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do you “make” your kids finish dinner?

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Nov 17, 2010

The day after Halloween, I posted on my facebook page that I paid my kids $20 for their bag of candy, like I do every year, and then I threw it in the trash.

I got some indignant responses, saying, “Geez, at least give them to candy giveaway programs for the troops!” and the like.

(The two who said that are friends who were on my high school’s drill team. In other words, people who don’t know much about where I am now and what I do.)

Anyway, some of my fellow health nuts went, well, nuts on them. I was a non-participant in the ensuing debate, which you can see on my FB wall. But if I’d wanted to get all argumentative (I didn’t and don’t), I’d point out that if I don’t want to feed my kids poison, why would I want to feed it to the people defending my country? (Or anyone, for that matter. Death row inmates, maybe, if I could be really certain they are guilty.)

Yes yes, I know, the troops will get candy regardless–if not from me, from someone else. But that doesn’t mean I have to be a part of it.

(Have you seen the story about the burning Carnival cruise ship, and the people onboard who were “rescued” with a delivery of Spam and Pop Tarts? LOL!)

The other day at my tennis workout, Laura, one of my teammates and a friend of mine for 20+ years said, “Robyn, I went all Red today.” (She’s speaking of one of my favorite subjects, Taylor Hartman’s Color Code, which you may google at will. Everyone close to me knows you have to understand the Code or you won’t speak my language. I eventually buy any friend who doesn’t “get it” The Book. Which is now inexplicably renamed–for political correctness?–The People Code.)

Anyway, Laura’s daughter Gabby came home from school saying that her friend gave her the brownie out of her school lunch. (I’m talking about the lunch they SELL at school.) So Gabby had two brownies–her own and the friend’s. Gabby was about to throw them away when the lunch lady said, “You’re not going anywhere until you finish your lunch” and required Gabby to eat everything, including the two brownies. “I almost threw up!” Gabby reported to Laura.

Laura was incensed and described the incident wherein she pointed her finger in the principal’s face about this (she’s a White/Yellow! out of character!) and had a little chat with him about the lunch lady.

I said this, separating the “making” kids do it issue from the junk food issue. “Yeah, um. I require my kids to finish their salad, veggies, fruits. If they don’t want whatever ELSE we’re having, like whole-wheat pasta with pesto, for instance–I don’t care.”

I often have this debate with someone in my life who regularly reiterates the mantra that children shouldn’t be “forced” to do anything. I agree that it’s not only pointless, but also impossible, to force anyone to do anything. (I’ve written before about the unforgettable experience I had many years ago, watching a friend of mine force-feed her son a hot dog, because she was terrified he wasn’t getting enough protein.) But could it be that this argument often functions as a smokescreen for the real issues:

Are we willing to parent? Do we take a stand on things we think are important? Requiring a child to do something she’ll learn from–for example, complete homework, eat foods containing live enzymes, treat others with respect–isn’t a bad thing. Are they “forced” (negative word) just because it’s required and there’s a consequence for non-compliance attached? We adults are all required to do things every day. Forced? No, but our feet are held to the fire, and if we choose badly, negative consequences follow. I’m pretty sure you and I work part of every day to pay the rent of some folks sitting behind bars thanks to this very principle.

“Well, sure,” Laura said, “it’s one thing to require your own child to finish her carrots.” But a bunch of junk food? She told the principal, “A brownie is a waste from the minute it is created! After you eat it the rest of the day is about getting RID of it.” (There’s that consequence thing rearing its ugly head again.)

And Laura, my friends, isn’t a health-food fanatic. She’s just a regular mom. She’s at her ideal weight and incredibly fit. Disciplined about food consumption like no one else I know. Laura’s is one of the testimonials in my book The Green Smoothies Diet. She’d been told she was pre-diabetic until she started green smoothies. She has brought one to the gym every morning for the past few years since I taught them to her. She takes one to a handicapped woman in her neighborhood, regularly, and she evangelizes for green smoothies constantly. When one of the dozens of women we play tennis with at the club asks, “WHAT’S THAT?!” about her disposable see-through cup of sludge she’s drinking, she points at me. I take it from there.

