Tackling food

On Monday we’ll be discussing the book Women Food and God by Geneen Roth at the Maladjusted Book Club. It’s a complex and evocative read that explores women’s relationship with food and eating. Roth leads us down an intricate path about the relationship between spirituality, self-worth and our complex eating habits. She says:

Our personality and its defences, one of which is our emotionally charged relationship to food, are a direct link to our spirituality.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have chosen this book to read on my own because I didn’t consider myself to have issues related to what or how I eat. I am also fortunate in that I’m not overly concerned with my body size or appearance. I enjoy food and I try to eat healthy. Occasionally I indulge in certain comfort foods (or beverages, hello Starbucks!), but I don’t let it control me. In general, I believe that I have a healthy overall attitude toward food.

But what struck me about the book is, if you take her message at it’s core you can easily apply it to any obsession or struggle in your life. Her basic premise being that “if you believe the world is a hostile place…you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly.”

Given that argument, and my personal control issues, it was easy for me to realize that I do have many issues with food, though not entirely from the perspective she tackles in this book.

Let me explain.

There are many challenges to being a full time working mom, but for me one of the most difficult is dinnertime. To be honest it’s the place I judge most harshly as a parent. Before I had children I loved to cook and explore new food and recipes. Every week I made it a priority to try at least two new recipes. I found food to be an easy and enjoyable way to demonstrate my love to my husband.  You know what they say about the way to a man’s heart.

By extension, I had a similar expectation of myself as a parent. I believed I would serve only the most healthy foods, my children would be encouraged to try all kinds of things and they would be willing because of the diversity of tastes that I would prepare. I would spend weekends baking and making fresh, wholesome treats for the week. It was an important portrait of how I perceived motherhood. I call it the grandmother effect: the belief that comfort and family is defined by the kinds of food you provide for your family.

However, the gap between what I envisioned and what is reality is quite vast. Both of my children are fussy eaters. I’m not exaggerating when I say I haven’t seen my youngest son, who will soon be 2, eat a vegetable since the day I stopped pureeing his food—at 9 months. He’s stubborn and willful and will not eat a thing he doesn’t want to. My oldest has come a long way and will generally eat a healthy variety of foods. But he’s meat and potato kind of fellow and not fond of any “mixed foods;” thereby eliminating casseroles, stir fry, soup, and most ethnic dishes. Also, it must NOT be spicy. In others words, I must serve bland and boring.

As they get older, and I’ve faced down meal after uneaten meal, I’ve grown tremendously weary and reluctant to try. It’s hard enough to muster the energy to cook a meal after being out of the home for more than 9 hours for work that I’ve all but given completely capitulated to the world of chicken nuggets and french fries.

And I berate myself internally about it. I feel like a failure and worry that I’m giving up too easy, not trying hard enough. I believe it makes me less than. I dread sitting down to do our weekly meal plan because I’m out of ideas. I try to serve at least two meatless meals a week. Given my youngest’s aversion to vegetables, and my oldest unwillingness to eat anything with any flavour, it has proven virtually impossible. I typically turn to grilled cheese and soup. Chicken noodle soup. That’s the only thing they’ll eat.

I realize this issue is not unique to my household, and that there is virtually an entire industry devoted to helping parents manage fussy eaters. I get that. I’ve tried many solutions. But this is about how it makes me feel, and how hard I am on myself because of it. I base my entire worth as a mother on how I feed my children. You may laugh or be skeptical, but this is not an exaggeration. And it’s not lost on me that just 4 1/2 years into parenthood, I’ve virtually given up. You can imagine what that does to one’s self-confidence.

But here’s what I now know. It’s all about control. Control over what my children will and won’t eat. Until now, I’ve been tackling this in all the wrong ways. I’ve allowed them to wear me down and have given in bit by bit. But if I just gave up control of the immediate, and served the foods I want to eat, over time they just might come around. It might actually make it less about control for them. We could possibly find neutral ground.

And so I decided to devote February to exploring my personal issues with food, and my struggles as a mother with two mouths to feed. The Maladjusted Book Club turned out to be the best way to kick it off.

For a more thorough discussion of the entire book, head over to the Maladjusted Book Club. I’ll be talking food in various posts throughout February, so I hope you’ll be back to read more.



