By Debbie O’Connor of Motivating Mum
MY daughter came running out of her new school and spoke words to strike fear into my heart. “Mum, the canteen is awesome! I can eat whatever I like in there!” Like many mums, I am going through one of the big transitions of childhood this year – in my case my eldest child is going to secondary school in September.
For the last five years I have had both my children at the local primary school, ten minutes’ walk away and life has settled into a pleasant easy routine that we are all comfortable with. But after the holidays my daughter will have to start getting up a lot earlier, and will leave the house before her brother is even out of bed, for an hour long journey to school.
She is really excited about this, maybe a bit nervous, but more than ready for the transition. On the other hand I am starting to worry how she is going to cope, and also how I am going to cope with the new arrangements.
My daughter had an induction day at her new school a few weeks ago. I travelled with her both ways, but allowed her to lead me, and observed that she is more than comfortable handling the travel arrangements herself. So that is one less thing for me to worry about. But then she came running out of school and spoke words to strike fear into my heart.
“Mum, the canteen is awesome! I can eat whatever I like in there!”
And suddenly it hit me. I will no longer realistically be able to control eating when my daughter’s away between 7am and 5pm. No more portion controlled school dinner, no more lovingly prepared and nutritionally balanced packed lunches, no more supervised journeys to and from school with no snack temptations en route.
If she chooses to eat nothing but junk all day I won’t be able to stop her because I won’t even know! I have to let her go and just hope that I have taught her enough that she will be able to make healthy choices and more importantly, that she will want to control her eating.
Looking back over her childhood so far, I confess that I haven’t exactly been an angel. We do use sweet stuff for rewards (me too, not just the children) and we do drink more than our fair share of sugary drinks (my husband and I hardly drink alcohol, so we tend to have fizzy drinks for the whole family at table when we are eating together, and when we are relaxing in the evenings).
As a result of this, my husband and I are moderately overweight, although since I discovered Slimpods and Thinking Slimmer I am no longer obsessing over this and have not dieted in over two years now. I don’t want my daughter to grow up always on the scales and dieting – I want her to choose healthy food naturally and always feel good about her choices. I need to be a model for this behaviour of proper eating control.
My daughter is a very bright girl. She knows what is healthy and what is not. But I remember when I broke away from my mother’s control, how easy it was to ‘break the rules’ and eat too much sugary junk food where mum couldn’t see me, a habit which has stayed with me for life.
Now that I have realised exactly what the future holds, I am doing my best to help my daughter see how making healthy choices will help her in her studies and in her life and self-image. She is already starting to notice that some girls are skinny and some are more overweight, and while I don’t want her to obsess over this, I do want her to realise that she is ultimately responsible for her body and she has the power to look and feel great if she chooses to.
I feel that I need to give her this message by encouraging her towards the good stuff, not by prohibiting the bad. She needs to know that if she makes certain choices about what she eats and the activity she does, then she will feel much better about herself and will be more healthy and with more energy.
So here are some of the things that we are doing as a family this summer to hopefully nudge her in the direction of eating control and good health:
ONE: When we got her SATs test results we celebrated with a meal of sushi, which she loves. I am going to try and eat out in more healthy places this summer, treating both children regularly with food that is yummy but wholesome.
TWO: I have challenged both children to give up squash this summer – we will all be drinking mainly water and milk, with the occasional fizzy sweet drink for special occasions only.
THREE: I am encouraging my daughter to take up more sport – she has recently started playing badminton and she is booked to go on a rowing course this summer. We will also be swimming a lot, walking the dog every day and doing lots of active stuff together over the summer.
FOUR: When she does go back to school in September, I will make sure that she has a healthy breakfast inside her, no matter how early I have to get up to achieve this. She enjoys green smoothies, and usually eats cereal too. I can send her to school with fruit and nuts/seeds for break time snacking, and I can also make sure that there is something healthy but delicious waiting for her to snack on as soon as she gets home, so she doesn’t feel a need to stop off on the way.
So those are my strategies for preparing my daughter for making her own food choices at secondary school. Are there any mums out there going through the same thing at the moment? Or if you have already gone through this, please share any other hints or tips you have – any reassurance you can give me will be very welcome.
Debbie O’Connor runs Motivating Mum UK, a website which provides support and advice to mums who are running businesses from home.