Anyway, Laura continued, “When I see somebody nagging their kid to finish their Thanksgiving pie, I think, ‘Why? It’s PIE!”

She said it, not me. Well, now I know I can confide in Laura, at least, if not the popular girls from high school, that I dump all the Halloween candy in the trash. (Lest you think I’m an ogre, let me say this: I do let the kids keep three pieces.)

Your thoughts?

Posted in: Green Smoothies, Nutrition, Parenting

25 thoughts on “do you “make” your kids finish dinner?”

Leave a Comment
  1. you’d better believe i have thoughts on this! i throw food away ALL THE TIME! my husband doesn’t appreciate it.. but when we are given treats or i make treats (every so often that are “normal” treats and not good for you), i often throw the remaining out after we have had a serving each. in fact, i just barely threw out 3/4 of my son’s birthday cake. he requested a birthday cake… we each had a slice on his birthday (excluding me) and i threw the rest of it out. down the disposal!

    when i was growing up, my parents always made me finish what was on my plate. several of my siblings, including myself, ended up with bad eating habits because of this and ended up over weight (not just because of this, but a lot of it was because of the mentality that we had to finish our food). i learned this lesson and do not ever require my kids to finish eating what is on their plates. if they want seconds of something, i do require them to finish their veggies, fruits, whatever else is on the plate before they are able to have seconds of something they enjoy.

    i loved your comment about forcing people to do things… i think there is a huge difference between forcing and just simply giving a consequence for choices. when that consequence is awfully motivating and not fun, it can seem like you are forcing. i have learned though that it is so important to give consequences that motivate the behavior to change to choose the good. i have a son with reactive attachment disorder and we have been working with him for the past 4 months… with pretty crappy consequences to his crappy choices. and i get judgement a lot for how strict i am with my kids now and how “severe” his consequences may be… but i know i’m doing what is best for my kids… with giving them consequences if they don’t listen to mom, and by throwing out their “candy” or whatever other junk we end up with around here. we totally skipped halloween this year because of my son’s condition… no dressing up, no candy, we didn’t even hand out candy. no ward party. skipped it completely. haha. i have been called a “fun-sucker” and all sorts of other names. but i don’t care… i’m doing what’s best for my kids, regardless of people’s opinions and judgements.

    okay. i’m done!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Robyn, my husband has caught himself doing that very thing, and then laughing realized how silly he was sounding and corrected the mistake wondering why in the world would he “make” his kid eat the unhealthy food! And realized he should be proud of them for deciding not to eat it! It was pretty cute when it happened though!

    I like your idea of paying your kids $20 for their Halloween candy and then chucking it! I’ll remember that! I think it is great!

    This also reminds me of a time my Mom threw away all my brothers music that she thought was HORRIBLE! When he came home and realized what she had done he said, “Mom, at least you could have let me sell them at school. I could have made some money off them!” (It’s funny that he really wasn’t that mad, he just wished he could have made some money!) My Mom had the same reasoning, I don’t want you to have filth and I don’t want anyone else to have filth in their life either!

    Why share bad food, bad music, bad influences of any kind to others? We don’t want it in our own lives and we don’t want others to be burden by it either! A good philosophy to always go by! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with every bit of your throwing the candy out…wish I would have read that or thought of it myself before Halloween this year! But it will now be a Halloween tradtion! A lot of my lifestyle changes in the past year have bee ridiculed by mostly my in laws who smoke a pack a day drink a 24 pack of diet pepsi a day and chastise me for not giving my 3 year old milk! Anyway, I recently purchased your holiday recipe book. I am excited to try so many recipies. I was wondering what our take on Agave is though since you seem to use it a lot. I was scared away from it after reading the very lengthy article from Dr. Mercola on the subject. I do trust a lot of his opinions (completely disagree with the alkaline water and have been drinking it for the past year with great results) But I am still weary and if I want to substitute what would be the best? Im assuming Raw honey?! Sorry to ask this question here, but I couldn’t figure out where else to contact you for a question. Thanks for your time 🙂

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Sarah, I’ve addressed those issues in detail on this blog, and you can search on those topics (Mercola on agave, etc.).

