What’s for Dinner?

I came across a parenting article recently and even though my kids are older, with diapers and daily tantrums over “tie” vs “velcro” shoes a thing of the past, I was curious, so I took the time to check it out.  Actually, I found this particular piece of child-rearing commentary on the same mom advice blog that I’ve brought up before, the one that decries “mommy shaming” yet mom-shames religiously.

This new wave of helpful hints was about dealing with “picky eaters.” The writer’s solution? Let the kids choose. Sounds simple, right? Turns out it is simple. Basically, as the mother (or I guess, father…this article happened to be directed at moms), you fix whatever dinner you want and if the kids don’t want to eat it, fine. In fact, you start out the meal with the announcement that “eat or it not, it’s up to you.” Having no punishment for abstaining from any of the foods presented is the key here. Further, rejecting the main meal does not preclude being given dessert. Dessert is a given.

Now, this is all fine and good for kids who might eat “something.” But what about kids who won’t eat anything? My daughter is just that kind of kid. Not so much now that she’s older, but when she was little? Oh boy.  She took picky eating to a whole new level. There could have been a buffet in front of her – a veritable feast – and she would decide for whatever reason that she liked none of it and simply would not eat. No, that tastes funny. That’s brown or green or yellow. That’s slimy. It’s got onions in it. I don’t like gravy. Or my all-time favorite, a simplistic “Ewww.”

Or what about the kid who will eat dessert (since that can’t be withheld) and nothing else?  I can easily envision my kids, when they were young, having dessert every night for dinner – if it were available.  Hell, I would too if I had those rules. Come on! Who wouldn’t?

Force feeding kids by making them sit at the table until they eat something doesn’t work either. Been there, done that. On both sides of the table. I remember sitting at the table in an ever-escalating series of “battles of wills” with my mother over some vegetable or another. I recall a particularly long evening spent at the table brought about by Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t fun for me and I can’t imagine that it was a great time for my mother either. I’m sure she had better things to do than deal with my mulish dinner habits. Sorry, Mom. My kids inherited that same stubborn behavior willpower.

My son took it even further. I mean, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? The curse my mother flung at me all those years ago worked. Like gangbusters it worked. I now have kids who act just like I acted. In case I haven’t said it lately, thanks for that, Mom. When my handsome, intelligent, ever-so-charming son was about five or so, he threatened that if I insisted he “eat those stupid peas already,” he would throw them back up. And. He. Did. Ahhh…memories. Hey, he gave fair warning. He still won’t eat peas and the boy is 24 years old.

I suppose we could just live by the old adage “oh, they’ll eat when they’re hungry” as they forego their mid-day and evening meals night after night. Indeed, that’s what this suggested routine seems to be, just done in a nicer way. I imagine the success of such a campaign all depends on the temperament of the child and just how hungry they’re willing to be to prove a point.

The thing is, you can’t force kids to eat. You can’t force them to sleep. It’s the two things really, besides bathroom habits, that they ultimately do have control over. Unless you’re a monster who literally force feeds your kids as they’re tied to a chair. But if you’re a normal human being, you can lead them to the table, but you can’t make them eat.  Threaten, cajole, humor, and beg…but you can’t really MAKE them. They choose to give in, or not. Same with sleep – you can put them to bed and order them to sleep, but only they can really make that happen.

I guess I was never overly finicky about what we had for dinner…I didn’t care if my kids ate hotdogs with mac and cheese while I ate the eggplant parm that I liked. I didn’t mind if we had home-made chicken nuggets (à la Chick-Fi-La, but my own recipe, which is healthier) three times a week. That tuna casserole they both love? Sure! Why not?

It’s different now that I’ve cut out the majority of meat for myself, but hey, the kids are old enough to feed themselves now, so I don’t really care…they’re on their own. But when they were little, I decided after a while that dinner time was simply not a battle I particularly felt like fighting. Of course, this decision might’ve taken place right after the “peas fiasco of 1997,” but it’s a solid decision nonetheless.

