What Are You Teaching Your Children About Food? A Guest Post from Rachel Marie Stone

My husband and I sat across from one another at our small table, eating lunch. He ate his salmon-and-mayo on crisp sourdough bread while I picked at tiny piles of salmon atop a few unremarkable crackers.

Tim stopped, noticing that, once again, I wasn’t really eating.

“Rachel, if you don’t eat, it will hurt Aidan.”

Aidan is our seven-year-old son, but at the time he was a mere 22 week-old unborn baby whose growing presence had only just begun to tighten the waistband of my regular jeans, but not by much.

I was afraid to gain weight.

Since my early teens I’d viewed food as a dangerous temptation: fresh bread with butter, plates of pasta marinara, and squares of quality chocolate conspired to make me fat and unhealthy. For years I thought of myself as “healthy” for getting by on apples and Diet Coke much of the time. If food was delicious, it could only be a trap. If I craved something, or overate, I berated myself for my selfishness. In my warped way of thinking, this “discipline” pleased God.

“Rachel, if you don’t eat, it will hurt Aidan.”

I considered his words, almost annoyed that he was ‘interfering.’ Our culture, so radical in its individualism, had taught me, implicitly and explicitly, that my body was my own; that no one had a claim on it but me, and, also, that it was infinitely malleable. The discourse around pregnancy had other claims: not only should I be eating a perfect diet to optimize my child’s health and intelligence, I should be taking prenatal vitamins and practicing prenatal yoga. At the same time, in the pregnancy magazines at the doctor’s office, I was seeing advertisements for “getting my body back” once the pregnancy was over and for nursing tank tops that promised to conceal my “baby belly” after delivery. I felt I was receiving conflicting messages: the first being that my baby’s well-being was entirely dependent upon my eating and exercise; the second, that my body was mine, and that I should take measures to keep it that way, or at least, to conceal its pregnancy-inflicted flaws.

But my husband was right. And I ate.

I wasn’t able to sort through all of this, but I did what I could. Nausea—which hadn’t disappeared after the first trimester—made it hard, but I ate, dutifully, at first, and then with greater and greater enjoyment. By the time Aidan arrived, eager to nurse, it seemed that I was hungrier than I’d ever been in my life, and eating heartily, and without guilt. I rejoiced over every wet and dirty diaper and over every ounce he gained, feasting noisily on my breast milk. I delighted in his growing little body. I saw that it was all very good.

In a similar way, God delights to feed us; to see us enjoy good things, to watch us grow. God did not create all the flavors and textures of food as a temptation—as a trap to pull us into selfishness and gluttony. Having my children—feeding myself to feed them, feeding them, watching them grow—helped me to learn this. They helped me to learn that God loves to feed me just as I love to feed them.

These days—with ever-increasingly unrealistic images of both male and female beauty coming at us from every direction, frightening reports on childhood obesity in the media, eating disorders affecting children at younger and younger ages, and a general anxiety about “healthy eating”—introducing our children to a God who loves to feed us, who created food for pleasure as well as nourishment seems impossible, especially if we have trouble grasping that concept for ourselves.  But does the hospitable and loving God who beckons us with words like these—“Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food”—intend for us to approach the table with fear?

I don’t think so.

I don’t have it all figured out when it comes to food, kids, my body, and God. I still have days when I hate my body, or fear “getting fat.” I don’t always feed my kids perfectly joyfully, or with a perfectly loving and joyful attitude. But most days, and for most meals, we sit down, and sing a song of thanks to God.

And then we eat—together.

What are you teaching your children about food through your eating practices as a family? Offer a comment on this post, and you will be entered into a drawing to receive a free copy of Rachel’s new book Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, March 20th. 

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).

Comments

  1. God’s abundant provision for his people is physical as well as spiritual, isn’t it? You made me turn to Isaiah 66:10-11 -

    “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
    rejoice greatly with her,
    all you who mourn over her.
    For you will nurse and be satisfied
    at her comforting breasts;
    you will drink deeply
    and delight in her overflowing abundance.”

    That’s good news.

  2. The best lesson I could teach my future family is to listen to the wisdom God gave us. By that I mean, listen to your whole body *not just your tongue*. Our body’s signals are messages from God, telling us what our body needs to be nourished.

  3. Great message, thank you. My daughter is eight, she already talks about food with complications. The pressure is great, we are the best examples we give our children.

  4. Claire Ruth says:

    Thank you for this post, Rachel! I love the way both of you ladies write – so honest about real emotions, fears, and questions. Thanks to your boldness in putting your thoughts and feelings into published words, you encourage your readers to also be bold in accepting ourselves and moving closer to our God.