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m just curious about what you handed out for Halloween? I’d like to hand out something other than candy that doesn’t get a weird look from the kids.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think letting them keep three pieces is fine. They still get a little treat, and no one needs as much candy as is given out on Halloween.

    I had a question about making kefir. I contacted the local health food store, and they said they don’t have raw goat milk. All they have is powdered goat milk. Will this work? They do carry Rice Dream. Does that work for making kefir? And if both work which is more nutricious?

    Thank you!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I love the idea of paying my kids off for their candy and throwing it away. My two oldest would be all for it. The kids get sick every year after Halloween – um, I wonder why????

  7. Anonymous says:

    I paid all my kids 5 bucks each for their candy this year…and YES it went straight into the trash and YES I make my kids eat their fruits/veggies

  8. Anonymous says:

    I forgot I had another question. I might be gluten sensitive/intolerant, and I read on your blog the other day that many gluten-free foods are nutrionally inferior. I know you said you hope to have a recipe collection in 2011, but are there any good products you can recommend that I can buy at the store in the mean time? Also, I really wanted to make your “Live Granola” recipe, but it says it calls for oat groats and rolled oats. Do those in fact contain gluten? I read about cross contamination and such, but is that something I’d really have to worry about? If so I’ve heard that so-called “pure” oats are really expensive so can you recommend a substitute ingredient for the oats?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Katie –

    Last year I posted a gluten free granola recipe to the blog, which uses sprouted buckwheat groats instead of oats. We make a batch of it about every week.

    Here’s the link: https://greensmoothiegirl.com/2009/09/14/gluten-free-live-granola-breakfast/

    You could also modify Robyn’s recipe to use buckwheat instead of oats, as well.

  10. Anonymous says:

    In response as to what to give out on Halloween–we emptied our apple tree Saturday morning, washed and sorted the apples, took 6 or more bags of them to the trunk or treat at the ward and handed them out. It was fun to watch the reactions–“yeah, an apple!”, “An apple? I love apples!”, and many more comments like that. Several children came by for seconds. In the end I gave several parents the remaining bags of apples to enjoy! (I still had 6 bags of “seconds” to process at home!! They make yummy fruit leather!) On facebook the next day, one mom wrote, “We gave our son the choice of eating one thing before going to bed and he chose the apple!!”

  11. Anonymous says:

    I would just add a plea to try to AVOID throwing away (good) food whenever possible, as this encourages a view that food resources are somehow so abundant we can afford to waste them. This might be true in the US (or UK where I live) but is certainly not true in many parts of the world.

    I work in Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia, with many communities who have far less choice in what they eat, when they eat it, and how often. In some ways, their diet is healthier than ours – whole, unprocessed foods – but in other ways, inadequate for nutrition (very few fresh fruit and vegetables or legumes, mainly basic boiled starches, often supplemented with unhealthy oils). Where I work, people are careful to never cook more than they need for that meal, and to store their food carefully so it doesn’t get moldy, eaten by rats, etc. They would truly be shocked and I think correctly morally outraged to see how much food we toss away needlessly.

    I am NOT in favour of forcing children (or anyone) to eat more than they need at a meal, but when I host a meal, I ask children and adult guests to serve themselves and to only take as much as they know they will eat. They can have as many additional helpings as they want, but they can’t take too much onto their plate and then leave it to go to waste. I think that encourages self-awareness about hunger and portions, and self-control. And I would never bake or cook more food than I think everyone will realistically eat at that meal (or I freeze left overs til the next time). Most treats can be frozen and defrosted in small portions as required – no need to throw away! (Although I refer to food at home, not candy or junk that has been foisted upon us by others).

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Joanna, I absolutely think when you’ve been around true hunger, in the third world, it changes how you view consumption and waste forever. Thanks for sharing your important thoughts. I’m a big, big fan of freezing the leftovers and always using them.

