Isn’t it amazing how easy we all find it to notice and rectify the shortcomings of other parents, but battle to address and remediate problems in our own homes? Just think of that situation at the restaurant, where the parents seated at the table nearby were having grief trying to get their young brood to sit still and eat their supper. You knew exactly what was needed for the sake of order and sanity, didn’t you?
Well, to be fair, it would be helpful to at least acknowledge that the meal table and meal times and the consumption of healthy food is an area of massive frustration, conflict and sense of failure for many parents of young children. It is a vital area that impacts many other areas of family health and well-being. For this reason, it is strategic simply to raise a few issues—call them “food rules” if you like—which may be necessary to consider if you are either battling in this area, or plan not to battle as parents of little ones. There is more that could or should be said, but eleven short points can get the conversation going:
Parents are in charge
Too many parents, with the best intentions in the world, seek to give their children too much say.
Parents must be willing to exercise authority over their children and ought, without apology, to seek to control and shape their children, especially when they are very young and impressionable. A parent insisting that Jonny eat his peas is not asking Jonny to like peas; Jonny is simply being expected to obey his parents. Besides, he will not die as a result of eating peas (or carrots, or salad, or whatever), but he may indeed die if he sins against God by disobeying his parents!
Mom sets the menu, not the kids
Asking your preschool (or even older) kids what they feel like eating is simply asking for trouble. You are the mother. You know what you have available. You know what will be good and nutritious. Why even ask the kids? Give them what you know they need. As soon as kids, either at home or in a public place, think they have choices and latitude, you are asking for trouble.
Everyone eats what’s been prepared
To my way of thinking, even Dad ought to feel a sense of obligation to eat whatever has been prepared. Dad’s picky consumeristic ways will be learned by the kids—of that you can be sure.
So, cut the cackle and just all sit down for meals expecting that everyone will eat everything that Mom has lovingly prepared—no exceptions!
Set the table
Children ought to be coached to perform chores at home. Even very young kids can set the table. Eventually they ought to do it without even being instructed: Mom is cooking, the food is almost ready, therefore the table should be prepared.
Eating at a set table is way better than sitting in front of the TV and eating off your lap. A set table becomes a place of disciplined and orderly family interaction. It allows for the teaching of many good habits, the setting for family conversation and devotional activities.
Use the dinner table as a place of warmth and interaction
Every member of the family benefits from eye contact with Dad and Mom and siblings—and guests. This daily time of debriefing and sharing is so necessary for orderly living and devotional identity.
We can talk as we eat, or we can eat first and then talk. But having a place to do it is necessary!
Meals are instructional moments—for truth and manners
This stands to reason. You have your children’s undivided attention at the table, especially if the TV is off. So much of value can be communicated and inculcated at the daily family meal!
Start the meal and leave the table together
Children from the earliest age should be taught to formally excuse themselves if and when they need to leave the table. Such dignity and group-consciousness is invaluable socially. Late arrival or absence by teenage or older family members overtly calls for an explanation.
We wait until the food is served (helping mom to carry plates if necessary), then we pray, and we eat together, then we interact until Dad dismisses us. Then we all help to clear the table. That kind of expectation and routine feeds productively into so many other parenting agendas, not so?
Linger, with no electronics, ignore the ringing phone
Being at the dinner table isn’t simply for the sake of eating. Healthy families linger and chat and interact, sometimes with casual mirth and at other times with intensity. Cell phones (including Mom’s and Dad’s) aren’t welcome at the table, and ringing phones could be ignored! Most things can wait until our family meal and meeting have been concluded. Real emergencies will indicate themselves by means of repeated calls.
Cooking aromas are better than takeaways
Mom’s (and Dad’s) development as a cook is so welcome, and the rest of the family provides the encouragement and expresses the appreciation. Daughters get progressively schooled and woven into this house-making nurturing role.
Our digestive systems love being prepared by means of scrumptious aromas coming from the kitchen. Yes, convenience does welcome takeaways now and then, but home-cooked family meals are by far to be preferred than bought food—and are much cheaper too!
Growth in cooking ability—the whole family can be involved
Coming generations will inevitably find fewer and fewer people who know how to bake and cook and ice cakes and sew and knit and crochet. Increasingly we buy readymade stuff involving more and more preservative agents and chemicals. Skillsets diminish in the context of the home, and life becomes a little more one-dimensional and more utilitarian and survival-oriented.
Surely allowing Mom and daughters (and there is no reason not to include Dad and sons too) to grow in home economics and the mechanics and chemistry and admin of preparing food. These are the very building blocks of culture! Our identity and traditions as families and clans resides in these very activities and choices.
Passing on things from one generation to another—cooking potatoes like Mom or Gran always used to do them—should not be swallowed up by utilitarian convenience and lack of planning.
Learning to clear your plate as a sign of appreciation to the cook
No one wants to cook stuff that is just pushed to the side of the plate and discarded. Small portions enjoyed and plates cleared! Accountability for not eating items less enjoyed. These are the nitty-gritty aspects of self-discipline, self-denial and orderliness that all too many families jettison for the sake of less fuss.
Teaching kids table manners and what is expected at home, makes them so much easier to manage and enjoy at friends and in public! Why pass up on the practical opportunity to raise your children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord?
So, whose turn is it to do the dishes tonight? Perhaps we should all muck in and do it! What shall we listen to as we wash, dry and pack away? Whose turn it to choose?