18 thoughts on “Tackling food

  1. Kelly says:

    Interesting perspective, Christine. I have one picky eater and one who struggles with appetite. I haven’t (yet) completely forgone the foods I want them to eat, but I have taken to ultimatums to make it happen (e.g., you can’t play outside after dinner if you don’t eat those carrots). I’ll be interested in how you transition away from trying to strong-arm (or fade out of) dinner.

    • Christine says:

      I am not afraid to admit that ultimatums are rampant in my house. My only rule is to stick to whatever I threaten (hard word, I know) so I think carefully before I use it and find myself having to follow through on something I don’t really want to.

      I’ll definitely post an update in a few weeks!

  2. Kate says:

    I completely understand this. It’s so hard not to expect perfect cooking, perfect meals. I have cycled through rigidity and laziness, home cooking, low sugar, fast food.
    I get so bored of the tried and true meals, but doing something new is exhausting at the end of already exhausting days. I’m looking forward to more thoughts on this.

  3. Ironic Mom says:

    Of course, I read your post on food while I scarfed a (small) bag of Salt and Vinegar chips. And now my tongue is burning, so I’m panting like a dog…

    Happy 200th! Here’s to another great 200!

  4. Christa says:

    “…if you believe the world is a hostile place…you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly.”
    That about says it all, doesn’t it?

    I’m not sure if this will make you feel better or not, but my daughter is almost 18 and I still feel pretty much that same way. It cuts deep, the inability to serve my family good food that they can (we have both gluten and dairy allergies between the three of us) and will (picky, picky, picky) eat. And I am a good and more than competent cook. It is a really painful area.

    I read the book when it first came out and was really taken with it. The lasting impression I took away was that it was not so much about food, but about life…

    And congratulations on the 200th post! Oh my! Lucky us…

    Thanks, as always, for all your thoughts and words…

  5. Pam @writewords says:

    This post really hits home for me.

    Very interesting. It’s a complex topic. I still remember the dynamic at the dinner table when I was a kid many (many many many..) years ago.
    Ultimately, it’s not really about food, is it?
    Your kids are lucky to have such a thoughtful, self-aware parent.

    Congrats on reaching 200 and, most especially, thanks for sharing.

  6. What a wonderful post, and thanks for spreading the word about the Maladjusted Book Club.

    I definitely have control issues, but dinner is not the place I exert them. I was such a picky eater as a kid that I remember too well how it felt to be forced. Now, I eat anything if it’s prepared well, so I know my kids will come around. But I’m glad that this book helped you think in a new way. I can’t wait to talk about some of the aspects of this book. And I’d really like to know how you escaped body issues. Help! What’s your secret?

  7. As someone who struggled with Anorexia and who now works as a therapist with people who have eating disorders, this post hits home. I have struggled with the issue of control with my kids, too. My oldest is a very flexible eater, my youngest, not so much (not sure if there’s a pattern there, but it sounds like yours were similar). I want to expose them to a variety of foods and allow them to choose, because I think it’s most important that they learn to trust their bodies–to listen to their cues about fullness and hunger. But, this means that we don’t push them to eat vegetables or anything else (in fact we don’t even use the terms “good” and “bad” with food, because they bring up so many issues of morality). As a result, I sometimes worry that their nutritional needs might not be met. One of my favorite books, Take the Fight out of Food, talks about all of this in a really helpful way. Also, I’ve heard (not sure if it was in that book or elsewhere) that kids’ food patterns should be evaluated over a two-week period, so it doesn’t matter so much what they get in any one meal (or any one day, even).

    I have tried to be gentle and forgiving with myself for not always preparing wholesome meals, but it is hard. Maybe, because we don’t have a lot of concrete ways to evaluate ourselves as mothers, we look for obvious behavioral indicators to let us know how we’re doing–things like our kids’ eating patterns. But because we can’t control their appetites or tastes, it’s kind of a losing battle! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on food over the next month.

    • Christine says:

      Forgiving myself for the kinds of food I put on the table is the biggest struggle I face as a mother. It is so wrapped up in emotion and a sense of responsibility – both vital triggers for me. And you are so right, we don’t have measurable ways to evaluate ourselves as mothers, and as a generation we are so used to performance measures aren’t we?

