After last night’s dinner debacle, I’m having to remind myself today of why I decided to change our eating habits. Why go through the struggle? Why deliberately make more work for myself, especially when, with both a toddler and an infant, I’m doing good if I remember to brush my teeth each day? I mean, chances are Liam would just outgrow his pickiness eventually, right? Why make such a big deal about how he eats?
Because it matters. As much as I’d like to think it doesn’t, it does.
“Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? He bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory.”
1 Corinthians 6:19
What we put into our bodies affects every other aspect of our lives: our IQs and learning ability, sleep habits, strength, energy, attitudes, ability to deal with stress and fight diseases, and on and on. We normally are willing to go to great lengths to look good on the outside; why wouldn’t we take that same care for what we eat? Being good stewards of the bodies God gave us and lives inside of is important.
Why are the French so obsessed with and rigid about mealtimes? While Americans count practically anything edible as food, the French view food as aliment, as complete nourishment for body, mind and soul. Mealtimes should be fun, communal, and should contribute to the edification of our whole person, not just an opportunity to fill our stomachs.
Why do it the French way? Because they are worlds healthier than us Americans: their obesity rate is very low, and their life expectancy is higher than ours. They have less disease than we do. Which, when you think about it, isn’t that what eating is about at its core? Fueling our bodies and minds to run the way they were created to?
But where do I start? I’m doing everything wrong! Everything! Serving the wrong foods, at the wrong place, at the wrong times, with the wrong attitude. How in the world will I turn this around?
The following are changes I can make immediately, inspired by the French:
Scheduled mealtimes: breakfast (8 a.m.), lunch (noon), snack (4 p.m.), and dinner (8 p.m.—ours will be at 7). We pretty much do this anyway, except that I also add in a morning snack, which I have now eliminated. And, like the French, Liam will only drink water between meals, no sugary juices (he doesn’t anyway) or filling milk (which will only be served at mealtimes). He will not graze all day long so that he’s not hungry for meals.
Mealtimes are spent at the table. The French eat at a well-dressed table for every meal. Mealtimes are social events centered on tasty, nourishing food and edifying conversations. It’s where families come together and children learn about news and about conversing with adults. It’s where they learn to appreciate new flavors as a family. They don’t eat standing up in the kitchen, watching the television, or in the car. And they try to avoid eating alone at all costs.
This will be hard for us because I usually let Liam eat his breakfast in his high chair while I do other things in the kitchen like make coffee and prepare Riley’s bottles. And my husband gets home from work at different times during the evening, so eating as a family every single night for us is not very realistic. And who has time for tablecloths and linen napkins? But instead of just trying to feed Liam dinner like it’s a daily chore, I’m going to be more purposeful in sitting down with him to eat. That I can do.
I was convicted by this idea, though: If we’re too busy to sit down and eat meals together, then perhaps we’re too busy? Maybe the French are reportedly happier than us Americans in part because they make quality communal mealtimes of utmost importance? Something for me to think about.
Everyone eats the same thing. This is also something I’m bad about. But the French do this to ensure that children get a good variety of tastes and textures. I usually feed Liam oatmeal or waffles for breakfast because these are two foods I know he’ll eat, while I fix myself a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, something he’s only tried a few times. This is an area that will not just require cooperation on Liam’s part, but somewhat of a lifestyle change on my part. Like, when I eat cereal for dinner. Or skip lunch because I’m too busy feeding Riley and Liam. These are habits that will be good for me to change as well.
If the child refuses, he goes without. There are no short-order meals. This is probably the hardest for me. Liam is SO thin, you’d think I never feed him. And the thought of him going without dinner breaks my heart. What if he lies in bed all night, stomach growling, unable to sleep because he’s so hungry? What kind of a mother would I be to let my child go to bed with an empty stomach?
It turns out, the right thing to do is not always the easiest. And sometimes, as parents, we have to make hard decisions to accomplish long-term goals. Instead of doing what’s easiest right now, sticking to my guns will be what’s best for Liam in the long run.
No longer will I just let Liam eat blueberry muffins or a Nutrigrain bar when he refuses spaghetti. The only sure-fire way to cure picky eating is not to provide choices for children at mealtimes. He will never learn to eat what’s good for him and try new things if I allow him a way out every time.
Progress report: Tonight, we had breakfast for dinner: cheese grits, cinnamon toast and apple slices (I was scrambling for dinner ideas tonight). Liam ate all of his toast (of course; it’s bread), an apple slice, and he even tasted the grits (by that I mean he didn’t spit them out when Kelley forced the spoon into his mouth). Also, I’ve been feeding Liam peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch for the past several days. He at least eats the crusts now (what kid does that?!) instead of refusing to even touch it!