  5. I don’t have kids yet, but I hope to someday. In the meantime, I’m balancing wanting to make healthy meals (salad every night? ;) ) with also wanting to learn to cook more exciting and maybe “richer” meals for just my husband and me. I’ve always had a tenuous relationship with food, so I’m glad Rachel has written this book on a topic so many of us deal with, but so often ignore.

  6. Jamie Bagley says:

    As far as teaching about food, we have discussions about where our food comes from, how certain things help build our bodies’ health and how we should pay attention to the way something we eat makes us feel. That eating is about togetherness and we wait for each other at dinnertime so that we enjoy our food together. I involve my children as much as I can in the preparation and they know how much mama loves to cook! (They love it, too.)
    I want to get copies of Eat With Joy for my three sisters and mother, too. I would say a good many of our long distance conversations involve talking about diets, weight, food safety, etc. We all recognize that it’s a constant fight for balance of healthy eating/exercise habits versus unhealthy expectations for body image.

  7. Being pregnant with my firstborn son brought such unlooked-for healing for me too. Thank you for this.

  8. Hanoibelle says:

    Well said—for all the tinies in our lives.

  9. Rachel, I always love to hear what you say about eating. So wise. We try to have a healthy relationship with food based on balance, but we mostly just try to make sure we come together to eat. We are lucky to do so several times a day. Peace, Nicki

  10. Gayl Wright says:

    Rachel, your post is like a breath of fresh air! I agree that God would not have created so many textures and colors and flavors if they were not meant to be enjoyed.
    There is so much talk about getting the right nutrients that food seems to be reduced to just a collection of nutrients that we eat to stay alive. It’s more natural to be able to enjoy real food in a variety of ways and so much more meaningful when shared with others. We should be able to enjoy good food without feeling guilty for some reason or another, and eat it with hearts full of joy and thankfulness to God . Thank you for your post! I would love to read your book!

  11. Susan Milillo says:

    Thank you Rachel ! So cool that you are writing – professional quality might I add – and about such good and interesting topics such as this. This article speaks to me, in regards to concepts re: food and eating and guilt and indulgence…. (you didn’t mention the indulgence danger, but I think the ‘don’t eat’ misconception can ultimately lead to over-indulgence, and maybe true guilt.

  12. Health blog guest post says:

    I will appreciate your thought on this topic. I was really happy on reading this post

  13. Kristin Cooley says:

    We’re teaching our daughters to respect and enjoy the abundance God provides us by raising our own food in our garden. We also raise chickens, rabbits, and turkeys on our little “urban farm”. Food is for enjoyment with family of friends. Having kids has forced me to let go of my food control issues and set a healthyexample.

  14. I needed a major transition in the way I treated my body/food/exercise before my first daughter was born. Similar to you, Rachel, it was my husband whose gentle words snapped reality back into focus for me. He basically put it in perspective, “If you treat yourself this way, that’s what our daughter(s) will learn.” I didn’t want my daughters learning from my example, which was – at the time – a poor one. God used my first pregnancy to break me of my image idolatry. There are certainly moments when I am tempted to worry about weight and all, but God has given me the grace to fight back now and dismiss the passing thoughts. Now — miraculously — I have a healthy relationship to food and exercise, and hope that my daughters (there are two now!) will learn from that example.

  15. We’re intentional about providing health food – lots of vegetables, etc., and also delighting in treats, too. My five-year-old daughter and I have had conversations in the last week about how much we love kale chips and chocolate. I am also extremely careful to never say anything negative about my body in her presence – and, I think that care has actually changed the way I think about my body. After having two kids, I’m far more impressed with what it can do than how it looks.

    Thanks for this wonderful post – I’m such a fan of Rachel Stone’s writing, especially about food.

  16. I am trying to teach my kids about the gift of food by involving them in growing our own (as much as we can) and also working around the farm. They get to participate in menu planning too…and we talk about what we eat in terms of how it tastes and fuels us, not in terms of what is “good” or “bad.”

  17. I got into feverishly counting calories in high school and couldn’t enjoy a normal meal with people. Later I swung to just not caring what I ate because I didn’t want to go back to starving myself again. I think the biggest change for me has been seeing food as a creation. I’ve always loved art and music, and making food is like tasting a symphony. The creation aspect is very redeeming to me. I don’t have kids yet, but I want to have fun with food with my children. To enjoy all the different tastes and ways of creating something delicious!

  18. Julieane Hernandez says:

    Really inspiring post! I agree that whatever views we have about food, we tend to pass it on to our children. An eye opener for parents!
    http://juancarlothecaterer.com/services_wedding.php


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