  8. Allison P. says:

    Thanks for this, and for making me feel very, very normal. Oh, our house is a struggle at dinnertime if we deviate from the following menu items: grilled cheese, peanut butter & jam, noodles with pesto, scrambled eggs, soft boiled eggs… and that’s it! My 5.5 yr old daughter will sometimes do hummus with veg/pita, but only if her 3.5 yr old brother isn’t around to remind her how “disgusting” it is!

    I also spend time hankering over how to get more variety into their bellies, particularly veggies. (Fruits are snacks, and generally successful.) I don’t know… my husband says give up and make what they’ll eat. And he is totally fine with that. I suffer by convincing myself they must eat more. Maybe he has it right. It’s that whole control thing you speak of. I’m sure it’s what going to take years off our lives while our husbands and kids live well into their nineties eating peanut butter sandwiches.

    Thanks again.

  9. Chantal says:

    Food really is such a huge issue when it comes to kids and I feel the same way you do. My 9yo is overweight and as a little one he was super picky. He only ate bread, chicken nuggets and KD. I often worry if his early eating habits are why he has weight issues now. We visited the doctor and he has told me that the weight is a normal stage for children his age, but still I worry. Mostly because I had weight issues as his age and I know how they affected my self esteem. I worry about his eating habit, weight and self esteem, all the while trying not to project my own issues on to him. Parenting is such a complex minefield!

  10. ShannonL says:

    You know how picky my son is… pretty much a chicken nugget or hotdog diet. Luckily he eats fruits, but the only veggie he will eat is carrots (and sometimes celery with peanut butter)! My daughter eats soooo much better than he does. And I can’t help but blame myself for his picky ways. I’m sure I did things wrong, but at least learned from those mistakes with Miss M. Others tell me that we can’t prevent it – our kids will either be picky eaters or not no matter what we do. I like to believe that, but it’s hard. Now that he’s getting older (he’ll be 13 next month!), he is starting to understand the importance of a healthy, balanced diet and he is trying a *bit* more than he did before. Any progress is good!

    Wow, 200 posts?! That is amazing. I love reading your words here, Christine. Keep up the amazing work. xo

  11. harrietglynn says:

    I had a total breakdown yesterday because my son, now 18 months old, over the couse of a Sunday, had eaten an egg, and A LOT of cookies, goldfish, chips and milk! I started crying on the way home from our second madcap Sunday event. I felt totally mortified. I never ate junkfood as a child and still don’t. Normally, we eat at home. Roast meat, vegetables, rice or pototoes and hope that Theo will eat some of it. My husband tried to put it in perspective – it was a just a crazy day. Today, we had oatmeal and pear for breakfast (I have no idea what he ate for lunch) and I’m trying frozen peas and corn for dinner. Fingers crossed! Still I can relate. Theo barely eats anymore and I just keep telling myself it will all turn around eventually. I try not to make him anything overly special as the likelihood of him eating it is so tiny. Very difficult to let go of.

  12. Amber says:

    Hey! Happy 200th post!!! These are the daily battles I have also fought. Andrew, my best eater, is even getting pickier! Emily sees green and immediately pulls it out. I really love your new philosophy and hope you don’t mind if I steal it.

  13. Cathy says:

    I’m a parent of a 15, 12 and 7 year old – all boys. They’ve all had their moments of being picky. They still do. However, I love to cook and explore new foods so I do. I make one dinner a night (I work full-time and that’s all I can manage) and they can eat it or not. My one rule is no dessert if they don’t make a good honest effort at trying everything on their plates. There are times when I know it’ll be a tough sell so I try to have some enticing treat waiting in the wings.

    I remember a time when my youngest wouldn’t eat any salad – never, not at all. It was surprising because everyone else in the house was fine with it. One day, while out to dinner, I got a salad and he hopped up on my lap and at almost the whole thing. No prompting or anything. So I really do believe that you just keep putting it in front of them and eventually they’ll come around.

    I did not enjoy Roth’s book. In fact, as of now I haven’t finished it. It’s tough for me to relate as I do not have any food issues.

  14. […] month, I’m tackling food as part of my year-long project to explore new monthly topics that encourage growth and […]

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