Saturday, February 16, 2008

Food Wars

Fortunately, my children are not picky eaters. They have the usual aversions to strange spices and textures, but they will usually give them a try at least. Considering that I will not put a banana, citrus fruit or raisin in my mouth under any circumstances, I figure they've turned out pretty well. Their general good will toward food probably has something to do with Sean's admiration towards anything he eats. He is very complimentary with lots of "Oh, this is good..." and "Wow!" types of comments. I think this heightens the excitement of our meals.

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 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.

-Matthew 6:25-34

"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


Sarah said...

No banana or citrus fruits? I get raisins, can kind of see not liking bananas but cannot begin to wrap my mind around citrus! This time of year, I eat about three oranges a day!

Good advice. My little one is actually a really good eater. Sam, not so much. Wish we'd tried your method when he was Gracie's age. At this point, he gladly goes to his room without eating...

Sniz said...

I love this post. We believe the same thing although we haven't been as diligent about it as you. I loved the comment you made about how Sean's comments make meal times more exciting!

Alyssa said...

Wow, I'm glad to hear that someone else out there is 'mean' with their kids. That is exactly how I plan on teaching our baby to eat.

Edi said...

I agree with your principles. Our kids are required to eat what we put on their plates. If I know there is a food that they consistently hate I will not give it to them (ie my son has always hated bananas from day one - so when I give him fruit I give him something other than a banana...or if there are bananas in the fruit salad I avoid giving him any.) I think bananas fall into the optional category.

On the other hand he has also hated potatoes since he was a baby (same with water). Well those are not negotiable...if potatoes are a part of our supper meal - he gets some (though not a large portion). If I give him water to drink he has to drink it - and he can usually do it without gagging.

My dd is not a picky eater but hates tomato sauce on stuff (ie lasagna). If we are having lasagna - she still needs to eat some. But if I'm making spaghetti and meatballs and I think of it ahead of time - I'll leave some meatballs out of the sauce for her.

We had some food battles early on - but by being consistent - things have improved greatly.

Check out our blog to read about some of the "unusual" foods the kids have tried eating and now enjoy.

Tara said...

Good for you. I only make one meal. If you don't like it, tough.

Amy said...

Monica - yet another thing I didn't know - that you don't like citrus fruit! How many meals have I eaten with you and I didn't know that???

Thirdtimemomma said...

Do you find you have food wars often with your older kids? Though I dont make my kids eat, the rule is you eat it or go hungry at our house. We dont allow playing with food either. You play then your food is taken away. But I've always heard that warring over food would make them rebellious? What if they arent really hungry? Do they have a choice, eat or leave the table hungry?

Not disagreeing just askin.

Monica said...


We don't have issues with our older kids being picky. If I know it's not their favorite I don't give them a full portion. They are expected to eat at every meal enough to leave the table satisfied until the next meal.

We haven't found that warring over food results in rebellion. Usually when we are training the small ones we just want them to eat what they are being given and we make that something very appetizing like yogurt or applesauce. The when they decide to submit then the reward is there.

I followed up this post yesterday. You might find it amusing.