No one eats anything

What is it about children that make them not want to eat what is in front of them? And what can we do to get them to knock it off?

From “The Wee Free Men“, by Terry Pratchett:

Tiffany knew what the problem was immediately. She’d seen it before, at birthday parties. Her brother was suffering from tragic sweet deprivation. Yes, he was surrounded by sweets. But the moment he took any sweet at all, said his sugar-addled brain, that meant he was not taking all the rest. And there were so many sweets he’d never be able to eat them all. It was too much to cope with. The only solution was to burst into tears.

Mealtimes are stressful. The children don’t eat. Delicious, nutritious meals are prepared for them multiple times a day (almost exclusively by my wife, Kat) and they don’t eat them. Or, if they do, they eat the component of the meal with the least nutritional value.1 Given her druthers, the six-year-old would eat nothing but rice and beans.2 Why are meals so stressful? What is it about children that make them not want to eat what is in front of them?

Are my children impeded by a paradox of choice? Since our affluence affords the ability to eat pretty much whatever we want, when we want it, are the children not eating what has been prepared for them because they are imagining the meals they are not having? Are they just thinking about candy?

Imagine there was a tasty, nutrient slurry3 that met all health requirements and was scientifically proven to have no adverse effects. Imagine after being weaned from breast milk, children ingested nothing else. Would they still refuse to eat it at dinner time? Probably.

You try to do the “right” parenting things at meals. Everything on the plate must be tried before one gets more of anything. No alternatives are prepared. This is the food that is available to eat before bedtime. Sometimes the girls will begrudgingly take a bite of kale4 so they can get more rice or pasta. But at some point, they are supposed to get tired of bread and jam, right?

At lunchtime, there is a critical choice to make: Do I ask my daughters what they want for lunch, or do I just start making something? If I ask them, the most likely response is “What do we have?” followed by them rejecting immediately anything listed. If I just start making something, they might eat it, but they might not.5

Breakfast time is it’s own beast, especially on school days. Kids are cranky because they are hungry, and the time between dinner and breakfast is long. The hungrier they are, the less they are capable of making any decision or taking action.6 Add in the stress of getting dressed and needing to be at a place on time, and it leads to Crankasaurus Rex stuck in a tar pit. Just this morning, we spent a good hour arriving at “toast.”

I know the kids will grow out of it in 20 years, but it’s hard now. The six-year old is getting old/tall enough to start cooking her own food, so that should help some. But do we keep doing what we are doing? Do we give up and order pizza every day? How do other people deal with this?

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  1. It doesn’t help that my two daughters are individuals and have different tastes. For any given meal, the three-year-old will eat the exact opposite things that the six-year-old eats. 
  2. Rice cooked in chicken broth, to sneak her some protein. 
  3. I am intrigued by the Soylent project where a guy designed his own nutritional slurry. It seems like something you do when you stop eating your emotions, which I am not prepared to do. Also, you know, Science. 
  4. They love kale, but they never remember that they love kale. 
  5. If you choose this option, pretend like you are making the lunch for yourself. They are more likely to want it if it isn’t theirs. If they don’t, you get to eat it. 
  6. The adult version of this is spending an hour listing all the restaurants you don’t want to go to then eating Trader Joe’s Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter out of the jar. 

Photo by: kellinahandbasket

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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