Written by Courtney, Contributing Writer
Picky eaters, finicky eaters, stubborn, selective. The notion of children being picky about their food is common these days. I’ve noticed that it’s tossed around as “normal” and accepted, even justified by some. Pop psychology and modern day experts in child development cite is as appropriate.
But is it?
I have to ask if this trend is something new or if young children were always “predisposed” to be picky eaters. One hundred years ago, did children reject the food their parents served them? And if so, did their parents abide, merely tossing their meal, food that was oftentimes grown and harvested with their own hands?
Some of this is cultural. Our affluent society doesn’t mind throwing food away. From restaurants to the produce section at the grocery store, fresh food is wasted on a regular basis and at an alarming rate. In many countries around the world, people have so much less and are so much more grateful. If a simple porridge is all that’s available or all that a family can afford, it is eaten with gratitude. While children in our culture are complaining about the taste of certain foods, there are children all over the world desperately wishing they had something, anything, to eat.
While parents in the modern developed world are obsessing over "scarring" their children if they push food onto them or introduce food in the wrong way, worrying about leaving a bad image of that food in their child's mind for life, mothers in many underdeveloped countries are worrying about where to find their next meal or how to provide food for their child, period.
An image like the one above is not meant to stir up feelings of guilt or shame in our hearts. It's not that we should clear our plates "because there are children in Africa who are starving". Instead, images like the this should serve as a reminder of the reality that much of the world faces, a reality we don't see on a day to day basis in our culture of abundance.
Our responses to heartbreaking images like this one should be compassion, prayer, and action. It should also serve as a reminder of the Lord's many blessings, even the simple ones we may take for granted each evening as we gather around the dinner table. May we reconsider our own lifestyle choices and gain a renewed gratitude for what we do have.
Picky Eater Syndrome
In our society, have we become so comfortable with excess stuff that we’ve lost our sense of gratitude for the most basic human needs? Have we learned to get through life on our own or do we trust in our Heavenly Father for His provision? Are we so far removed from our food that we don’t realize the hard work that goes into taking it from seed to table?
I’m not trying to point fingers here. I fell prey to the “picky eater syndrome” with my first child. “Eat three more bites and then you can have this cookie.” I laugh as I look back. I am grateful for the many good intuitive choices I made as a young mother, namely to breastfeed and co-sleep, but this dinnertime defeat is not one of them!
It wasn’t until my third child came along that I wisened up. I had just come out of college, working toward degrees in elementary education and psychology. I went straight from the classroom to the home full-time. I was fed up with modern psychology and experts who claimed that we must cater to a child's every whim and that we might mess them up for life if we, heaven forbid, do something like serve them food they do not like.
Don't get me wrong. It is wise to consider how we introduce first foods and how we approach food in general. That does matter. But we can do that with a broader perspective, a perspective that goes beyond the comforts of this culture that knows little about starving or genuine physical suffering.
At that point, my husband and I started doing what made sense. We didn’t want to merely raise our children to be “good citizens” with “high self-esteem”. We wanted to raise God-honoring children with a heart of service for others and for the Lord. Children who depend on the Lord for wisdom and strength. Children who are grateful for what the Lord provides, not taking for granted even the simple things. This applies to all things, and the dinner table is certainly not excluded.
Our approach to the dinner table looks like this:
A Healthy Foundation
Children who are breastfed are less likely to become picky eaters. The flavor of breast milk changes according to a mother's diet. When I eat a variety of healthy food with a wide spectrum of flavor combinations, my babies are developing their palates.
When introducing first foods, we serve only real foods. No Gerber in this household! Synthetic processed food ruins little appetites and sets the stage for unhealthy eating patterns. We avoid that trap from the start.
From Seed to Table
At a young age, our children are involved in growing and preparing food. As babies in the Moby Wrap in the garden to picking lettuce and tomatoes for dinner as toddlers, our children get to see that amazing process of growing a plant from a seed. What toddler wouldn’t love snatching a bean straight off the vine and munching away right there in the yard? Sure, it means a lower yield in the end, but we're just glad they’re embracing real food at an early age and learning to be grateful for what we have.
Someday, we hope to have chickens for eggs and meat, a cow for milk, and more! In the meantime, we take advantage of things like farm visits to expose my children to the hard work that goes into our food beyond what they learn from our humble garden.
In the kitchen, our children are involved in food preparation at a young age. They enjoy browsing through cookbooks even more than I do. Even as young as 2 and 3, they will sit down and admire the beautiful pictures of delicious food, and they will then, of course, ask me to help them make it!
There’s this silly idea that children prefer white bread and things made with white flour. Really? But it has no taste. No flavor! When children see me take berries of rye, wheat, or spelt, and turn it into flour, and when they help prepare meals from it, there’s not a single complaint. This is normal. White flour is not. White flour is the deviation from the norm.
We often pack as much healthy, wholesome food into dishes as possible, but we don’t deceptively hide healthy food in unhealthy food. That would be unproductive in terms of instilling healthy eating habits and wrong in that it's dishonest.
At the Dinner Table
Dinner time is a special time each day. We all look forward to sitting down together, all distractions aside, and sharing about our days. When we pray and thank the Lord for the food before us, our children learn to be grateful.
Our children usually eat what’s on their plates and oftentimes ask for seconds (or if it’s our growing five year old, thirds). But if they claim they’re not hungry, that’s understandable, too. Little appetites can vary so much depending on how their bodies are growing.
If they claim to be full, we put their food away to be eaten at the next meal. We don’t make a big deal of it or force them to eat when they’re not hungry. Often, it is not that they’re not hungry but instead that they don’t want to eat a certain food, so we hardly every have to do this. It is a simple reminder that we eat what is served and food is not to be wasted.
We keep snacking to a minimum, and this helps to bring hungry tummies to the table! We’re snacking more right now, since I’m pregnant and can’t eat very much at one meal. Soon, though, we’ll go back to snacking only occasionally. When we eat healthy, whole foods, we find that we often stay full until the next meal. If we have something like a smoothie that contains just about everything, we are hardly ready to eat by the next meal.
It is my hope that by making wise food choices, I am teaching my children to be wise stewards of the Lord’s resources and His provision, and that they are learning to be grateful for what they have.