27 September 2006

Another (smart) mom's take on how to deal with picky eaters

I love Chris's practical parenting blog In the Trenches of Motherhood. One of her commenters described her as "the big sister who knows all the answers." Now she's talking about what to do with the picky eater (which I can't help but say to the tune of "What shall we do with a drunken sailor"), a topic we recently covered in some detail. I love her reasonable response, especially given that she's a picky eater herself. Great comments, too. Hope springs eternal.

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In the post that you link to Chris says: "When you are a guest somewhere you are expected to be polite. You never ever complain that you don’t like what your host is serving. If the food is served to you on the plate, you are expected to eat what you like, not make a big deal about not eating the rest, and if you are asked say, “Everything was delicious. I am just not very hungry tonight.”"

And I'm kind of shocked and more than a little disguisted that people can equate teaching their children to lie with teaching them to be respectful. And it ignores the problem that if you're dishonest with your host in this way, should the child eat over there again, the risk is run that the same food will be prepared and the same issue come up, whereas if you politely tell your host the truth, that's unlikely.

She also says:
"If you have sons, realize that there will come an age.."
Which I find appaling. Do girls magically not ever reach this stage, or are we already expecting and teaching our girl-children to starve themselves for fashion and society's expections of what girls are and will do?

In defense of the blog (which I just read for the first time), I think she might not have come up with the best description ("coming of age") -- but her observation is correct. Those of us that grew up with brothers know the deal. They do consume an impressive amount of food and do it in a way that the girls in my house did not. My mother looks back (fondly?) on my brother's habit of coming home, consuming an entire family meal that had been laid out for final preparation and then lumbering off to his room to sleep it off like a bear.

And as for lying? I'd be thrilled if my six year old picky eater ate a few bites off a host's offering, looked up and claimed she was no hungry. Thrilled. I guess that puts me among a contingent of parents that value a child's ability to lie over a honesty-above-all-else policy. Ouch.

Firinel: I appreciate your sentiments, but I must disagree. If I were served food at a dinner party I didn't want to eat (unlikely, but let's just say), I would make some sort of polite excuse to spare the feelings of the host. I certainly wouldn't tell the host I didn't like the food. What would be the point? I don't see a problem with teaching kids the same behavior *in this instance.* Kids are savvy enough to understand (with specific guidance from me) the difference between a white lie to spare feelings about one's food preference, and a lie about something more substantive.

As for the risk of the food being served again, I'm willing to chance it.

As for the differing hunger levels between boys and girls, I can't speak to it myself as my kids are still young. But most parents of older children I know say that their boys turn ravenous at a certain point. Basic fact according to them.

cw: Her observation may be correct in that boys do it - I certainly grew up around enough boys to know that - but so do girls if they've not been socialised otherwise. I've been around enough girls, both as a child and an adult, to know that, too.

PHE: To me, the point of being honest would be of being honest. I agree that I think we should act the same way we teach our children to, but I wouldn't lie to my host either, so I wouldn't be comfortable teaching my child to, either.

I'm not sure that children are savvy enough to understand the difference between a "white lie" and a lie - I'm not sure I do. Were I ever your host, I'd want you to tell me the truth, honestly, I believe I'd benefit from politely given critisim more than I would from politely given untruths. I do think there are ways both you and your children (both in the general sense) could tell the truth AND spare the hosts' feelings. I don't feel that the two things are mutually exclusive.

Clearly people raise their children differently and hold different beliefs, but I just wanted to put it out there that not everyone thinks that lying would be the most appropriate thing to teach in this, or any, instance and that in the hypothetical hosts' place, I wouldn't consider that to be an instance of politeness, and would actually be offended were I to find out the truth.

Firinel: Fair enough. Agreeing to disagree is the beauty of the conversation here at Parent Hacks. Thanks for weighing in.

As the mom of a 12 year old girl (an athletic, competitive horseback rider, on the football and track teams), I can say that girls do eat like crazy, some of them. My friends' boys eat half what my daughter does and I'd have words with anyone who made her feel bad for putting away food at the rate that she does. She's 5'5" and 120# and twice as active as most adults, she eats more than I do. It's mad.

We also have a lot of children eating over at our house. I appreciate if a child tells me politely that they don't like something. If someone else's child is eating at my house, I expect to feed them, and to feed them well. It takes me less than 5 minutes to make a fast ham or pb&j sandwich and cut up some carrots. More usually, though, I let the kids decide on their meal options. I would never want a child to feel like they couldn't politely express their needs in my home. Unless a food allergy is in play, I do suggest a bite or two. More than one child has become enamoured of my spinach/strawberry salad with balsamic/honey dressing and proudly announced their spinach accomplishments to their parents at pick-up time.

Picky eaters are a handful. I know many a horribly picky eater, to the point that one will sick up food that doesn't suit him. That's life. My daughter went through this at age four. We simply gave her a shelf in the fridge of foods for her, and one in the pantry, and if she wasn't going to eat what I served, she got her own meal of prepared meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and crackers. She even got help to make her own tinned soups. The picky stage faded fast because she missed the social aspect of eating what we did. When her independance was assured and her wishes respected, she gave up the game quite quickly. If she hadn't changed her mind, if it had been a real issue, she'd still be making her own meals, which would be so much easier on me! Rats.

Firinel: There is a bit of sexual dimorphism at work here. For example, my brother grew 12 inches in four year of high school (5'5" to 6'5") whereas I grew about four inches in that same time period. You gotta do a lot of eating to grow a foot.

Every girl has to speak for herself on this one. I know there is tremendous pressure to be thin. But even so, I don't believe boys and girls would be even-steven in their eating habits on a socially unbiased playing field.

On the politeness note, I've been there and reaped the consequences. When I was thirteen I flew alone to visit my aunt, uncle and seven y.o. cousin. The first day we went tomato picking. Ok, I can pick the things, but I didn't snack on any and didn't admit to disliking them. Well, every meal (breakfast, lunch, dinners, snacks and even my dreams) included tomatoes for the rest of the week. It was too late to tell them after my initial white lie. The family Christmas when they discovered my tomato dislike was an embarrassing (but amusing) one! Now I think I'd suggest a simple "I don't like tomatoes very much" and a small taste.

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