Family meal time. What images do those words conjure up? A relaxed gathering among friends and family, or a fierce battle versus small opponents from start to finish?
If it’s the latter, read on. (If not, indulge me and read on anyway.)
Remember mealtimes when you were a kid? If your childhood was anything like mine, they went something like this:
- Your parents presented a plate of food.
- You ate it.
That’s it! God, what a beautiful, simple process it was. Usually there was even some nice conversation sprinkled in there.
Now, let’s compare that to my average family meal at home:
- My wife and I present food.
- Kids tell us which components they don’t like.
- We say there’s no other supper, so you may as well try it.
- Kids try it.
- Kids make faces.
- Kids hone in on carb-based option; ignore the rest.
- We tell them to eat more veggies.
- Kids take five hours to eat three bites of vegetables, during which they:
- Put food in each other’s hair;
- Play with utensils;
- Invade each other’s personal space;
- Drop food on their laps;
- Make a wide variety of rude noises; and
- Ask every ten seconds if we’re having dessert.
- Kids complain about lack of dessert and excuse themselves from the table.
I may have exaggerated a bit… but sadly I didn’t have to that much.
This comparison leaves me begging the question:
When did eating become so stressful?
I have a hunch that the internet is to blame. Much like alcohol, it has become the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems (thank you, Homer Simpson, for that pearl of wisdom).
But consider this: unlike our parents before us, we are bombarded daily by news reports, Facebook posts, blog sites, Youtube videos, and so on… They’re all telling us
of the evils of what we feed our children, and extolling the virtues of what we should be feeding them.
In the “old days”, you only had to worry about judgemental neighbours and friends. In 2016 it’s as if the entire world is looking down its nose at you every time you let your kid have a lollipop.
So we’re on them constantly. “You’ve had plenty of sugar today!”… “You’ve had four of those already!”… “You can have ice cream when you eat more broccoli!” We’ve become so obsessive as parents, that our kids’ lives have become a series of nutritional ordeals that they must endure just to get their next fix.
But here’s the best part… We’re the ones peddling the goods!
Birthday party? Sugar.
Valentine’s day? Sugar (oh… and love).
You did well on a test? You finished your swim class? You used your manners? You cleaned your room? Sugar, baby! That’s your reward! But only after you finish your
We’re like mad crack dealers: giving out free hits and then scolding them for taking them, but encouraging them to come back for more.
Our messages are in conflict. We want to cling to that carefree childhood we remember, and pass it on to our kids… and yet we’ve created a world in which being carefree is synonymous with being an irresponsible parent.
I was talking with a friend about this recently. I asked him if, when he was a kid, his parents regularly told him to lay off sugar and junk food (I know mine didn’t make a big deal of it). He said no. What’s more, he said he had his moments of gorging on junk (eating a whole Easter bunny in one sitting comes to mind). So why didn’t he die from malnutrition or overeating? Because he learned from these experiences! He felt sick, the novelty wore off, and he didn’t do it again.
Imagine that… Kids actually learn through experience.
Why has it become so hard for us to let them have those learning experiences?
It comes back to information overload: the daily messages of what we’ve done wrong, what we’re doing wrong, and what we should avoid in the future.
Parenting today is pro-actively reactive (can I coin that term?). We’re jumping all over our kids for stuff they haven’t even screwed up yet!
We’ve taken the fun out of the experience of food.
Heck, people even make careers peddling nutritional psychology!
Can we all just relax? Eating was never supposed to be this intense.
For our part, we’ve been trying something new at meal time. We separate supper into three courses: salad, main dish, and a fruit/cheese plate or something. It’s a minor
change, but the meals have felt a lot less rushed and a lot more enjoyable. The kids
seem to like the pause between foods, and the surprise of what’s up next. And we’re using the relaxed feel to do more talking and less enforcing. It’s nice.
Society has given us a million things to worry about these days when it comes to feeding our kids; everything from tooth decay to cancer. Be conscious of it, but don’t let it control you.
Let’s remember what meal time is about; what it’s always been about:
Food. Family. Fun.
And maybe the odd rude noise…