One of the most important roles we have as mothers is to nourish our children. As Dr. Christiane Northrup writes in Mother-Daughter Wisdom, “childhood food experiences will set the tone for your daughter’s [and son’s] relationship to food and health for a lifetime.”
The first experience of nourishment comes through the placenta. The food we eat while pregnant is intended to protect, support growth and development and ensure a healthy start to our baby’s lives. The moment our children are born until they wean, we breast or bottle feed. The cradling, the connection, the sucking, the sweet songs we sing, the loving words we speak, the tenderness and the unconditional love all set the tone for how children receive food. In this state of nourishing our babies, food means love, connection, protection and safety.
When we begin to feed our babies whole food, we choose the best, the safest, the purest of foods. We are cautious about what and when we introduce food. How and what we feed our babies in the first year of life sets the stage for how they feel about food and it is one of the key ingredients in determining their health into the future.
As our children get older, it is not only what we feed them that is so important, but it is also the messages we share about food that we need to consider. Every mother needs to realize what she is bringing to the table. Being aware of your own relationship with food and body is so important. If you have an unhealthy relationship with food and body then that is what you also feed your children. Be very careful of the kind of messages you share with your daughter or son about body weight, how much she is eating or not eating, if a food is fattening or high in calories. Bringing healthy messages about food is a key ingredient to creating a nourishing relationship with food. Teach your children that food is about pleasure, creating health and that it provides the energy to do what they love, as opposed to making it about weight.
Bringing the right mood and energy to the table is also important. If there is yelling, stress and anger it affects the taste, experience and ability to digest the food. As Northrup states, “what you put on the table, how you serve it, and how it’s enjoyed continue to program the gastrointestinal system as surely as infant feeding did earlier on.” Many food sensitivities can often arise due to a stressful eating environment. If a child is upset, frightened or angry while eating, that stress response will shut the gut down and make it very difficult to digest food. Food aversions can also occur due to a memory a child had while eating something while in a stressful or unpleasant environment. It is not the food they dislike, it is the memory associated with the food that makes it unenjoyable. Ensuring your child is in a relaxed state while eating is an essential component to nourishment.
Family meals are wonderful opportunities to share love and open up the door for important conversations. Being grateful for what we are eating and who we are sitting with set the tone for a well-digested and highly nourishing meal. Providing quality whole foods that exude color and vitality are essential. Include your children in grocery shopping, cooking and preparing meals, setting the table and deciding what they want to eat or talk about at a meal. These are all great ways to help create a healthy connection to food. Eat regular family meals together. Encourage your children to listen to their body wisdom and eat when they are hungry, not when you tell them they need to. When they say they are hungry, ask them what their body feels like having as opposed to listing many different options.
Finally, ask yourself these questions on a daily basis to help ensure you are always doing your best to nourish your children:
- Did I provide my children with healthy food today?
- Did I serve it with love and care?
- Did I pack them a healthy snack or lunch free of packages and artificial ingredients?
- Did I create a home cooked meal and sit with my family while they were eating?
- Did I teach them about the importance of choosing foods that will make them healthy, feel their best and give them energy to do what they love?
- Did I create a sacred eating environment?
- Did I ask them how they enjoyed their meal and how it made them feel?
- Did I take time to nourish my children?
- Did I tell them they were beautiful or looked great?
- Did I do something to help encourage healthy body image?
- Did I nourish myself well today so I can be a patient, energetic and healthy mother?
- What can I do better tomorrow?
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers who work so hard to nourish our families every day.