Your whole food kids seem ungrateful? This happened in a bad kinda way at our place.
Our kids — who have never been subject to frozen fish sticks or to a gelatinous mass of Wonder Bread — had become food critics.
Currently, I’m watching some major improvements take place; we’re having a real turn around. From one parent to another, I realized that I need to share my theories with you as to how it is getting better, just in case you have experienced this, too.
When I spend one day a week baking, and someone dares to consistently throw the crust away from my homemade bread, I feel insulted. When I destroy the kitchen in an attempt to make something intricate and they only pick at their plates, I see it as being ungrateful or even spoiled.
I may allow for someone to dislike something here and there, but there is an invisible line when enough-is-enough.
The whiny voice is just too shrill, the syllables are just too elongated (“but it’s grooooosssss”), and the sighing and shoulder-slumping could win an academy award.
In these strategies, I might step on your toes — only because I have a nasty habit of shrinking myself from time to time. You see, I realized that some of the problem in our home was actually me.
So take what applies to you here, spit out the rest (I won’t be offended, I promise), and make a comment if you have anything to add. In fact, let’s chat about this — if you have any ideas as to what can help other frustrated parents, let us know in the comments.
1. Make Meals a Time of Connection
When the kids are getting great family time at meal time, they are somewhat easily redirected from the complaint of the moment. We can set the atmosphere of the meal. We can ask the kiddos questions about themselves or reminisce about that near-death experience on vacation and have a good laugh. Yes, they may pick at their meals. If we, however, create a consistently pleasant atmosphere at the table, the table will be associated with the warm fuzzy feelings of love and connection for our child. My sister and I parent our kids completely differently, but we recently had a talk about the dinner table.
“If there is one thing I try to copy from Mom and Dad,” she said, “it’s that our family eats dinner together every night. Those were my favorite memories as a kid.” I completely agree with her. She and I — 30 years later — draw comfort from family mealtime memories.
I recently bought something at a specialty toy store called the “Chat Pack.” It’s a box of cards, each containing a goofy question. We do not use it every evening. But when it becomes obvious that we need to boost the atmosphere, I do. The kids absolutely love it!
The questions are things like, “If you could go back in time to meet one inventor, who would it be and why?” or “if you could have a superpower, what would it be?” We really enjoy the fifteen minutes of chatter this creates.
2. Don’t Play Hookie
Guilty as charged. In an attempt to squeeze the most of every busy minute, I sometimes use lunch to accomplish yet one more thing. When this happens, I am sending a signal to the kids that there are things more important than sitting down to a good meal, and I am not there to make any on-the-spot corrections that might help keep things sane (like if someone is playing with their food or making a paper airplane out of the napkin — it’s been known to happen).
On the other hand, if I do join in, I am making the most of the opportunity to speak into their lives in one more way, one more time.
3. Let Them Be Part of the Process
I once wrote about my struggle to get kids into the kitchen, and for all of my self-improvement it still applies. I do it, but probably not as frequently or as gracefully as I ought.
Just recently, though, I shared my new system for menu planning as one of my time management techniques in the kitchen. I ask the family to contribute ideas. “Anything you are hungry for? Would you like for me to make something for you?” They love being asked!
4. Don’t Criticize the Food in Front of Them
I blame being Midwestern for this one, because I have caught others doing this who are also from that part of the country. Maybe it’s not entirely a regional phenomenon, maybe it’s human nature. But anyway, I think we sometimes feel the need to say something first, as though in recognition that yes, in fact, we are aware of the imperfections of the meal.
But think about it. Saying “Boy, this pasta really stuck together,” or “I think I overcooked that meat” can be seen as blanket permission for everyone else to join in.
And our kids, at least, usually won’t miss an opportunity for sanctioned complaining.
5. Allow for Personal Taste and Differences
You know what? The kids might just really not like what’s being served. They may not have the self-discipline of an adult to power through, they may not have the grace or tact to say it in a kind way. And at the end of the day, they just might not like it. We can use these opportunities to help them mature into displaying grace and tact — but we cannot force them to like what they do not.
I take a harder line about how they express their disdain than I do for the disdain itself.
6. Don’t Expect Others to Appreciate the Sacrifices They Did Not Ask You to Make
Have you ever had someone go way above-and-beyond for you, and then get all hurt and bothered because you did not react as they had daydreamed? I have actually had that happen (people with the love languages of gift-giving or acts of service are sometimes bad about this).
And when I’m the recipient, I know I don’t want to steal the joy from the giver — but I might not always realize their unspoken expectations placed upon me, either.
Have I done this with my kids? Have I put too much weight upon their reaction to my efforts? Probably. They are just kids. It is my job to speak into their lives, not the other way around.
In fact, if you were to put it up to a vote, “Would you rather mommy make homemade pot pie for dinner or would you like a PB&J so that she has time for a game?” — I can TELL you for sure what they would answer.
7. Toughen Up; You’re Not Julia Child
And then there is that.
I mean, I am a purty good cook if I say so myself; but I do fill the house with smoke and sometimes overcook or scald. I do over-season and under-season. Sometimes it’s tough, chewy, slimy, or soggy. I’m a busy person and I get distracted in the kitchen.
Learning to laugh about it and move on; that is perhaps the healthiest part of us. We can lead by example with how we cope with a mistake; we can show them that it is okay if we (or our chicken cacciatore) aren’t perfect.
The important part of this is not our wounded pride, but that we are connecting with our family and nourishing them, too. Let’s help them become gracious, gentle adults by giving them the manners to properly address dislikes. And we should probably remember that it does not happen overnight, either.
Gotta go — think I smell something burning.
Have you faced mealtime discontent? How did you handle it? Please share your tips and experiences!
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