The Lesson My Children Learn Every Time I Put a Meal on the Table

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on April 8, 2014

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This is The Feeding Diaries, an ongoing series about the feeding escapades in my house.

It’s been a tough few weeks. My brother has been in the hospital with a serious health condition, turning my world upside down and draining me of energy.

Despite all of this, I still come home and put a meal on the table. Admittedly, these meals are not be my best work and they are not elaborate, but I’m more committed than ever to keeping them up.

And the real lesson it’s teaching my kids hit me.

The importance of self-care

When I make the effort to make meals instead of running to takeout, I’m showing my kids that despite this tough time and “busier than ever” schedule, I’m going to take care of myself and my family. The message it sends is “taking care of yourself is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Watching someone close to me battle for their health reminds me that nothing is more important than taking care of oneself. If we sweep health under the table for everyday stressors, it eventually catches up to us. And if we don’t have our health, we don’t have those other things that seem so important.

I now realize that every time I plan meals in the midst of our hectic schedule, either by putting something in the slow cooker or pre-prepping for later, I’m teaching my kids that no matter what is going on, taking the time to eat and nourish ourselves remains a priority.

From food to other areas

Of course there are other ways to practice self care, but food is the most routine — three times a day with in between meal eating. Keeping up this ritual makes it easier to practice other acts of self care such as getting good sleep, moving our bodies, expressing and dealing with unpleasant feelings, learning when to say “no” and finding time for fun and connection with others.

I believe self-care is one of the most important skills parents can teach their children. And one of the ways I drill that into my children is by providing them with balanced meals on the table, no matter what. Day in, and day out.

How do you teach your children self-care?

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie April 8, 2014 at 8:22 am

I read this post and had a completely different perspective. I have been through the crazy hospital days and nights. Our son is hospitalized from time to time and he’s four so I stay with him. Putting a good wholesome dinner on the table is something I do for my family every night, so it’s definitely a priority. But it’s something I do for THEM, not self-care. I think it’s important to prioritize yourself, SELF-care, sometimes too. And it’s good to for them to realize that the world doesn’t come crashing down if mom can’t be there. What if dad “makes” dinner and it’s hot dogs with carrot sticks and apple slices? (I’m not a chauvinist, the quotes are accurate in my house!) What if everyone goes out to pick up a pizza and you take a nap? Part of my hospital bag that I keep packed is corn dogs or pizza in the freezer. And it’s not jut reserved for emergencies. If I paint all day, I’m not expected to make the meals. In conclusion, three things: I’m still the mom, even if dinner is made by someone else. I have an identity outside of being mom, I am a human being. And kids need to see the routine fall apart, so they know that everything is okay. No service I provide is sacred except that I will always love them. And that’s enough. So, would your children feel insecure if you couldn’t make dinner tonight?

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD April 8, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for your comment Katie. I definitely am not saying moms need to make meals every night. Of course I go out of town sometimes and get sick and my family has to fend for themselves. My husband doesn’t cook but can make some simple items but usually takes the kids out for dinner. And sometimes it is an act of self care not to cook dinner if its been one of those days. The key here is consistency.

But what drove this article was that I came home tired, WANTING to make something (very easy mind you) for my family. Unfortunately, my sick brother didn’t practice good self care. I too often see people put health on the back burner due to stress and busy schedules. It just made me realize the important lessons we teach children when we make regular meals a priority. Not every single day no matter what, but predictable, nourishing meals even when life gets crazy. We all deserve time off from daily duties though.

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Katie April 8, 2014 at 8:51 am

**ps My painting I referred to isn’t art, it’s walls. So a huge service to the family, saving us thousands of dollars over the years.

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Megan Stone April 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Thank you for sharing all of this with us despite your tough time. I think I could read it a few times over to let it all sink in. You have done so well to highlight why it should be such a priority to practice self-care, particularly the nutrition side of it. I’m hoping to teach my growing family this too.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD April 8, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Thanks Megan. I appreciate it!

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Katie M April 8, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I agree with you and of course, staying healthy during stressful times will keep you strong to get through those times. I think another message here could be that healthy eating doesn’t have to be hard or take up a tremendous amount of time either and can be done in the face of tremendous stress.

I also don’t think pizza and corn dogs need to be freezer go-to foods. Ideally, one would have a frozen meal that was made earlier, when times where simpler. But if processed foods are inevitable, how about a morning star veggie burger on whole wheat bun or canned tomato soup and grilled cheese?

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD April 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Good point Katie. I am all about simple and healthy. And you are right, keeping yourself healthy help[ you deal with the stress of life. I know that has helped me during this time.

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Jessica Kauffman April 8, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Ah, I have been reading a book for a seminar I am attending called entitled, “The Plan for Full Engagement.” It has really brought me to realize how critical it is that we take care of those basic physical needs, such as feeding our bodies good food, making exercise a priority, drinking water, sleeping, etc. It’s those things we all know to be important, but like you said, are so easy to put on the back burner. And as a busy Mom, I have let some of those things go. I totally agree with the importance of teaching our children self-care, and am just re-learning that I need to do just that. Take care of me, so I can better take care of them, and set that example for them. Thanks for your post!

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD April 10, 2014 at 10:05 am

Thanks Jessica. When I find myself going in the non-self-care direction I pull myself back. I realize that being tired and cranky helps no one. The book sounds interesting!

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Cinnamon April 10, 2014 at 4:32 am

As a Mental Health Worker (counselor) within a Family Health Team, I have a lot of conversations with people about “self care and what that looks like”. When I discuss daily self care with them and ask them what that would look like, I often get blank stares and “I don’t know” replies. I always use a healthy diet as an example of daily self care; some people “buy in” to the concept and report great benefits from doing this, however some look at me as if I am asking them to grow antlers. It is exciting to see this article and the decision to precieve making a healthy meal as an excellent form of self care in a stressful moment. Kudos!

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD April 10, 2014 at 10:14 am

Thanks for your perspective Cinnamon. Unfortunately, too many people don’t learn about self care. I know it took me a long time to figure it out. Being a mom made it challenging but even more important!

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Andrea April 17, 2014 at 5:36 am

I agree with all the comments here. I always stress the importance of trying to do the best we can for our children in the health department, but also for ourselves in the self-care department. I have my in-depth healthy meals for our family and then I have my quick grab ones, which I just make sure are also healthier alternatives. Sometimes that means Applegate Hot Dogs or simply scrambled eggs with pre-chopped veggies in them. Doing a meal plan and cooking ahead one day of the week has also helped. I think it’s important to be conscious yet flexible. I make sure not to feel bad if there are days I can’t keep up. Overall, I aim for a 70% to 80% success rate and that makes me feel not so bad!

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