Power Struggle Over Food

observations2Hubby and I ate a divine lunch at Crave yesterday, courtesy of our daughter, who gave us a gift card for Christmas. The selections on the regular menu and sushi menu all sounded so good that it was hard to choose. I almost never order an appetizer, but was so tempted by the sushi menu that I got some avocado rolls to start the meal. I chose the grilled Mahi Mahi as my entree. Erik ordered the tomato basil soup as an appetizer and the lamb meatballs with fettuccine for an entree. Of course we tried each other’s food and it was all sumptuous. The portions at first appeared to be on the small side, but that was a trick of the presentation on the plate. Once we dug in, we both found it difficult to finish.

I mention the portion sizes for a reason. While we were at the restaurant, I watched a drama unfold at the table behind my husband. A boy of about 5 or 6 was with his parents. He had a large orange drink that he was happily sucking down with a straw. On his plate was half of what appeared to have been a GIANT hamburger. His parents didn’t seem to be overly engaged with him until the very end of the meal. His father looked over to find he hadn’t finished his hamburger and fries. He took the drink away from the child and scolded him, telling him he had to learn to “eat good food.” This resulted in tears from the child, who wanted the drink back.

I have no idea whether the child started with an entire hamburger and fries or was only given half and didn’t bother to try it, but even a half a hamburger would have been daunting to me, let alone a kid of 5 or 6. One of the things I learned early when I was a parent of young children is how very little they need to eat. If you can manage to have them eat a tablespoon or two per meal, that’s about all they need to keep chugging along like a manic Energizer Bunny all day. The idea that a kid should eat an adult-sized hamburger is insane, even for most adults. And scolding a child over food is a recipe for future eating problems.

When it came to getting our kids to eat, particularly new foods, we gave them a small amount and told them they had to try one bite. (My husband’s parents like to tell the story of how he would say, “I don’t like it. What is it?” when presented with something new to eat. Thankfully, none of our kids ever made that comment to us.) I made a big deal about how good the food was and I’d interact with them while they were eating. Conversing during meals is one of the great pleasures of life and it shouldn’t be reserved for adults. Involving kids in dinner table discussions almost ensures they’ll eat along with everyone else, maybe not for every meal, but for most of them. Another trick for getting kids to want to try new foods is to pretend that you’re going to eat it all … certainly they won’t like what you’re eating … and, naturally, they will often want to try the very thing you’re not sharing with them.

As for the orange drink this boy was happily slurping before Dad took it away, the portion was also an adult size. By the time the kid was done with half of it, surely he was full. My mom would not give us anything to drink with meals because she was afraid the fluids would fill us up and we wouldn’t eat anything else. That’s not a great solution because it took me a long time to learn to have liquids with meals and I still prefer not to if I can help it. Instead, why not ask for smaller drinks for children in restaurants?

In the end, the boy did not get his drink back and Dad ate most of the hamburger after cutting it into pieces to get the boy to eat it. And I felt bad about the whole situation. I hope what happened was one of those rare occasions of impatience between a father and his son and not indicative of a long-term power struggle over food.

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