Meal Time and Small Children
Meal time. When you have young children, it can become just another battlefield! Who wants that?
I remember those days, and I remember being somewhat confused as to how to deal with it. What is a parent supposed to do when their child won’t eat what is served to them? What about when they don’t like something I am serving? Do I make them sit there until it’s gone? Do I discipline them? Do I make them go hungry?
One evening, when my children were young, we invited a family over for dinner. One of our friend’s children didn’t care for what was served that evening. He tasted it, took a few bites, and didn’t want any more. The entire meal was spent with the parents forcing him to eat, taking him away from the table to discipline him, and then doing it over and over again.
By the time the meal was almost done, the child was so upset that he threw up all over the table! This ruined the entire meal, not only for the parents, but for everyone at the table. I know the parents were trying to train their child, and were very sincere. I’m just not sure that was the best approach!
When my children were young we were pretty strict about making them eat was put in front of them, whether they liked it or not. We made them sit until dinner was done, and let them go hungry if they didn’t eat what was served. We had our share of meals that were spent with crying children and frustrated parents.
Now that my children are grown I see things a little bit differently. If I was doing it over, I think I would have loosened up a little bit! Of course I would want them to learn manners, to learn to taste what is offered, and especially the importance of showing gratefulness for what is given to them. Those are important lessons. But on this side of parenting, I now see that it is a lifelong lesson. It won’t be learned by age five! Having a grateful heart is something that must be lived out and practiced daily in the home, and something that God must work into their character.
As an adult, when choosing what I am going to eat for breakfast and lunch, I go to the refrigerator and pick what I like, or what I’m in the mood for. I normally don’t purposefully choose something I don’t care for. There may be times that what I want is not there, so I choose the next best thing. There are some meal times that I am just not hungry, so I skip a meal or eat very little.
Why should our children be expected to be different than we are? They are little people, with tastes of their own. Sometimes they may not be hungry … or they have a small appetite, just like me! I wish I would have given much more consideration to those things.
If I was able to do it over, I would also give them room to be little and to not have mastered the art of gratefulness. I would still encourage them to at least taste what is put before them, but I would be much more balanced in how I approach food in general.
If I had to do it over again, here are some things I’d do:
- As they got old enough to understand, I’d sit down with them and let them help me make up the menu. I would allow them to give me suggestions of some breakfasts and lunches they would like. Then I would have those things on hand. At meal times, if they begin to give me a hard time about what is put before them, I would remind them that this was what they told me they wanted on the menu.
- After stocking my pantry and fridge with several of their choices, I would give a few options to choose from. I would ask them, “Would you like peanut butter and jelly or chicken nuggets today?” If they are given a choice, I think the battles will be less.
- I would take them shopping with me and let them help pick certain things out. I would make them much more a part of the planning and buying process. That way they not only begin to learn how to make a menu etc, but they would know I am considering their preferences because they are a part of the family.
- I would remember that learning gratefulness is a process, and I wouldn’t get discouraged when they don’t exhibit that attitude at very young ages. I wouldn’t preach. I would just consistently live it out, and make it a part of my natural conversation.
- I would remember that they are little people with their own tastes, and I would give them room for that. When a guest is in someone’s home, I would encourage them to try what is put before them, and remind them to show gratefulness, but I would not make an issue of the meal and ruin the meal for everyone! I also wouldn’t be embarrassed if my child doesn’t like something. I would just thank my hostess, have my child thank the hostess, and move on. That’s life!
I know that there must be some guidelines and training that happens with small children. But if I could do it over again, I would have not made such a big issue out of our meal times. I would have been much more laid back about the whole issue. My children are now 22 and 19, and as rigid as we were when they were little, they still grew up to have their own preferences!
They are still learning to have grateful hearts … and so am I!
How I serve families now: When people come to my home for dinner, if I serve a meal and there is something in it they don’t like, it doesn’t offend me at all if they pick out the tomatoes, or scrape off the onions! I am here to serve them. If they don’t like something, I don’t take it personally. I delight in giving someone something they enjoy! And if they don’t like it, I try to serve them by providing something they do enjoy.
If I know small children are coming, I check with their parents and find out what their child likes. I want to make their visit an enjoyable one and make life easier on the parent, by serving their child something they will enjoy.