  12. I love your story about paying your kids and then throwing out the candy! On a recent news segment shortly before Halloween, my daughter and I saw where a dentist was paying kids to bring in their candy and exchange it for money. (Apparently this is a huge nation-wide program with hundreds of dentists participating). They were paid so much per pound. At first we were thinking what a great idea. Then the report went on to tell what the dentist did with all that candy–yep, you guessed it–sent it to our TROOPS! My daughter and I instantly saw the fatal flaw in that “program”. But, then we were told the troops use most of that candy to give to the local Afghani and Iraqi children as a relationship-building tool. Even more hypocrisy! So, it’s NOT okay for American children to eat all that candy, but it’s okay for other countries’ children to eat it? If a dentist truly had conviction that candy was bad for children, then he should just throw it all away! Thanks for confirming our analysis of that news story. I’m going right now to my pantry and throw out all the remaining Halloween candy!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I was raised with the “don’t waste anything” ideology ingrained into me and I could not leave the table until I finished my cheerios or rice krispies or pea soup or whatever it was. It didn’t matter if it had gone bad or if I was full or if I just didn’t like it. Now I can’t waste anything even when I am totally full. I often make way too much food and eat way too much of it.

    I agree with Donna Gates that we should only be eating until we are 80% full so our digestion is not compromised. My husband grew up with the ideology of “eat until you are no longer hungry” and he has no guilt whatsoever about leaving food on his plate when he is done eating.

    NEWSFLASH PEOPLE: Even though some people in the world (both far away and somewhat close by) are hungry, if you leave a little food on your plate it doesn’t feed them! If you’d like to make a difference then give them some food or money or start a community garden or travel to another part of the world and do what you can for them.

    Telling kids they have to eat everything on their plate no matter what it is only going to create more people who have unhealthy ideas about food. It may even create binge eating to some extent. Food is abundant on this earth, especially when we are responsible enough to grow it right.

    People who eat more than necessary habitually because the food ended up on their plate will only bring more hungry people in the world, as will a country that thrives on eating mainly meat.

    Food is abundant on this earth, especially when we are responsible enough to grow it right.

    “Consider the lilies of the field”….Matthew 6– people!

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Trish–when my mom used to say, “Eat everything on your plate! There are starving people in India!” I never did understand the logic of that.

      I’d say, “But if we put this leftover lentil soup in a box and mailed it to India, wouldn’t it be moldy by the time it got there? Even Indians wouldn’t eat it.” My mom would get mad and call me a smartmouth.

      (I love it when my kids come up with good critical thinking skills to say stuff like this. Except when I find it totally annoying.)

  14. Anonymous says:

    I agree 100% with throwing the candy away…I throw it away after one day but for now on I will pay them for it and in the trash it goes….

    I eat it too if it is in the house..I become possessed. It’s awlful.

    Regarding forcing kids to eat…well maybe not stuffing something in their mouths..but I feel the only way kids learn to eat healthy is if it is constantly on the table and they are “encouraged” to try it/eat it..and not allowed to eat the bad stuff. I have family members who have kids that eat nothing but 5 highly processed junk..and they cater to this because they are afraid they will starve. I tell you it’s child abuse/neglect!

  15. “Are you willing to parent? Do you take a stand on anything?” Wow, I was in agreement with so much of what you said. And then I read these two little sentences and was completely put off. So, because I put a plate of healthy food in front of my daughter and she eats what she chooses from it and then leaves the table you judge me as not willing to parent and not taking a stand on things? That seems pretty harsh to me.

    My approach to food with kids has always been very gentle. If everything I offer them is healthy – plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and good quality proteins with a bit of healthy oil here and there – my philosophy has always been that they’ll eat what they need. That being said, there are two rules 1) you must have one bite of everything on your plate and 2) if you eat all of one thing off the plate and want more of that, you first have to eat all of the other things on your plate.

    I use the one-bite rule because it allows me to introduce new foods, new flavors and new textures in a gentle way. If you have one bite on a regular basis, over time you learn to enjoy it. I’ve also found that quite often one bite was enough to say ‘hey, that’s actually good’ and then they eat the whole thing. It also allows me to make whatever I feel like, without worrying that my daughter doesn’t like eggplant (my favorite vegetable) and having the dilemma of either cooking her something separate so she’ll eat her veggies or spending the entire dinner fighting with her to make her eat it.

