I remember when my son was young, around 3 years old, and we were at a church cookout where they were serving hamburgers and hot dogs. I was fixing him a plate and when I got to the condiments –ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and relish – I asked him if he wanted ketchup or mustard. He immediately replied, “No, I don’t!”
At that time he hadn’t eaten a hot dog and not many hamburgers so was unfamiliar with what is considered “normal” ingredients that most people put one, two, or all of the above on their burger or hot dog. I recall even trying to talk him into one of them.
I’ve eaten with some children (going back to when I was a child) who can’t eat scrambled eggs without putting ketchup on them. (I personally can’t imagine ruining my scrambled eggs by putting ketchup on them.) How about the parents who fix raw cut up veggies – carrots, celery, and broccoli – for their children to graze on but then give them a cup of ranch dressing or some other dressing for dip.
Why, as parents, do we do this? Why do we teach our children to eat their food the same way we do? And when they grow up they refuse to eat these strange or unhealthy combinations any other way. That’s because it is “normal” to them now.
A child can be taught to like almost any type of food or drink, whether healthy or unhealthy. This reminds me of a chapter in the book Hints on Child Training by H. Clay Trumbull written originally in the early 1900’s titled Training a Child’s Appetite that I read when my son was around 5 years old. It made me pause and rethink what I was teaching my child to like and dislike.
Here is a paragraph quoted from that chapter:
“As a rule, very little attention is given to the training of a child’s appetite. The child is supplied with that food which is easiest obtained, and which the child is readiest to take. If the parents give little thought to their children’s welfare, they simply allow their children to share with them at the common table, without considering whether or not the food is that which is best suited to the children’s needs. If the parents are tenderhearted, and lovingly indulgent toward their children, they are quite likely to show favor by giving to them those things which please a child’s palate, or which are favorites with the parents themselves.”
After reading this chapter in the book I immediately stopped offering syrup to my son for his pancakes, dressing for veggies and salad, and so on. My son is now 13 and to this day he eats his salad without any dressing. In fact, I’ve started doing the same thing this past year, so our children can train us too, especially when we need to unlearn some of our unhealthy habits left over from our childhood!
As parents (or grandparents, etc.) we often give in to our young child’s demand for a certain food or foods, especially when we decide we’re not up for the battle. It may even destroy the child’s appetite for a period of time or upset their stomach. So if this occurs often enough, week after week, month after month, we as their parents must take responsibility for teaching our children to eat in an unhealthy manner.
It is when they are young and being introduced to new foods when we should be teaching them to eat in a healthy manner, one that will remain with them for a lifetime. If we give in to their peculiar ways, like refusing to eat the crust of bread or eating only certain vegetables, then these habits becomes virtually impossible to break as they get older. But if we do not give into these peculiarities then we stay in control of our child’s nutritional needs, which is after all our personal responsibility as parents.
Here is another quote from the same chapter:
“When a mother says, ‘My boy won’t eat potatoes,’ or ‘He won’t eat tomatoes,’ or ‘He will eat no meat but beef,’ she simply confesses to her culpable failure of duty in the training of her boy’s appetite. If she were to say that she did not approve of one of those things, or of the other, and therefore she would not give it to him, that would be one thing; but when she says that he will not take it even though she thinks it best for him, that is quite another thing; and there is where the blame comes in.”
Parenting is not easy at times and especially when it comes to teaching our children what is best for them to eat and drink versus what is not good for them. But this is one of the most important aspects of parenting, even over their educational needs. It is for us, as parents, to decide what our children should eat, as we too decide what clothes they wear, who they play with, and where and how they are educated.
I ask you to ponder: do you put more value in the outward appearance of your child or the inward nourishment that supports all areas of their life?
To your health and wellness,
p.s. Hints on Child Training by H. Clay Trumbull is an excellent resource for parents.