Other sources are moms, locked in a seeming blogosphere battle to the death over how to handle the leftover. Some reiterate the advice of the professionals described above. Others herald their epiphany that money and time may be saved through the serving of leftovers and the discouragement of arbitrary complaints about food textures, colors, smells, and flavors (I am NOT talking abut allergies or the sensitivities that sometimes acompany neurological difficulties).
If you poke around this blog, it won't take long to discover that I am an enthusiastic partisan of the leftover. I also expend a great deal of energy finding palatable ways to serve the foods I purchase for the sake of cost savings. Leftovers make the most of my grocery dollars, save me time in the kitchen, and head off food waste. Buying groceries to cater to my pocketbook rather than to my palate also saves me money, expands my cooking skills, and helps my family adjust to a more balanced and diverse diet. All of that is at the family level, though. Why should I demand the cooperation of my individual children?
- Pickiness might be a normal phase of childhood. Catering to it is not a normal phase of parenting. It is the historical norm of humanity not to have a multiplicity of food options. Nuggets, pizza, and plain noodles have never been the mainstays of the human diet, and somehow the species has flourished.
- We all hope that our children will have better, easier, more successful lives than we. While we hope for the best, we are obligated as parents to prepare our children for the worst. Only a century ago, food was rationed to support the war effort for World War I. Eight decades ago, Americans of all stripes stared down food insecurity, both for lack of cash and for crop failure. Seven decades ago, food was rationed yet again for World War II. There are still many people alive who remember the latter two instances. We cannot take food security for granted.
- Per food security, modern agriculture hinges on monoculture, especially for staple crops like grains, corn, rice, and potatoes. Right now, farmers and biologists are staring down a blight that threatens the vast majority of the world's banana production. What if a blight struck the world's potato crop (most of which are genetically identical to each other, and therefore incredibly vulnerable), or wheat, rice, or corn crops? Considering the global nature of trade and the vulnerable nature of monocultures, it wouldn't take much to force a reconfiguration of the American diet. It behooves all of us to be flexible.
- Closer to home than preparing children for the possibility of future trial, a willingness to eat what one is served is one of the rudiments of being a polite guest. If children are expected to receive food graciously from the person who cooks at home, they will be unlikely to be rude in receiving food as guests.
- While diverse eating is healthy and a good habit to foster, so is the willingness to eat the same thing multiple days in a week. Having days when cooking is reduced saves money on food and energy and reserves time normally spent cooking for other pursuits.
- The occasional, brief experience of hunger gives all of us a renewed appreciation for food in general and gratitude for the efforts of those who prepare it.
- We should all foster a sense of gratitude for the earth's bounty rather than disappointment in it.
- Most important, though, is each individual's responsibility to reduce food waste. A whopping 40% of food in the United States goes to waste. Globally, over a quarter of all food goes to waste. The smallest reductions in those figures translate to significant increases in the availability of food for the poor. Moreover, wasted food generates dangerous gases when it rots in landfills. Reducing food waste through frugal eating habits benefits everyone, and it's something everyone can do.
I have also seen argued that a child should be permitted to get a bowl of cereal or some other food if he does not prefer what is served. Not only is this a gateway to potentially seriously unhealthy eating habits, it is very rude and would never be permitted while visiting someone else's home. Moreover, when money is tight, all the food in the house may be attached to a meal plan. That bowl of cereal eaten in lieu of dinner might very well mean that someone has to skip breakfast the next morning. With financial misfortune comes the forced breaking of many habits, but the establishment of frugal habits at the outset will ease any necessary transition.
I also don't condone cutting crusts off of bread or other accommodations of pickiness, unlike allowing a child to avoid eating what they purport to dislike at the moment, altering a food to meet the child's sense of aesthetics reinforces pickiness and wastefulness through parental collaboration. I don't care if I can make bread pudding and stuffing out of all those cut off crusts, cutting them off teaches the child that waste is permissible and worth the expenditure of time, attention, and energy. After making my child a crustless sandwich at lunch, how can I honestly expect him to eat the onion in his dinner or the bruised spot on his banana at breakfast the next morning? The message has been mixed.
Pickiness doesn't only arise from encouragement of bad habits, a desire to test limits, or a bad attitude. It can also be the result of incorrect parental habits, allowing children to snack before dinner or serving too much at mealtime will result in food waste. It isn't the child's fault if the adult doesn't ensure the child is hungry at mealtime. While working to instill good habits in our children, we must also maintain our own discipline and have reasonable expectations of how much our children can eat.
The other issue is that children often mimic their parents. If the parents snub leftovers, talk excessively about foods they dislike, or refuse to try new things, the children follow suit. Good habits in children start with good habits in adults. To this end, it is important to try to find palatable ways to prepare the foods we adults find less than mouth-watering. As a child, I thought beets, mushrooms, eggplant, giblets, and lima beans were icky. As an adult, I've gone to some lengths to find ways to add them to my diet. They will never be my first choice (beet salad might be an exception), but I will never break my grocery budget simply to avoid them. And my children and I talk about it. My husband dislikes the texture of oatmeal, but he eats it when I serve it, and we talk to the children about it.
By the same token, I don't force my children to eat things I know aren't compatible with young tastebuds. If my husband and I plan to eat a spicy curry, I plan to cook something mild for the kids, usually some kind of treat. I don't do this often, and I portray it as all of us getting something special for dinner. I always allow the children a taste of the grownup food if they ask.
The re-serving of food left unfinished at a prior meal is not a punishment and should never be seen as such. Yes, it can reflect improperly sized servings, and that lesson should be learned. But the habit of wasting food should never be fostered, nor should habits of inflexibility in eating. A child who does not wish to eat his food now may eat it later. The same is true of bathing and teeth brushing. All be done.
My boys certainly try to be picky eaters, but it goes in phases. Sometimes they gobble whatever is put before them, and other times they turn up their noses at the most kid friendly foods. Generally speaking, it has been a matter of power struggle: they want to see what they can get away with, and I have to play enforcement officer. Eventually, they move on until it occurs to one of them to play the game again.
This post has been linked to HHH, WFMW, MYHSM, Frugal Friday, and Busy Monday.
This post has been linked to HHH, WFMW, MYHSM, Frugal Friday, and Busy Monday.