|"Mom, what is that?? Do I have to eat it?? But I don't like it."|
|Who wants to bet that he hurls right at the table?|
Before I get started, I want to preface this by saying a couple of things.
#1- Every person has preferences. If I asked you, I am sure you could name off for me several things you do not care for. Whether it is food, smells, sounds, or textures, we all have some things that we do not like. We have to keep that in mind as we work on teaching our children to eat.
#2- There is a place for grace. Typically, I hear the "grace card" presented this way:
"Every child should have the right to make some of their own decisions."
"You should never force a child to eat anything."
"If left alone, children will naturally eat a balanced diet over a period of several days."
"You need to teach your child to make good decisions by letting them make decisions about what to wear, what to eat, what toys to play with, when to go to bed, etc."
I will discuss the grace component as we work through this. Let me begin by saying this, I do not believe that it is necessarily wrong to let a child make decisions. That is, unless you are letting them make decisions simply to keep the peace. In that case, you have a problem. If your child insists on wearing their Batman suit to church every Sunday morning, and you don't like it, but you have just given up, then you need to step back into the game and use a little bit of tough love.
While it is not wrong for children to be allowed to make decisions as the parents choose, the Bible assumes that a child's biggest decision is whether or not he will obey his parents. Eph. 6:1
If your child refuses to eat, refuses to wear the clothes you pick out, screams for a toy, or refuses to go to bed, he has made a decision not to obey his parents. And you need to deal with that issue quickly.
Okay, on to the food. I have had more than one child gag, cry, and yes, even puke right at the table. It's really a great diet plan...when somebody at the table with you pukes into their plate, you really just kinda stop eating at that point.
That second picture up there...that's my son Jamie. He is now 14 years old, and eats just about anything I put in front of him. But it's not because of his age. It has taken years and years of training to get to this point. When he was little, he wouldn't touch a single vegetable. Actually, he wouldn't touch much of anything but bread, peanut butter, and cereal. There were many nights he was sent to bed because he would just sit at the supper table and cry. I knew I had to do something.
And kids can be so different!! My first two kids, both boys, literally ate just about anything I fed them. They loved what my oldest called "real food." They didn't care for junk too much, but loved veggies, meat, fruit, yogurt, cheese, etc. I never had a problem getting them to eat. They never cried at the table.
But this boy...oh my. Every mealtime was a struggle. It ruined the meal for everyone. We all dreaded mealtime because we knew it was going to turn into a battle. And his older siblings would sit there and literally beg him to eat so he wouldn't get sent to bed. Again. I had a decision to make. And it wasn't going to be so easy. It was, however, necessary.
So, I began by requiring him to eat just one bite of the foods he hated. And you would have thought I had started World War III at my kitchen table. I'm not kidding. But I never gave in. A bite of everything, or you go to bed and have it for breakfast. If you barf at the table, you get another serving to keep down. I'm not gonna lie friends, it was tough. But I stuck with it.
And you know what? It worked. Let me tell you about Jamie now. Not only will he eat vegetables, fruits, and meats, but he actually requests them. For his birthday this past year, he requested cauliflower. Talk about progress!!
Now somebody might say that he would have developed his tastes without the tough love. That making a kid throw up a bite of broccoli is just cruel, over the edge. But I have another child who has proved that theory wrong. I won't name names, but one of my daughters was never made to taste anything, and now that she is much older, she still doesn't like anything. She forces her own self to eat just a few bites of veggies or fruit. And I still give her some flack if she doesn't get any on her plate. She is trying. But oh how I wish I would have made her taste everything when she was little.
My Jamie now sits at the table and thanks me profusely for the food. No lie. I made homemade vegetable soup a few weeks ago, and he must have said "thank you" and told me how much he loved it a dozen times! He also kept saying, "I can't believe I used to not like this stuff!!" He not only eats veggies, but he eats stew, soups, casseroles, etc.; all the stuff picky kids hate. And he loves it.
Now, lest you think everything is peachy around here during meals now...oh no. Because I have another one in training right now. This child would live on bagels, bread, cereal, and peanut butter if I let him. Those folks who say that a kid will eat a balanced diet over a week's time when left alone have never met this kid. He doesn't have a clue about balance. And so, I am teaching him.
(And as luck would have it, the very night I was working on this post, he had to eat broccoli cold, and without a drink to chase it, because he saved it for last and had no KoolAid left. This stuff really happens at my house, y'all!)
Okay, so where is the grace I mentioned earlier? Here are some ways I have infused grace into this kind of situation.
1- I only use this type of discipline at the evening meal. Breakfast and lunch for this kid is up for grabs. I do set some limits, but I don't insist on veggies or fruits every single time.
2- Snacktime is always fruit, veggies or nuts. Apples, baby carrots, cucumbers, bananas, peaches, strawberries, grapes, salad, walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, are good choices. If he doesn't want any of that, he doesn't get a snack. How is that grace you ask? Because there are multiple choices, and the option of eating. Grace provides the option for a snack.
3- I do allow for preferences. I never force a child to eat things like gravy, condiments, whipped cream, jelly, butter, etc. I have a daughter who has always struggled with the texture of meat. I cut her meat in very tiny pieces, and don't force her to eat more than she can handle. I have one daughter who absolutely hates potatoes, so she has one small bite and that is it. If there is one food that a kid just loathes, I take that into consideration. After all, I would be the one hurling at the table if you made me eat mushrooms.
|The potato hater, at age 3. She actually loved potatoes at this age!! She's 8 now.|
5- Brothers and sisters. All those nights that Jamie got sent to bed for not eating? Well, it turns out that his big brother Thomas was bringing him food later on. Yep, as soon as the coast was clear, Thomas was in there making Jamie a pb sandwich and bringing it to him in bed. I only found out about this a couple of years ago. LOL!! I had no idea!! But the system still worked, and Jamie never starved. And I just love the fact that his brother, who is 8 years older than him, had sympathy for him instead of just laughing at him like brothers tend to do.
6- I am not 100% consistent. There are nights that I tell a child he is free to pick and choose from what I have cooked. I probably do this one night every other month or so. I always do it on the child's birthday, and on all major holidays. And I sometimes decide on a whim to just cut the kid some slack.
7- Lots of love. If the child does end up getting sent to bed for a refusal to eat, I still tuck them in later on, give hugs and kisses, and we sometimes call the child in for family prayer time. There is no anger displayed on the part of the parents. (And yes, we had to work on this.)
8- Second chances. And third and fourth chances. Typically, when you first begin this, there will be a lot of crying. I do not allow loud crying at the table, so the child is sent to his bed until he can regain his self control. Then he is allowed to come back to the table. After a couple of tries, he is usually told to get his pajamas on. The child may be in pajamas already, and ask for one more chance to eat the food. I always say yes to this request. Grace gives another chance. Grace allows for forgiveness, and the chance to make it right.
So if you're tired of seeing faces like that, try it. Just one bite. Then, after a few weeks, two bites. Before long, your kid might be begging you for cauliflower too! Hey, it could happen!!
PS- The pictures in this post were taken while my children were eating some super sour Warheads one day about 5 years ago. But they do mimic the faces I have seen at the supper table, so I used them. After all, you didn't really want to see the puke pictures, did you?
Disclaimer: Please, please do not comment telling me how cruel this is for children with neurological issues, sensitivity issues, ADD issues, dietary issues, or whatever other issue you can think of. This type of discipline is for the child who is simply giving his parents a hard time and refusing to eat because it doesn't suit him. If your child needs special treatment, then give it. This post is not for you.