Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mealtime Isn't for Sissies

It is hard to have a peaceful meal with children. During dinner my husband averts his eyes and won’t even lift his head during a meal in which children are in attendance, afraid of what he might see, afraid it might ruin his appetite. Coward.

I agree, it is difficult, but after a while you do get used to it; the many strange concoctions: applesauce and ketchup, or pudding and noodles, or eggs and peanut butter. I tell him that you can learn to tune out the fighting, the bodily sounds, the spilling of everything from milk to Pepto Bismol, and even the constant gagging. I believe that you can learn to deal with all of that, if you just remember the goal: nourish the children with healthy food and family companionship. Boy, it sounds good in the hypothetical.

I read a parenting book that said to give your kids choices and there will be less hassles at meal time.

“Do you want apple slices or grapes with lunch?”
“Do you want strawberries?”
“Do you want raisins?”
“No! No!”
“Now son, you have to have some fruit. You can choose, either raisins or strawberries or grapes or kiwis or apple slices or oranges or mango or nectarines. But those are your only choices. I am serious.”
“No! No! No! I want neither! I want my Daddy!!!”

The parenting book also said that being firm would stop power struggles in their tracks.

“Mom, can I be done?”
“You hardly touched your food. You need to eat a little bit more.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“How about, if you eat two more bites of carrot and 1 bite of chicken.”

That is when the switch is thrown and your child becomes like Sybil, with their second personality being that of an ACLU lawyer used to strong-armed negotiation tactics.

“M’am, my client will pass on your first offer. Let us know when you want to come to the table with something serious.”
“Ok, how about one bite of carrot and one bite of chicken?”
“One bite of chicken and one bite of potato?”
“Here is what we are willing to do: one bite of chicken—no marinade, no carrots, and no potatoes, no bite of roll, and absolutely no salad. Plus, we would like extra whipping cream on desert. Do we have a deal?”

Now, I recognize my part in all this, I never claimed to be a gourmet chef, but I do make an effort. I try new recipes and look through cookbooks searching for real food that the kids will eat. Even when I put out a five course meal that took hours to prepare I can tell that all they really want is a pizza. They say rude things like: “Can we just order a pizza?”

I tell them ‘just try it,’ and ‘you have to give it a chance’ but it doesn’t help. It wouldn’t be so bad except for all of the negative and inappropriate comments. Things like:

“What is this black stuff on the bread?” and “Why is the gravy greenish-blue?” And “It is gravy isn’t it?” Yes, my husband can be a tough critic, but the kids are worse, they say things like “EWWWW! Gross!” or “Look, Mom, when I do this doesn’t it look like puke?”

I guess the bright spot in all this is, thanks to the recession, the cost of food is so high we can no longer afford anything nutritious anyway. Meal time has become less of a battle. So thank you Ponzi schemers and predatory lenders, thanks to all you generally bad people and no-gooders, you have made meal-time happy for children everywhere. Macaroni anyone? There are little pieces of hot dog in it.


  1. If I could quit laughing, maybe I could come up with an amusing comment!

  2. Sonia, I am laughing so hard that tears are streaming down my face. I'm glad to know I'm not the only parent whose children have quickly defeated those parenting books that say to offer two choices. As if they don't know that you have a bag of jelly beans in the pantry. The split personality ACLU lawyer is right on too. The only good thing is that if I let Luke decide how many bites to take, he usually comes up with a higher number than I would have.

    --tina v-p