I love giving my daughter cookies.  It makes me feel fantastic to give her cake too.  And while I’m confessing, nothing beats giving her ice cream.

My daughter lights up when she gets these goodies and making her happy makes me happy.  Actually, it makes me ecstatic!

Do you know what I mean?

When I provide a wholesome meal – complete with salad and vegetables – I feel like a good mother.  But when I give my daughter the treats she loves, I feel like I’m directly transferring love from my heart to hers.  It’s like hooking up an I.V. of happiness.

The drawback of my cookies=love problem is that one of the most important tool parents have for teaching kids to eat right is proportion: offering foods in relation to their healthful benefits.  Treats should be offered occasionally. I love my daughter all the time!

Setting boundaries around food can be tough — especially if our lovely little bombshells are well versed in begging, whining and otherwise canoodling candy out of us.  We want to make them happy.  Sometimes brownies do the trick.

But I really want my daughter to learn that food is food, that treats are treats and that love is a feeling.   After all, mixing up food and feelings produces one of the greatest eating struggles people ever have.

Unfortunately, it’s not just my nagging suspicion that loading love onto the plate leads to poor eating.  Research backs me up.

In one recent study, researchers found that family cooks generally fall into one of five dominant personality profiles — Giving Cooks, Healthy Cooks, Innovative Cooks, Methodical Cooks and Competitive Cooks – and that every type of cook produces healthy eaters except one… the Giving Cook!

The Giving Cook specializes in comfort foods, and traditional favorites, and provides lots of home-baked goodies.

There are plenty of ways parents teach the wrong lessons around food.  It’s not just Food=Love.  There’s also Food=Comfort. Food=Reward.  Food=Guilt.  Food=Punishment.

Do any of these statements from the book Mindless Eating sound familiar?

  • “Eat this pudding, it will make you feel better.” (Food as Comfort)
  • “If you get an A on your test, we’ll go out for ice cream.” (Food as Reward)
  • “Clean your plate; children are starving in China.” (Food as Guilt)
  • “Finish your vegetables or you can’t watch T.V.” (Food as Punishment)

Kids are always going to do some emotional eating – it is unavoidable, especially as long as birthdays, Thanksgiving and grandmas exist – but consciously parenting kids around food means minimizing the times we use food as a tool.

Let’s face it, food is a powerful elixir.  But parenting with food is a mistake.  Teach kids to use food to satisfy their hunger, not to soothe their needy souls.

Want some ideas on things you can use instead of food to get your kids to behave? Read Lollypops for Listening? 10 OTHER Ways to Bribe Your Kid into Behaving.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Source:  Wansink, B., 2006. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. New York: Bantam Books. P. 166, 176.