Some say, “Well, you must just not have picky kids like I do.” In fact, three of my four kids tried out “picky,” and the youngest two would be insufferably “picky” if I allowed it. Only one of my children has happily slurped up vegetables since infancy. But they are, at this point, all very “good eaters,” as the saying goes.
The natural consequences of skipping a meal are hunger pains. It’s not abuse to provide no options to a nutritious meal besides skipping it. I have some childhood health care advice for you. Contrary to the strange traditions you see all around you, you have no obligation as a parent to provide a junk-food alternative to the family meal. The natural consequences of eating a few bites of zucchini are that you then get to eat the rest of the meal that you like better. Trust in natural consequences as a teacher. They’re “natural” if they’re the family rules. Parents have the prerogative to create consequences. Before the mac-n-cheese, junk-food era, agricultural communities had these family rules for thousands of years: one meal was served, and everyone ate it or had to wait until the next meal. You’ll spare yourself grey hair and a lot of irritation and drama if you adopt this simple rule.
You might also incorporate what my mom did: we were allowed to have one food we absolutely refused to eat. One, not two–and certainly not 90 percent of foods, like many of the kids I know. Most of us had the same food we loathed: spinach souffle. (Some of my brothers chose mushrooms as their won’t-eat food.) My mother raised eight children who will eat virtually anything.
Many parents allow each child to eat his or her own separate, customized meal. I believe this is an outgrowth of modern dieticians, pediatricians, and parenting publications always talking about offering your toddler or small child “options.” As in, offer them a bowl of processed mac-n-cheese, or a bowl of steamed broccoli. Modern parenting theory says that you should just keep offering the options, hoping that one day, the child’s natural instinct will be towards the broccoli (while otherwise eating white flour and processed cheese for years). I wonder how many hundreds of pounds of broccoli you will throw away (or eat yourself) attempting to follow this advice.
This theory and advice is worthless on many levels, and I’ll mention just three. First, when we have given children a taste for processed food by serving it regularly, any desires for natural foods change and often diminish. Sugar, for instance, is the most addictive substance on the planet, more addictive than cocaine, according to several studies. Those addictions and unnaturally altered tastes lead a child to make poor choices, most of the time.
Second, a small child does not have the wisdom and judgment to make good food choices. He knows only what tastes good, not what his body needs. Once one of my university students gave a presentation on nutrition and asked the class, “When you were 8 years old, given the choice, would you have chosen a piece of Chuck E Cheese pizza, or a plate of fruit?” One hundred percent of the class, myself included, raised their hands for the pizza. This is why God, in His infinite wisdom, gave children parents.
Third, the past two generations have been the first in history where this idea of “options” came into vogue, especially where junk food is usually one of those “options.” I trust in the wisdom of history and tradition: encouraging children to have tantrums, express an opinion about every food, and demand that parents go running to find something else is unwise counsel.
Catering to every child’s likes and dislikes can be an exercise in frustration and burnout for a mom, and it’s just a bad habit to get into. Young parents may not realize what the fruits of indulging “picky” will be. I may not be popular for saying what follows, but I’m going to do it anyway. If you allow your children to say no to nutritious foods now, you will spend hundreds of hours in your future making separate meals for each of them–preparing several different meals takes so much longer than just one. Do that today, and I promise that your child will absolutely demand it tomorrow. My alternative childhood health care advice is that you will also feel guilty and wonder what the difference good nutrition would have made, should your child encounter any of the many health problems caused by a modern diet of processed food. It’s not worth it.