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The Struggle of Food

Most people enjoy eating. Some enjoy it too much! Then there are the Ectomorphs who can breathe heavily near a steaming pot of soup and be filled up for a week..God Bless them; they are enviable in some respects, but I enjoy food too much to actually be jealous.

Eating is supposed to be a pleasurable experience. That’s the natural order of life…think about it. If food is not important or not pleasurable or not sought after, we would all be Ectomorphs and food would be at the bottom of our “to do” list.

So if food is so important and so pleasurable, why is eating the worst struggle of the day with my child?

Let’s put two truths out there right now. You cannot make someone eat, and you can’t make someone poop. Having said that, let’s proceed with all the usual reasons why a child is stubborn about eating. Pooping is another whole ball game.

The desire to eat begins at birth. Most children love to nurse. Human milk is sweeter than condensed milk and being near mom is what all babies want. Human milk has everything in it that each individual child needs for the first six months, so breast feeding is a win win win all the way around.

There are those who say “Food before one is just for fun.” That’s not only false, it’s a dangerous idea. There is little iron in breast milk, so children who are¬†exclusively breastfed¬†throughout their first year may fail to thrive.

Also, children who are not taught to eat foods in the first year will necessarily be picky eaters which might last a lifetime. Here’s why. The sweetness of breast milk does not translate favorably to the tang of fruit or the neutral flavor of most vegetables with the cognition of a year old child. He has put enough, toys, soap, sleeves, fingers, animal tails, cardboard, and whatever in his mouth to know what tastes good and what doesn’t. He’s discerning because he’s human. If he’s never had a spoonful of peaches or applesauce or plums, he’s going to find it sour reject it like soap.

So when do you begin to feed a child fruit and veggies? About the time they can pick up something and shove it in their mouth. The infant uses his mouth to learn, to test, to taste the world, so when he begins to taste the world on his own with his own two hands…the food alarm should go on with great bells and whistles.

Next step…establish a meal time! ¬†“Too much to do and too many places to go,” is a common plea when cornered about meal time. But a real meal time, when the whole family sits down to eat together…TV off…and discusses the day, is more important than reading to a child. That conversation, that time together does more to keeping children on a positive road to life than anything else in their whole lives. FACT.

My beautiful fifteen year old grandson leaves whatever he is doing to attend dinner with his family every evening. When he explained that he wants to eat with his family to his friends, his friends were jealous. “I wish I had a family to eat with,” said one of his friends. Children love their families!

Meal times should be established and kept while there are young children in the home. This helps young children understand the order of the day. “I eat dinner with my family; I take a bath; I watch TV; I go to bed.” Children LOVE order, and they miss it when evening is chaos. If a child does not learn to sit down at a table and eat a meal with his family, how can you expect him to understand how to do that in school?

“But I don’t cook,” say many modern men and women. This is a primary reason many young children don’t eat. There is no one to cook for them, so most of their food is unimaginative and the variation is limited to a few things: macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, canned spaghetti, pizza and cold cereal.

There is no nutrition in boxed macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets (mostly skin) and canned spaghetti. These foods do not have enough food value to be called food by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are extremely high in salt and sugar and fat and chemicals.

Fast food, which most children don’t really eat, is a nightmare of grease. A doctor friend of mine told me that there are children with eighty percent clogged arteries at age six from all the fast food.

Now let’s write the scary scenario of a three of four year old child going off to school for the first time. It’s a good place where the staff cares about giving the children good nutrition and lively fun meals. Breakfast is a homemade blueberry muffin, four ounces of orange, and a cup of milk. The child does not know what the muffin is, has never tasted a fresh whole orange, and doesn’t drink milk because soda doesn’t go bad in the fridge. He leaves it untouched.

Lunch: Homemade spaghetti with meatballs, a salad, fresh apples and grapes. It doesn’t resemble canned spaghetti, so the child doesn’t know how to eat it or if he should. He doesn’t get apples or grapes at home, he has never really tasted a salad, so he just sits and waits for this little nightmare to end, and his calorie count is zero for the day. Not good.

Snack: Homemade chocolate chip cookies…recognizable…but they have a strong taste of chocolate which is unfamiliar…so we eat half. Calorie count for the day? 75. Needs? 1000 – 1400.

A whole can of Spagettios will add calories, but not nutrition.

By the time a child reaches six, his eating likes and dislikes are usually set, and they are set at home, not at school. The bland no taste glue of canned and fried mainstays and fast food create a block that some children never get over.The very idea of eating something as exotic as broccoli, or asparagus, or a salad, or an ethnic meal of sweet and sour, or curry or anything pungent or challenging is off limits for life.

But what if parents cook? Maybe food is abundant in the home, and little Johnny balks at every night’s dinner?

On the high end, it’s true that some children stop eating for the day at 4:00 p.m. They are tired and they have consumed the necessary calories during their day. This is usually a temporary thing, and sometimes a no growing time in their lives. If a child has consumed what he needs, bring him to the table for the sake of family and let eating be his choice.

On the low end, a real taste-buster is the parent who short order cooks…Johnny doesn’t like…and the list goes on and on, so the meal provider substitutes a substantial meal for something gluey in a can or frozen package. There is a certain amount of discipline that goes along with the civilized table, and giving too many options on too many nice meals is not only insulting to the cook, it opens a doorway of selfishness and narrow mindedness that will rear its ugly head in many areas of life in the future.

If a child just sits and refuses to eat, let him refuse it. You can’t make a person eat. But not eating is not an excuse for leaving the table. He should stay at the table until the family meal is over. And after dinner treats should never be an option. Just don’t lecture or argue. Just smile and say, “I love you.”.

Eating should be fun. Arguing about it is NEVER fun. And the truth is neither adults nor children like every single food. So think about these things next time little Johnny is grabbing defeat at the cost of victory:

Make a meal at least four times a week that includes new things just to try.

Pick a meal time for the whole family that will fit into everyone’s schedule.

Turn off all outside noise like TV, music, and phones.

Eat at a table or at least where you can discuss the day. Discuss the day.

If you child refuses to eat, clear his plate into the garbage and let him sit without. It’s a choice he has the legitimate option to make. You can’t make somebody eat.

If your child becomes disruptive or balky…there is always the sweet quiet of his room.

If your child wants a substitute… tell him breakfast is in twelve hours. He won’t starve in twelve hours.

And BTW…if you don’t want your child to have soda, canned spaghetti, chicken nuggets, chips, store-bought cookies and other junk…don’t buy them. If the foods you don’t want your child to eat are NOT in the house, he can’t eat them. If you pass by the fast food on the way home without stopping, he can’t eat there.