Thursday, August 5, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Feeding Kids, Part I

Janet here: Rachel's post this week on Books That Make Us Hungry got me thinking about our children and food. It's a big topic, as you can imagine, so I'm only going to tackle one little bit here in memoryland.

I went into feeding my children with a couple of food versions of Things I Would Never Do or Say to My Children — you know, those things you vow as a child/teenager you will NEVER do when you're a parent, about half of which you do within the first few years of your first child's life. Anyway, I lived in a house where you did not leave the table until your plate was clean. After all, there were children starving in India (or Africa or whatever other country your parent wanted to insert, which they all did, at least among my friends). I can remember a few memorable nights where I was left sitting alone at the kitchen table, ice cold fish lying on the plate and my mother checking in periodically to make sure I didn't try something clever like hiding it in my napkin. (Although my Golden Retriever, Sunshine, ate all of my Brussel sprouts for 15 years, even she would not eat this fish.)

Anyway I'm not sure if it was that particular night or maybe the night my mother served liver or the night she served this gelatinous glop called aspic, but I vowed, like Scartlett in Gone with the Wind that I would NEVER make my kids clean their plates. Instead I instituted the No Thank You portion, a spoonful or two of whatever heinous vegetable or entree I was trying to ruin my children's lives with. I felt strongly they should try new things but understood that not everyone liked everything.

I would say this approach was about 50 percent useful (and I'm sure Rachel will disabuse me of even that idea in her part below), but I think it was certainly better than the forced clean plate. So I guess this is one instance where I managed not to fail as a parent which, as all parents know, is basically the bar we're all trying not to fall below.

Rachel here: Ahhhh, yes. The No Thank You portion. How vividly I can picture the two string beans on G's plate. I can still hear the disgruntled mumbles coming from the chair next to mine. Not to blow my mom's mind or anything, but I think she was onto something with this theory. It seems to be a well-established fact that a lot of kids need an invitation of sorts to try new foods. For some kids I know, an actual invitation is all it takes; for most kids, though, bribery seems like a slightly better description. This is where the No Thank You portion succeeded. Foods that were resisted (and we each had/have our own unique dislikes) were presented as mere bites, as teeny bribes that guaranteed access to dessert (which, at least for me, was the point of the main course of dinner when I was growing up) or leaving the table (which was, I think, the point for G...S was hands-down the best eater amongst the three of us as kids). The roadblock on the plate almost always seemed surmountable (except when it was broccoli or cauliflower which, to this day, I can't stand) and, in turn, so did trying new foods.

As you may have noticed, I'm already giving a lot of thought to M and her foray into solid foods. The general theory I've come to subscribe to is that, as when breastfed, little kids (like little babies) know when they are and are not hungry. Because of this, forced eating is a disservice, a move which only succeeds in teaching our kids to override their natural (and correct) instincts about feeding themselves and thrusts them onto the very problematic food trajectory that much of our society is trapped in. The No Thank You Portion, though, both respects the appetite and autonomy of the eater while also nudging kids who'd prefer to judge with their eyes over their tongues out of their comfort zone for just a few bites. Had my mom not done this, G might never have tried watermelon...ever. And I might never have developed the gumption to re-approach broccoli and cauliflower as an adult (and thus never determined that I really do loath them)...and never had the satisfaction of informing my mother that I really don't like them.

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