I also knew my kids were stubborn assholes strong-willed individuals who would go without food long enough that eventually social services would be called. So, dinner often had a kid-friendly menu in our house. Why deliberately put food on the table that you know someone won’t eat while hoping for the best? I didn’t really see this as catering to them – and still don’t – I view it as a way of enjoying the time we had together at the table. Instead of arguing or long, sullen silences, we had rousing talks about everything under the sun, jokes, and laughter, and joy. And everyone ate. I still make their favorites when we’re all together for a visit. But then, food has always been a big deal in our house, a way of bringing the family together. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not fought over.

I figured – and rightly so – that they would branch out from hot dogs, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and French fries prior to getting to college. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of very specific things like peas (go figure), mushrooms, onions, and sushi (can’t blame them there), they eat quite a variety of foodstuffs these days. Truth be told, they’re a lot more adventurous in trying new foods than me, I must say.

I suppose the idea presented in the article would work for some families…I mean hey, it worked for the writer, right? But if it were MY house? I would have had two children with amazingly high blood sugar from all the dessert they were stuffing themselves with and tons of uneaten leftovers cluttering up the fridge.

16 thoughts on “What’s for Dinner?

  1. “The Peas Fiasco of 1997” is going to be the name of my ska-new-wave Garth Brooks tribute band!

    Have you considered homemade ice cream for the next visit by your son? Make it a vanilla base with some choice legumes added instead of chocolate chips, swirl and chill vigorously, call it “Whirled Peas!” Who could hate that?

  2. What family serves dessert EVERY night after dinner? Dessert in my house growing up was holidays and special occasions only. But now that I’m an adult I can have dessert for breakfast!

    You do know that taste buds are the most accurate at age 10, right?

    Girls Have Superior Sense Of Taste To Boys — ScienceDaily

    Are kids’ taste buds different from adults’? | HowStuffWorks

  3. I personally hate articles of any kind that insists that what they are suggesting will work for every one. That’s complete rubbish as many of us have become aware. What works for one person is not going to work for another. It’s that unique thing we’ve been told all our lives we are.

  4. Dumbest article ever, with regard to kids and food. Really? OMG I’m with your son, however, just seeing the word pea makes me gag. Anything mushy. ACKKKK! Barf. I never had to eat anything I didn’t want to eat but I ate most things, so not a problem. I never made my kids eat anything they didn’t like either, since I never did that. My grandson wouldn’t eat anything. He put a bit of bread in his mouth (at a wedding) and just stood there, horrified that it didn’t taste the way he thought it would. We finally noticed (after a bit) that he looked weird and my daughter held out her hand and he spit it out. He NEVER would have swallowed it. He eats now, finally. No dessert if you don’t eat. Don’t care what you eat, but unless you eat something…Nah uh…no dessert. I think that’s in the Constitution but then, the Constitution doesn’t seem to matter anymore so….

  5. I had the exact same experience as you with Brussels sprouts many times. I can’t remember who won, but I know I was always in tears or still at the dinner table long after my Mum had washed up. The thing I could never understand however, was my Dad never ate them as he can’t stand them, yet I was made to sit there and eat them. But then my parents are more do as I say than as I do.

    • Yeah, it never seems fair to make kids eat something and then have a parent (or anyone, really) sit there and say I don’t like it, I’m not eating it…and get away with it. But them, I’m a big believer in kids are people just like the rest of us. They need molding and direction to become healthy, happy, productive members of society, but in general, they deserve some respect and consideration as well. Being made to cry over food is not a necessity, it’s a battle of wills — and not a very productive battle of wills at that.

      Funny thing is, I personally love brussels sprouts now. LOL

      • I still can’t stand them!
        To top it off, my Dad never got involved. But when I was really naughty he did well not naughty, just being stubborn or them not understanding I’m dyslexic (they didn’t realise until in my teens). It was a pull your pants down full on smack, so I’m still wary of my Dad! My Mum uses battle of the wills and psychology instead. Maybe you could say I won the unproductive battle of wills as I still can’t stand the taste of them 🙂

  6. Personally I think its a mixture of both, you know your child well enough to decide whats best. For example, I can tell when he is being fussy and when he just doesn’t like something, a classic example is fish, he wont eat it, on the days when we happen to have fish, I make him something different, there are a couple of other things which he just doesn’t like, I think if your force them to eat it now, then they won’t like it growing up.

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