When I was 5 months pregnant with my daughter, my mother died. She was 65 years old and she weighed just over 300 lbs. Weight was something my mother battled her entire life, even during years when she was relatively lean. Food was both her friend and her foe; her comfort and her sorrow; and her struggle with it, her constant companion. And while I may never know the extent to which my mother’s obesity caused her death, I do know that it caused her years of distress. I wanted something better for my daughter. I still do.
How do you teach children to eat right? I was consumed with figuring it out. And because I am a sociologist, I sought the solution the way sociologists do: I began to observe parents systematically; I delved into the literature in nutrition, food psychology, behavioral psychology, and sociology; I considered what I knew about socialization and I began to formulate some theories.
Eventually, I began interviewing other mothers to find out how they make decisions about feeding their children, to identify which issues cause them the most problems and to hear about their successes. I also began giving presentations on my findings to groups of mothers. I listened to their stories, answered their questions and helped them find solutions to their problems. I learned that teaching kids to eat right is both an art and a science: there are clear guidelines and principles for some aspects of the process whereas other facets rely upon creative expression, innovation and beauty.
I have now spent over four years studying this issue, have had conversations with over 200 mothers and spent countless hours observations parents with their children. So, what’s the answer? How do you teach children to eat right? Well, the most important thing I can say is that it has very little to do with food but it has a lot to do with the interactions parents have with their children around food.
Parents who are successful at getting their kids to eat right think differently about this task than parents who struggle. The successful mentality begins with the recognition that eating right isn’t about food, it’s about behavior — what, when, why and how much someone chooses to eat. Since nutrition only partially shapes those choices, especially for children, the key to success can never be found by focusing only on food. Rather, you must shape how your children behave in relation to food. This website is devoted to sharing what I’ve learned and teaching you how.