Once I had a dream of sitting down to a beautifully set table with delicious food and the smiling eager faces of my husband and all our children. That dream never existed during the day. Instead mealtimes often began with words such as “Yuck” and “what’s in it?” or “do I have to eat that?” Usually by dinnertime I was tired and just wanted a little peace but seldom did a meal pass without a glass or bowl of something getting spilled or even a fight breaking out between two children. Worse yet was the fight between a child and a parent about eating what was served. Most parents understand this struggle.
There are several different approaches to the food power struggle. We tried most of them. The first is the force feeding which usually ends with some very disgusting gagging or worse. Next is the “don’t get up until it is all gone” which can lead to some clever sneakiness and deception such as bits of food given to a dog or returned to the serving bowl or stuck in a pocket to be flushed later. Even grosser is the plate going into the refrigerator only to be brought out at the next meal for the struggle to continue.
I propose T.I.O.L.I. It ends the arguments and the struggle. No longer does mom need a wall size chart of what each child hates or refuses to eat unless prepared a specific way. Recently one of our adult children gave us a little sign to hang in the kitchen which spells out T.I.O.L.I. Take It Or Leave It.
A meal with several dishes is prepared for all. No one is forced to eat anything. No one is allowed to use the word ‘yuck’. This method is less than perfect in that it does nothing to eliminate spills, but it does eliminate the struggle and the nagging questions. If a child chooses not to eat any of the dishes being offered that is alright. However they do need to clearly understand that they will not be eating anything else until the next meal. No desserts, no snacks, nothing. It becomes their decision. If they do not eat anything at a meal, then they will be very hungry and ready to eat at the next meal, especially if the next meal is the next day. Here is where the parent must hold firm and not cave-in to whining or pleading. This method works. We all love our snacks and desserts, but do not let them have any.
Parents should not become short-order cooks catering to their individual child’s wants. This is actually a disservice to them. It is possible that there are dietary needs which need special considerations. Children need to learn to eat whatever is served. This will prepare them to be grateful guests elsewhere.
Eating meals as a family is beneficial to all. Children need to learn many table manners such as waiting to eat until everyone is served. Patiently waiting for the host or hostess and following their lead. Praying for meals should be taught and learned. We have had guests in our home who did not know how to pass dishes or how much was an appropriate serving size. In our eldest son’s home the children have learned to respond with “Yes, please” or “No, thank you” every time they are offered a dish.
Mealtime conversations can and should be enjoyable for everyone. Because all topics are allowed things can become controversial or even shocking. All topics were allowed so that children felt free to discuss whatever was on their minds and receive some parental wisdom regarding it. Everyone can learn to become a better conversationalist and not be an interruption. Of course one cannot expect a toddler to converse in the same manner as a 6 or 10 or 14 year old would.
Eat your meals as a family whenever possible. Children cannot learn table manners if they only eat with other children. If you have many sons, you will probably need some rules regarding bodily noises and responses to them.
One last thought, spills happen. Skip the linen tablecloths for the next decade or so. Don’t build in aggravation.
P.S. The brown bottle in the picture is root beer.