    I insist that they eat everything on the first plate before going back for seconds of their favorite part of the meal because it will get a more balanced meal into their tummies. And, often they are full by then and don’t want seconds anyway.

    One of the things I’ve noticed, particularly with young kids, is that it’s easier to look at the foods they are eating on a daily, or even weekly basis. If over the course of a day they’ve eaten plenty of fresh veggies, fruit, whole grains, and some protein, it doesn’t really matter if they ate only oatmeal for breakfast, only lentil soup for lunch and only raw veggie sticks for dinner with a bit of fruit to snack on in between. They’ve had a variety of fresh foods throughout the day that meet their nutritional needs. As they grow and they continue to learn from our healthy modeled behavior, the combining of foods at meals will come.

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Rachel, you may have misunderstood what I wrote. These are rhetorical questions to help us all (myself included) decide if we’re willing to take a stand. There’s no one right way to parent, and you can still be gentle while taking a stand about nutrition. I am not judging anyone, just asking those questions in general in an effort to examine my own parenting, and parenting philosophy, when it comes to food, in general.

      I don’t have those rules, but I do have the rule that my kids can say no to anything they want, except for the raw vegetables and fruits. (Those cannot be frozen and usually can’t be preserved until later–plus I want 60-80% raw). And if they opt out of the soup I made, they can’t tell me half an hour later that they’re hungry. (Or, they CAN, but I’m not making a separate meal.)

      These are ideas. Not the only right way to do something. I offer them in case they are helpful to anyone.

  16. Having four kids six and under, I have to be a bit firm about food. My rules are the following:

    1. You must eat everything in your first serving if you want a treat later.

    2. You may choose whatever you want for seconds, and if you don’t finish, you may still have a treat.

    3. Leftovers will be eaten. If there are leftovers in the fridge as of Saturday, mama doesn’t cook anything til they’re gone.

    4. If you choose not to eat, you don’t get anything until the next scheduled meal.

    5. Fresh fruits and veggies are the only acceptable snacks.

    My kids are good eaters on the whole, and all active and healthy so I don’t worry too much. However, I spend far too much money on the healthiest foods we can afford for them (or us as parents) to waste!

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Heather, very sensible rules. As a mom who is more than a decade further down the path from you, let me assure you of this:

      You will never, in the future, regretfully think, “I wish I hadn’t spent all that money on fruits and vegetables.”

      In fact, you’ll look back with a lot of satisfaction that you did right by your kids. Good job.

  17. Anonymous says:

    THE HALLOWEEN PHANTOM: This year I was in turmoil about what to do with the Halloween candy. My friend came up with the Halloween Phantom. Let the kids pick 3 pieces, then they leave the rest on the porch. The Halloween Phantom comes, takes the candy (and deposits it in the trash can!), and leaves a toy instead. Worked like a charm!!!

    Thanks for this post. It always helps to know there are other mothers out there fighting the fight!!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Life has hit hard this past month- I got on the computer tonight to get re-motivated by some of my favorite health blogs. I loved this post!! I have friends that tease and think I am crazy for not letting my kids be kids and having candy and such…. I see it as I am letting them be kids and adults!! I am trying to prevent them from suffering when they get older. I love that all my kids ate for Thanksgiving was the vegetable tray I brought- carrots, celery, cucumbers and black olives. We don’t always make the best choices but more then often my kids are the first ones to pipe up about the health factor. Kids can still be kids with healthy foods. Thanks for the motivation– I will be in the kitchen making lots of green smoothies to get this family of 6 back on track!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Just wondering if my book package was sent. Order ID GSG10-201102221524-444172. Placed order on Feb 22. No way to follow order…..no tele…..no email address……..hope this is all legit!

    Thank You

    1. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

      Susan, I’m cutting and pasting this info to customer support for them to track. We ship twice a week. Thanks!

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