[Week 28 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Why is food so complicated?
What are your main considerations when deciding what and how to feed your children? I think the basics are:
A parent ends up, whether consciously or not, searching for a manageable balance between factors. Sooner or later, every parent is faced with how to fulfill the parental responsibility in feeding a child no matter what a child’s preferences in eating.
Other than the moral obligation of parents to provide food for their own children, there is not anything obviously moral about exactly how it is done. That doesn’t mean that there might not be better or worse ways to go about it for the sake of personal habits for the children or family relationships.
Budgeting in the eyes of a child
Let’s start with talking about the budget, because, let’s face it: someone has to pay for the food. Someone is doing the work to grow and sell the food and they reasonably want recompense for their efforts. Then, the parents work to provide the food in ways that children often fail to comprehend. A parent should feel free to put limits on anything, from what is prepared to serving size. This helps to make the best use of the food available. While the end goal may be to have our children understand economics and make good food choices, for a while the parents have to be the ones to do that.
As a child matures, he will understand decisions more, but that doesn’t mean the child needs to be convinced in order for a parent to be justified in a decision. A child does not need to agree with what is being bought or available to eat. A parent is best suited to make these decisions. Disagreements from a child about how it is done are only important in the sense of how the disagreement is handled.
In most cases, it is a minor preference of the child’s and an attempt at taking over the parental role in the family. Almost all children try this at one time or another. Food issues are a likely trigger for it since eating is frequent and can be a stressful point of the day. A parent can communicate concern for the child’s desires, while at the same time retaining the role of parent.
Keeping track of what your child puts in his mouth
Even if a child gets some money to spend on his own food, a parent has the responsibility to guide that. Since nutrition is particularly important for a growing body, this should be a priority for parents. The more time the child spends away from home/the parent, the harder this will be.
I’m not suggesting that every bite of food needs to be absolutely nutritionally perfect or that that is even possible. However, parents see the bigger picture and have a better idea of how to weigh the options. Children tend to live only in the moment, whereas their parents see how eating patterns are developing. Thinking about the bigger picture can help a parent avoid getting bogged down in or excessively frustrated by any argument from the child. Help the child to understand the difference between arguing about your decision and you being willing to explain to some extent, depending on the circumstances and the child’s attitude.
Such interchanges are another time when teaching your own children at home can be so helpful. If a child is truly bewildered at a decision, it can be something that gets studied together (especially for younger children) or a chance to do a thorough research paper. There is nothing quite as motivating as personal interest. Of course, if the child balks at such a suggestion, then it is easy to point out that they don’t seem to really care that much.
Of course, a major part of a parent’s responsibility in this is to also be a good example. As with most things, good verbal guidance is easily ruined by poor example. If you want your child to mostly choose healthy snacks or eat what is served at meal time, as a parent you must do the same. If you walk the talk, you will gain respect and have more influence.
How to schedule good food
Scheduling good food involves everything from taking time to shop consciously to spending time with your children while eating. Sometimes it can be frustrating because it seems so basic and so never-ending. The truth is that a parent needs to be thoughtful about all the steps, which means leaving time to do them right.
We all know that it is hardest to eat right at the end of the day or when we are tired. It is hard to have resolve and fortitude to do anything carefully when we are worn out or frazzled. Plain exhaustion on any given day makes it hard to think. Having a schedule that doesn’t leave us time to think is also part of the problem.
Besides working on giving more priority to providing good food, having an overall plan for eating is helpful. Have a plan for how you want to approach shopping and meal preparation. Have a routine that helps you to stick to priorities. Have an idea of what good food is without always being tossed to and fro by the latest food fad.
Part of my plan has been to make sure that I shop for pantry staples. Meal planning, even when time gets away from me, is easier if there are basics on hand. I also make it a habit to think about the next days dinner before I go to bed. This helps me to remember to thaw meat and check for other ingredients ahead of time.
Rotating basic, familiar menus is also very helpful. Every meal doesn’t have to be new and creative or complicated. Plus, if you practice cooking the same things regularly, you get faster at it.
Having your children regularly help with food planning, shopping, and preparation is useful for many reasons. If you talk about meal planning with them, you might get ideas about simple ways to tweak eating that would be nicer for everyone. You may get insight into their preferences, as well as get to explain why you do things the way you do.
If children help with the shopping, they get to see how things add up, what it is like to compare prices, or how even something apparently simple like choosing fresh produce is a skill.
