Never before has it been as evident how closely food is connected to our relationships with our loved ones. Not until digesting each page of the book Nourished by Dr. Deborah MacNamara, Counsellor, Scientist, Storyteller, Teacher, Guide, and Mother.
Dr. MacNamara has given us such a beautiful gift this holiday season which is not only the understanding that relationship and attachment are the most important fundamental needs we all have – even above food – but also, that once we understand this, as caretakers, we can give ourselves permission to relax a little bit about nourishing our children with food and focus more on nourishing them through our love.
We can trust that as long as our children are attached to us, they will eventually follow what we provide for them food wise. This doesn’t mean that they will eat everything we put on their plate today just because they are attached to us, but where there is attachment there is also trust, in us, and that makes it easier to lead them. This beautiful take away from Dr. MacNamara’s brilliant words which took her ten years of research to compile and present to us in Nourished, is so encouraging in the realization that if we resist the urge to try to control our children’s feedings, they will feel more relaxed in learning about and exploring food naturally. This also provides a new perspective about the concept of picky eaters which is introduced and explained to us in this book. There is so much more to this than children just being picky, or difficult. According to Dr. MacNamara, many children also have shy instincts which might be a factor in them needing a little more time to process and warm up to their food and in this case, coercion is definitely not going to be a helpful strategy as it’s just going to push them away and make them trust in us just a little bit less. This is also when the push and pull might set in – not unlike a similar dynamic many of us are familiar with when trying to dress our preschoolers on school mornings!
What is Food Comfort? It is food embodied with love that bridges the separation between us.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara
If we lead with attachment and not control, this will create a less stressful environment for our children to get to learn about and explore food naturally with less stress and more intrigue. Rest assured parents and other caregivers, if our kiddos are attached to us, they will be interested in the foods that we eat as they witness us enjoying them and feel the positivity of this experience as opposed to us constantly pleading with them and masking healthier food choices into their mashed potatoes and rice and even pasta sauces and smoothies. According to Dr. MacNamara, the push and pull can turn into lead and follow when we focus on attachment in their feedings.
Working off of Dr. MacNamara’s Three Essential Relational Eating Practices, we are going to take her advice to help us shift away from the behavioural eating practices and focus more on the relational ones. We are even adding our own suggestions of how we plan to use attachment in our homes this holiday season, and move away from the coercion.
1. FOCUS ON THE RELATIONSHIP
Eating needs to happen in relationships in which kids are attached to their caretakers and in situations that adults see as an opportunity for connection.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara
As Dr. MacNamara points out, this is not as simple as it sounds but there are many opportunities we can find for connection between caretakers and children, starting by thinking about the invitations and being thoughtful about them. From planning to hosting to visiting too, how can we find ways to share these experiences with our kiddos without coming on too strong? Here are a few suggestions of how we can be playful while leading them into becoming part of these exciting and special experiences.
- Research some fun food prep ideas for the children attending family functions. There are so many fun pictures of creative food presentations to make this fun and exciting.
- Prepare foods together. Invite your kiddos to mix simple ingredients and experience parts of your prep with you – but again, don’t force them to. Expose them to the fun and see what happens!
- Ask them what they would like to help you with – see if they show interest since many children love to be helpers. One of our favourite questions in preschool is, “What do you think?” This is a great question to ask while you prepare for your guests. Would you like to help me with mixing this cake? Do you think we should add some candy canes to our centre piece? Would you like to serve the bread or dessert? Make sure you set them up for success with fun little tasks.
- If there are older siblings, even better! They can help lead the younger ones which is where the magic really begins. Let them play their way through helping you set up. It doesn’t all have to be so formal and serious. Instead of stressing over the set up, make it an opportunity for special memories to be formed.
- Involve other family members in the set up as well. How special can it be for grandparents or aunties and uncles who are visiting from out of town over the holidays to pitch in with their excitement and playfulness, and invite the kids to participate. Instead of seeing the kids getting in the way, ask them if they would like to be involved. Collaborate with them without putting pressure on them! Who knows, they might even bring out your playful side and come up with some ideas that bring out the magic of Christmas through the eyes of the children.
2. REPEAT EXPOSURE TO FOOD WITHOUT COERCION
Repeated exposure to unfamiliar food in the context of caring relationships helps to bring food in the realm of attachment and to diminish shyness instincts.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara
If there are foods you would like your kiddos to try this holiday season, instead of suggesting them, consider ways to show them how much you enjoy them yourself, and have other adults join you in their own samplings of tasty treats. Again, consider the shyness instinct Dr. MacNamara introduced us to in her book by not having those who are not their primary caregivers push anything on them. Distant relatives and family friends are the perfect adults to model enthusiasm for new foods to add to that extra exposure.
By keeping fruits and veggies playful and visually appealing, you won’t have to make them in other dishes and you can hold onto that trust you’ve worked so hard to build up all year with your kids! And remember, food presentations don’t have to be fancy for your kids, it can be as simple as cutting a pizza into the shape of a candy cane or Christmas tree, arranging dishes into the shape of a Christmas tree, or building up a Christmas tree fruit salad!
3. CREATE RELATIONAL CONTEXTS TO EAT IN
A child’s palate isn’t shaped just by flavour but through social cues, emotions, and the expressions of people they eat with.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara
Model, model, model, enthusiasm for eating all types of foods! Dress up the table and even yourselves with fun Christmas hats, antlers, and anything else festive to draw the children in. You can use the colours of the season and the playful traditional holiday characters to add to the ambience and togetherness of it all.
Savour the Season, Not the Stress. This is the slogan of Spud this holiday season and they certainly do delivery. To reduce holiday meal planning and shopping, there are so many well thought out offerings – from main courses to all the sides, and desserts as well. We were so excited to be have been able to have ordered the gorgeous Prime Rib as a beautiful feature meal and to then be enjoyed again for our beef dip sandwiches as a second family meal! Of course, this is a great choice year round for reducing stress and having so many high quality food options conveniently available to be delivered to your family.
NEWMAN’S FINE FOODS
There is something so personable and nostalgic about picking up a Christmas Ham.As visitors arrive a few days before Christmas Eve we decided to start off with a beautiful bone-in ham from Newmans Fine Foods. This way we can start off with adding this beautiful ham to our charcuterie, creative ham sandwiches, possibly setting up a pizza station with the kiddos which has been suggested by one teen sibling, and ending with a beautiful home made pea soup! Do check out their link above and consider ordering their amazing meat packs to keep a well balance assortment of conveniently thought out bundles during your busy weeks when we all get back to our daily routines.
Of course, the holidays would not be the same without the spread of sneaky snacks as well. Nanaimo bars are a must have in any holiday spread which is why we are so excited to have these tasty little choices included in our spread this year! They just melt in your mouth and are almost as smooth and creamy as ice cream! And they are the cutest, perfectly shaped little bars, presented in a beautiful gift box.
Whatever traditions you share with your families and friends this holiday season, we hope you have found a few take-aways from this story and please do pick up a copy of Nourished if you have not read it yet! It will be a game changer in your approaches to celebration your relationships with your loved ones through your invitations with food, where you are sure to speak to their hearts.