Hello out there! It’s been a while since I’ve stepped out and written anything on this blog. I’ve been silent partly out of busy-ness and partly out of an understanding of what a fool I am and how little I know about anything worthy of blog-space. I love being a teacher, which is why I started this blog–to explain to others the things I have been learning–and yet I have become afraid of the greater criticism that comes to those who try to teach. So, I’ve decided to be mostly silent and keep my teaching realm at home among my very forgiving sweet kids. For now.
That being said…..today I’ve decided to come back for a brief chat and talk about something highly controversial: picky eaters and what to do about them! (You’d think I’d come back with something a little more mild, huh?) My husband’s side of the family is amused right now if they are reading this, because they KNOW that I am no expert at what I’m about to talk about. I really am a fool and am not saying that anything I do is right for anyone else, but I hope to explain the thoughts behind my actions in order partly to explain myself and partly to encourage others to make their own decisions based on good thinking and not on pressure from others or a desire to make your family look good on the outside. This topic has come up several times lately among young mommies I know, so I’ve decided to stick my neck out and share my two cents. So….here goes!
As I begin, I want to share some verses with you that have helped to shape my choices:
Matthew 15:11 “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
Mark 7:15 “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
Romans 14:16-17 “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
As I’ve pondered these verses, I’ve been challenged to not communicate to my children that they are “good” if they eat a lot, eat fast, eat all their food on their plates, or that they are “bad” if they eat little, eat slowly, have a small appetite, etc. Eating well does not make them “good” in God’s sight, and so I wonder why, many times, parents and grandparents put such grave importance on “cleaning your plate”, being a “good eater,” having a “healthy appetite,” etc. Sometimes, I think our values come from tradition more than they come from biblical thinking.
If you’ve read many of my other parenting posts, then you know that I am always striving to reach the hearts of my children and I bristle against any teaching that stresses outward performance or conformity without reaching the hearts of my children. I try to take the long, messy road of teaching to the heart rather than using a discipline method that will produce immediate obedience but may reap rebellion, hurt, or confusion in the future. (Of course, no one intentionally chooses a method that will reap rebellion, hurt, or confusion in the future, but some parents just don’t stop to look ahead and calculate the long-term effects of choices that bring pleasing temporary results. Don’t assume that a pleasing result now equals a pleasing long-term result!)
Here are the things that I value when it comes to mealtime and teaching my children:
1. Kindness to others: I try to explain to my children that it is polite to eat food that has been prepared for them by others. I’m trying to teach them to think of others when it comes to mealtime and to let love overrule when they are served something that they don’t like. (At the same time, sometimes I am amazed when an adult would expect a child to show that type of maturity and yet would show such immaturity as to be offended that a child did not like or eat the food prepared!) At the stage my children are in, we ask them to take some “thank you” bites of foods they don’t love, but if there is a food my children are very averse to, I treat them the way I would want to be treated and let them off the hook. (C’mon, now! Aren’t there foods that you really can’t stand? So why are you expecting more of your children than you expect of yourself? Most of us have polite, socially acceptable ways of avoiding the foods we don’t like.) I expect that my children’s ability to eat foods they don’t like will grow as they grow physically, so, in the meantime, I “remember their frame” (Psalm 103:14) as God remembers mine and lets me take baby steps in my own growth.
2. Good stewardship of our bodies: I try often to teach my children about nutrition, and we try to model it with our own choices, too. They know about saturated fat, they ask me what vitamins are in different foods they eat, and they know about the food pyramid. Every once in a while I will sketch out a food pyramid and ask them to list all the foods they’ve eaten that day. If they are low in fruits or vegetables, I’ll point that out and suggest that maybe they have a carrot or apple for a snack rather than a granola bar or cheese stick. I try to help them make good choices for themselves so that someday, when they’re on their own, they WANT to eat wisely. I could just dictate every choice for them, but then I think they’d run a greater risk of choosing Doritos and Mountain Dew everyday for their snacks when the choice is finally theirs.
3. I want mealtime at my home to be a time of enjoyment, togetherness, and celebration, not a time for fights and battles and anxiety about food. Food is given by God for our enjoyment and nourishment. Click here to read a piece that has inspired me to make mealtimes about more than just dinner.
Things I want to avoid:
1. Giving my kids the impression that they are “good” or “bad” kids based on what they eat:
My nephews and one of my nieces eat anything and everything put before them. And lots of it. Sometimes I’m tempted to say something like, “Wow! Look at So-and-so. He ate ALL his food! And he ate it so quickly! What a GOOD eater you are! *patting him on the back*” When I do that, I am doing an injustice to all the kids. I am communicating to my nephew that I value him more when he eats a lot of food, setting him up for overeating, and I am communicating to my own children that I would be most pleased with them if they would eat a lot of food, tempting them to put their personal value in what they eat, rather than who they are. This is not what I want to value. I want to value those things that come out of their hearts: righteousness, kindness, love, peace, etc.
2. Teaching my children to eat for the wrong reasons:
When I’m around people who value “good eaters,” I’m tempted to cater to those people rather than to follow my Spirit-guided mommy heart, and I’m tempted to make my children eat in order to make me look good and for them to be loved more by others. The fear of people should never rule my choices.
2. Inadvertently teaching my children to overeat:
I’ve read it in many books, and I believe it to be true: children know when their own tummies are full better than we do. When my children were bottle-fed babies and pushed the bottle out of their own mouths, I knew they were full. I never forced the bottle back into their mouths and made them finish it just because there was more left in the bottle. In the same way, I don’t expect them to finish a plate of food if an adult not used to their normal portion-size mounds their plate with food. They know best when they are full, and I don’t think it’s virtuous to make them eat when they are full. At worst, I believe it teaches their bodies to overeat.
So, practically, this is how all this works in my house:
I take the recommendation that seems to be the overwhelming favorite of pediatricians. I try to serve healthy, delicious, balanced meals. I try to model good nutrition by what I buy, prepare and eat. I don’t make something different for my kids if they aren’t happy with what I’ve prepared: dinner is what’s on the table and nothing else, with rare exceptions. I make my two older kids try a bite of everything, for the most part, unless it’s something they are very averse to. (A child with abnormal eating difficulties needs to be treated uniquely under a doctor’s care. The type of pickiness I’m addressing is the type that seems to affect the majority of children, from what I’ve observed, not something more extreme.)
We are a work in progress. My 17-month-old would happily eat cheese and granola bars for every meal and hands back any piece of meat, fruit, or vegetable I put on her tray. My older kids often dislike the meals I prepare and usually are skeptical of new things. Sometimes I entertain thoughts of being a “meaner” mom. It would make the here-and-now a lot easier. But I feel confident that the path I’m on is the one God has for me. Other parents with different personalities, backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses and their kids with different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, have different mealtime expectations than we do. And that’s ok. Whether you feel confident in this area or whether you feel inadequate, we’re all works in progress, after all, as God teaches our kids through us and us through our kids. And that’s a good thing to remember about one another.