Here is a recent snack eaten by my 5-year-old son. Whole wheat toast with cream cheese and jam along with a glass of milk. I show you this because from time to time food can be such a big issue in our family. Really, it is a big issue for me, the mother. I want my kids to eat healthy food. I want to teach them about food: where it comes from, how it nourishes their bodies, how food production effects the health of the planet, how it can bring pleasure. I want them to know how to cook.
But, too often, I end up sounding like a nag. I tell them to eat their vegetables. I tell them that they eat too many sweets. I tell them to, please, just try one bite. Does this sound familiar to any one else?
Well, a gift came into my hands just the other day. I checked Ann Hodgman's book of recipes for kids, "One Bite Won't Kill You," out of the library. Initially, I thought the book would simply add a few more dishes to my repertoire. Rather, it has turned out to be transformative to the way I will forever after think of the tangled relationship of food and mothering. Hidden away at the back of the book is the last chapter, a mere two pages in length, titled, "Why None of This Matters." Here are the words of wisdom that woke me up:
"If you are reading this book, you're probably a fairly comfortable resident of the richest country in the history of our planet. Your concerns about feeding your children are therefore rather trivial compared with those of most of the world's parents, past and present. You wonder how to provide your kids with food they like - not how to provide them with food.
Keep that in mind the next time you worry that your four-year-old doesn't get enough vegetables...Give up the notion that having a child who's a picky eater is a problem. It's not a problem. It's a luxury. True, I wrote this book to make your life easier. But you and I already have easy, easy lives compared to most people, and we should keep that in mind every time we offer our children something to eat.
I'm not saying you should pull out the old "starving Assyrians" line every time your kids refuse to finish their supper. Parents are right to feel a pang when their children snub perfectly good food that could save other children's lives. But the pang should be one of sadness, not guilt. It's terrible that so much of the world is starving. But it's not (directly) your fault - and it's not one bit your children's fault. Not liking a certain food is not immoral. What's immoral is that this world could, right now, grow enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Your energy is misdirected if you heap sorrow on your children's shoulders because they don't like broccoli. Teach them to help the poor instead.
Global issues aside, having a child who's a picky eater is not and never will be your problem. If it's a problem at all, it's the child's to deal with, when he or she decides she's ready. Your job is putting the food down on the table. The child's job is eating it. And "job" is too serious a word for the process anyway. Your kids probably won't reach adulthood never having eaten a bite of salad. Or maybe they will! Do you really care?
If you do, I don't want to know you. Our children are only young for a little while. If we can give them enough to eat, we're lucky and so are they. Let's enjoy mealtimes and not waste anyone's time trying to fix a situation that, for most of us, is already pretty great.
And then let's push in our chairs and go on to more important things."
Food for thought, indeed!