Early on we were given some parenting advise that we decided that we would follow. Basically it goes something like this, "There are two areas in which children should submit to their parents until the parents are willing to hand over control. Those areas are clothing and food. Children should be able to trust their parents for both and be thankful for what they are given without complaint. When a child learn this, then they will be more secure and willing to obey on other issues."
I believe a little grace should be given according to circumstances of course. There are children with sensory issues in which certain clothing is not only uncomfortable, but a huge distraction or painful. (I am this way with turtle necks.) Likewise, some children are texture sensitive to food and gag on everything or refuse certain foods due to undetected illness or allergies.
I'm not talking about being legalist. "You will eat everything or else!" I'm talking about a child who learns to accept what they've been given and out of loving obedience do what they would rather not.
So to play it out practically this is how it goes around our table. The food war begins usually between 12-24 months when the baby is growing up and learning to use utensils. The stage when, about half of the food is in the tummy and the other half on the lap. Along with this independence also comes a little bit fussy eating. The favorite food gets eaten first and the rest winds up on the floor or played with.
So dad takes the utensil and begins to feed the child and the war begins. The head turns. The hand goes over the mouth. The lips are tightly sealed. Here we go.
We give a firm warning. "Say Ahh.. it's time to eat...open your mouth." No airplane games. No counting. The baby is taken to the crib, given a swat on the bottom, hugged and left in his room to cry it out.
After a few minutes the child is brought back to the table and the whole situation is replayed. We've been through this a few times and through the years so the kids have come up with a chant to encourage the little one to open his chop. It goes like this, "You can do it. You can do it. Go!!" Then they all open their mouths.
It becomes like a scene in Groundhog Day as the same thing happens over and over again. The little one is red faced and crying and we all just want it to be over.
Then, it finally happens. "You can do it. You can do it. Go!!" The child opens his mouth and takes a bite of the despised food and cheer errupt!! Usually this causes the little one to start laughing and crying at the same time. Dad continues to feed the kid until it is clear that the message has gotten through. The point isn't to eat every last morsel, but rather to accept what is given.
I know that this may seem cruel parenting to some, but for each of our kids we've only had to do it once. There are still foods that each one of the children don't like that they are required to try and eat. We usually have them eat as many bites as they are old or for the older ones we just give them a small portion on their plate.
Hopefully this will be one of the first steps in teaching them to trust and learn to enjoy what God provides.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
- Mattew 7:9-11