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

What Are You Teaching Your Children About Food? A Guest Post from Rachel Marie Stone March 12, 2013

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. 

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