they’ll eat the lot and (possibly) feel a bit sick. If it’s the latter, use it as a (non-judgmental!) opportunity to discuss how certain foods make us feel if we indulge in too much of them. Easter (and other food-tastic occasions) can be great learning tool – make the most of it. If kids over-indulge, it’s a golden opportunity to let them physically feel how certain foods make them feel if they over-do the quantities and ignore their tummy’s ‘I feel full’ signals. Just remember not to be judgemental in these discussions – and draw on your own experiences too (“Ooh, I felt a bit full in my tummy yesterday as well. All that cake tasted great but shall we have something lighter for lunch today so we balance it out?”)

BE WARY OF THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT

You know all this already, but its worth repeating. The more something is withheld from kids, the more of an issue it becomes and the greater the chance they’ll eat it / do it behind your back (maybe not now, but when they’re older). I like treats. So do they. Don’t fight it.

SET AN EXAMPLE

Don’t go around today moaning that you “feel fat”, lamenting that last hot cross bun etc. Eat it. Enjoy it. Then after Easter head back to business as normal with just a little less of the sweet stuff. Easier said than done, I know. But remember: good eating habits have to be learnt and therefore taught. Kids don’t always follow the rules – but they’re always watching to see if you do.

RELAX!

As a child, I frequently maxed-out on Wham Bars, Carimacs and Fizzy Cola Bottles (I still can’t resist a Parma Violet or Sour Cherry). But I love my veg and to my knowledge I don’t have rickets or some awful wasting disease. The thing is, kids are hard-wired to love the sweet stuff. They actually have more taste receptors for it, which explains a lot. Plus kids tend to place little value on nutritional assets – ditto calories, carbs and fat content (talk about blissful ignorance).  Consequently any guilt they feel from eating certain food stuffs tends to generate from their primary-caregivers rather than themselves. So remember the key message (I assume) you want them to learn: its all about moderation – and plenty of outside exercise (this I learnt from Gwyneth Paltrow).

Hot choc buns

Continue to accept all offers of chocolate, willingly, then drip-feed as you go, perhaps reinstating the good old-fashioned ‘treat tin / cupboard’. (In our house, its all about Treat Foods and Growing Foods). Plus – duh!! Think of the blatant opportunities to break in and steal some while they’re in bed…I’m kidding (sort of).

In the meantime here’s an idea of what to do with all that leftover chocolate.  Why not make these delicious Hot Choc Buns?  Find the recipe here.

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@fiona_faulkner is the author of 25 Foods Kids Hate and How to Get Them Eating 24.

* One mum-friend of mine reported last week that her kids came home at the end-of-term with five various chocolate-related goodies and gifts…each – both for the ‘mummies’ and for themselves. By the end of the school run home they’d secretly hovered down most of it and were so wired by teatime, they didn’t sleep til gone 10pm.

Find loads of other great chocolate recipes here for more ideas as how to use up all the left over chocolate (if there indeed is any!)

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This entry was posted in Easter, Food, Recipes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Arresting the food police!

  1. actuallymummy says:

    Hot Choc Buns! Never mind the easter eggs, I’m off over there!
    I let my kids eat as much chocolate as they want on Easter weekend, then we’re back to normal with a piece every day until it’s gone.

  2. Emma says:

    Well said. There’s so much hype about how much ‘junk food’ we feed our kids. My daughter didn’t have many Easter eggs, but enough to satisfy her. We also have specific ‘sweet treat’ days a week and if it is swapped for any reason, she doesn’t get it on another day. Yes we have to watch what they eat, as well as us obviously, but everyone deserves a treat once in a while as long it isn’t all the time.

  3. lulabella666 says:

    I couldn’t agree more!! As mum to a 20 month old toddler I have never restricted what he eats. When he has chocolate he only ever eats what he wants, never binges and will always stop when he’s eaten enough! I love that he won’t gorge on treats and put it down to the fact I’ve never forbidden or restricted any type of food.

  4. cally says:

    My kids have a shelf to keep their sweets/eggs on, they know not to go mad, but be reasonable. As a result we usually melt down Easter eggs in July for ice-cream toppings and use other unwanted sweets for odd cake decorations!

  5. Michelle Brown says:

    Sweets are only allowed at weekends in our house (unless friends are over), my daughter used to be given a bowl of sweets every Saturday and Sunday and ate the lot within an hour. When she was five I decided to experiment and tell her she could have a sensible amount (for her to decide) and keep the whole jar in her room – she has never ever pigged out, she hardly ever touches it even at weekends and it keeps them out of my way too!!

  6. Joanna says:

    If only everyone (mum, dad, school-teacher) would watch a great documentary online called “The Beautiful Truth” maybe we would all be a lot healthier. We would be making the informed choices for the best of our health! The film is on YouTube and truly inspirational.

  7. christine says:

    My parents never allowed us treats….and when we got them we GORGED on them….because its exactly like you say….a forbidden fruit. I’m all for balance. x

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