The age-old struggle of (most) every parent. You would think that getting a child to consume the materials required to sustain their life would not quite be the struggle that it is.
But the struggle is real, friends.
If you have never had a child turn their nose up at a dish simply because the carrots were not in the correct place on the plate, or there were too many, or too few, or one was too skinny or too crooked – have you even parented lately?
The first time my little one exerted her independence in this way, I was shocked and quite frankly, appalled. My first reaction was to either take her plate away or make her sit there until she had eaten all of her dinner. In my head, I turned into the Beast from Beauty and the Beast when Belle refused to eat her dinner – “Then go ahead and STAAAAARVE!”
Disclaimer: I have the benefit of being a veritable garbage disposal. I didn’t have food allergies and honestly, I didn’t know that I had a choice. I have gotten to the point in life where I know what I like and even consider myself to be a bit of a foodie. But I am painfully aware that food is too often a luxury for some.
I did not grow up in a house of excess means.
What that means for me is that we had our needs met. But, there was also no opportunity to say no to food. We did not have allergies or food sensitivities and so if it was on your plate, you ate it or you would be hungry. Alternatively, wasting food was just as bad as not eating it in my household. There were people in the world with less than what we had. Being picky or wasting food was rude and ungrateful.
In that Beast moment, I really just wanted my little one to understand and be grateful.
Now, she was little. So this is not going to be one of those conversations that happens and we have complete clarity moments later. My next logical step was to look back at how my parents managed it and try to figure out what methods they employed to help me to understand at this same age.
At the time, I felt like apologizing to the starving children of the world aloud while emptying the contents of my plate in the trash might be a bit extreme, I settled on their secondary method.
The No-Thank-You Bite.
Again, we were living on a fixed income and choosing not to eat was not really an option. “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit” was kind of a rule in my house.
But ooooh, did I HATE yellow squash.
I HATED it.
The texture, the smell, just the sight of it made my stomach turn.
My parents also didn’t want my preconceived notion of what something was going to taste like to dictate whether or not I would try it again. Things change. People change. Taste buds change and cooking can improve.
So, we took a No-Thank-You Bite.
It showed respect to the sacrifices that were made to provide and prepare the food we were about to eat.
Many times, I forced down my yellow squash in a dramatic showing of plugging my nose and attempting to swallow it whole whilst washing it down with copious amounts of water or milk.
But, now, as a mom, I understand the triumph of getting a child to eat vegetables and drink water or milk. And, I realize that it was a certifiable “parent-win,” despite however much eye-rolling and audible laughter had to be inevitably contained on their part during my antics.
So, my kids inherited the No-Thank-You Bite.
They know that they are not allowed to decline what is offered them on their plate unless they try it first. And even then, they deny respectfully (for the most part, c’mon, we are still a work in process here). And if they deny food, we may not offer an alternative in place of what they willingly refuse.
It works for us. My little one has realized that sometimes she does like things she didn’t think she liked before. And, to be honest, she has pulled it on me once, as well. I will not deny that a cheese stick in ranch dressing was not my favorite of all bites. But I was reminded that to say it was yucky without trying it would be hypocritical.
So, at least she gets it.