When children work alongside you in the kitchen it is not only a time to teach them a basic life skill, it tends to be a time when conversation flows and unexpected topics get addressed. If children don’t have time to help with basic meals at least some of the time, then their schedule needs some cutting back!
Tacos are a good habit
My mom fixed tacos regularly when I was growing up. I fix them regularly for my family. Eating tacos helps me stay healthy because they are a balanced meal with lots of nutrition, so they are a good habit. Eating good food regularly makes it less likely that you will eat less good things or too much of anything. We need to help our children develop good eating habits like that.
Timing and limits are important for good habits. This is why I really worked at fixing regular meals when my children were at home. If they knew they could count on good food being available regularly, they found it easier to wait. When it wasn’t a good time for snacks, they knew something was coming soon. They were more likely to eat what I fixed on a given day because that was when we were eating.
It is a good habit for children to learn to eat what someone has worked to provide for them. It doesn’t always have to be their favorite. They don’t always have to eat a lot of it. They do need to learn to appreciate what is provided. This is a good habit.
In view of this, my children knew they had to have permission to snack or to get into the refrigerator. Besides just helping them form good habits for their own eating, I needed to keep track of things I would be using in meal preparation. Even with a couple of adult children still living at home, it is very helpful to have them aware of communicating with me about ingredients and meal plans.
Why my mom never served Brussel’s sprouts
My mom didn’t like Brussel’s sprouts. I didn’t even find out what they were until I left home. My dad only liked Miracle Whip, not mayonnaise. I grew up not liking sandwiches, but I didn’t know why. I still remember the first time I had a sandwich with real mayonnaise on it. It was delicious! Does this mean I had a deprived childhood? I don’t think so. After all, as I said, they fed me tacos.
Food preferences are an interesting phenomena. It probably partly has to do with what we are familiar with, but everyone I know has also experienced tastes changing over time. My own children talk of learning to like things that they were required to at least taste if it was served with a meal.
Some foods sound better at one time instead of another. It might have to do with how often you have eaten it or how full you are from previous eating. It might have to do with recent physical activity or illness. What does all of this mean when making decisions about children’s food preferences?
I have read that children have more sensitive tastebuds. I don’t know how this was tested. I’m not sure I saw much evidence of it in my children when they were growing up. Some would enjoy strong flavors from a young age. Others would scowl at the smallest piece of onion in their spaghetti sauce.
Our approach to the issue was partly, as mentioned earlier, to expect the children to participate in regular meals no matter what their preferences. This was tempered by rotating a variety of things that I knew everyone liked, as well as having them take turns helping prepare things they liked. One time we accidentally had curry flavored tacos when kids fixed dinner, because they weren’t sure if I put cumin or curry in tacos… it wasn’t too bad. And the kids learned to be a lot more patient with meals that didn’t always turn out to expected tastes.
What is it about meals and relationships?
We all invite people over to dinner. There is something about sharing a meal that brings people together. There is also something about the etiquette of meals that encourages courtesy.
As soon as our children were old enough to understand, they were required to sit at the table with us for main meals, usually dinners. They had to ask to be excused. This was partly for practical reasons (are your hands clean? do you remember what your clean-up duties are?). It was also because it helps create a sense of connectedness with the other people at the table.
Sometimes their father wanted them to stay a while, usually for discussing something interesting. Sometimes there was going to be a story read, since they were already gathered. Once they learned that asking to be excused was expected, it was very normal and never stressful.
Since we taught our children at home, dinner certainly wasn’t the only time I was discussing things with the kids, but it was an important time to come together as a whole family. It was a time to begin the evening bonding with their father and tell each other about the day. Mealtimes are an opportunity to sit together, to enjoy one another. It can be a time to teach and practice basic politeness, like talking turns talking or listening well.
Their dad traveled for business a fair amount, as well as had unpredictable deadlines, so sometimes dinner was done before he got home. It was still a focal point, a wrap-up time for all the chores and assignments. After dinner, we could relax some.
The secret I told my kids
When my kids first began to express their food preferences, I was embarrassed to tell them that I was a picky eater. I have also always struggled with chewing. So, I totally understood their struggles, but I also wanted to help them deal with it. I am happy to say that over the years, I have learned to be soemwhat more adventurous in my eating. Another case of how having children and teaching them things helped me grow as a person, too.