Care and Feeding

I Think My Wife Is Creating Unhealthy Eating Habits for Our Kids

They’re already being picky eaters during meal time.

Two boys happily eating an ice cream sundae.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife feeds snacks to our (somewhat difficult) 9-year-old twin boys when they seem grumpy. But A) she has trouble with them being picky eaters at regular meal time, and B) isn’t she creating issues with “emotional eating,” where you eat because of feelings, not because of hunger?

— Emo Eating in Atlanta

Dear Emo,

Sometimes, kids are grumpy because of hunger. Is your wife solely relying on snacks to respond whenever the boys’ mood is an issue, or is it possible that it could be that they are, in fact, hungry in many of these instances? Is she feeding them to shut them up, or choosing to feed them their favorite foods because that will make them happy and thus, easier to deal with? Does she offer healthy foods, but then the boys just get cookies if they pout long enough? There are a lot of variables here, and while it’s important that we don’t teach children to cope with bad feelings by feeding them, you also don’t want to deny snacks to kids who genuinely need some food.

If your wife is, in fact, just feeding unpleasant attitudes with chips and popsicles, then you need to have a talk with her about how the two of you intend to engage your children when they aren’t at their best. They should not be able to expect to have their moods improved by sugar and salt, nor should she use food as a tool to avoid the difficult work of talking to the boys about what’s going on and identifying a worthwhile activity to fill their time. Food should not always be the solution for boredom or bad moods, although it is okay to cheer a kid up with his favorite meal after a difficult day, or to bake a treat because it rained and you couldn’t go to the park. You and your wife should have a chat about dealing with cranky kids sooner rather than later.

—Jamilah

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