A Mom’s Guide to Not Passing on Bad Eating Habits to Your Toddler

I’ve had to defend a lot of my parenting choices to my family, including, but not limited to, refusing to baptizing my child, not marrying (but living with) his father and living in another state. The one I find myself defending the most, inexplicably, is that I make all his food (except prunes -- how do you make prunes?).

This isn’t because I am a natural food freak and feed him only organic (although we do try). The truth is, I have a deep rooted fear that I will pass all my bad eating habits on to my son and that this “fat gene” people talk about isn’t a gene at all, but just a series of bad food choices passed on through generations.

In particular I fear salt and convenience.

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I am overweight (hard to say, harder to live with) in large part because of years of working 18 hour days and shoveling in takeout right before going to sleep. And because I stress eat. I was the healthiest (and lowest) weight of my adult life while I was pregnant when I became concerned with nutrition. I learned then that I could control my little man’s eating habits just by paying attention and I've continued to do just that as he grows.

Here are the guidelines that work for me:

Don't serve packaged meals. I’d like to say this is because of how bad they are for him but really, it is because of how bad they are for me. I am lazy with feeding myself and I am afraid I will get lazy with him. Because I work full-time, I only really feed him one meal a day and while it would be super easy to rip open a package and nuke it, what happens when he isn’t eating baby food? Will he still eat everything out of a package? No, I need to get used to making him dinner now.

Keep salt to the bare minimum. I don't use salt when I cook vegetables and allow just a shy sprinkling of salt on eggs. When my son snacks, it's on whole wheat, toddler-friendly snacks, not adult chips and crackers. A small disclaimer, I went to culinary school for pastry so I have an understanding of what a high salt diet can do to the taste buds -- salt can overwhelm every flavor until it becomes the favored flavor. This is what happens with McDonalds fries and why kids love them. I'm super afraid if he eats salt now that it's all he'll eat later (and a recent study proves this fear of mine is grounded in fact). Nope, let’s not go there, I just don’t buy the stuff.

Don’t fear sugar, but don’t use it as a reward. As afraid of salt as I am, I’m not afraid of sugar (or milk fat). Again, I’m a pastry chef so take that into consideration. He has cookies, he’s had ice cream, and he’s even had a lollypop (thanks to his grandmother, who I can’t always stop). But he has not had these things as a reward or to make him feel better. My mother, who I am not criticizing at all, used food as a way to make us feel better. Sick, how about some nice soup? Upset, some nice cheese. Celebrating, a nice meal with more servings per person than a Vegas buffet. My instinct is to feed, we truly live by food is love in my family. But when he came home from having tubes put in his ears the first thing I did was not give him a lollypop or chocolate milk, even though I wanted to. He was in pain and chocolate would make him feel better, right? No, he can have cookies so that they aren’t a forbidden thing he needs to sneak but when he’s upset, we won’t solve that through food.

Or so I am trying.

The night he had his ear tubes put in, I gave him ice cream. I’m human and far from conquering these issues in my own life. But for now, we eat a low-salt, higher-effort diet in hopes that when the choices are his, he will choose better than I have.

What are your bad eating habits that you are afraid to pass on to your kids?

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