CM on Kids’ Eating Habits

Dear Reader,

In my continuing series on Charlotte Mason’s original homeschooling series, I find this quote in volume 2, Parents and Children:

“It is not well to make a child eat what he does not like, as that would only make him dislike that particular dish always; but to let him feel that he shows a want of self-control and manliness, when he expresses distaste for wholesome food, is likely to have lasting effect.” [p.97]

I don’t know about you, but I have known many families to have issues with their kids’ eating. The battles I have seen in public (and for me to see them they had to be in public to a certain extent) make me wonder what goes on when the family is on their own. Certainly, good nutrition is an important goal. Kids need to eat and they need to eat wholesome food. Many of our modern problems, I think, come from the availability and ease of kid-friendly foods. With chicken nuggets and peanut butter sandwiches always on offer, it is no wonder that kids turn their noses up at mushrooms and chicken piccata. Somehow I don’t think those in Miss Mason’s day would have quite these same issues. As usual, modern conveniences have also added new problems.

I suspect that were Miss Mason to have faced our situation, her solution would have been to never introduce the convenient, kid-friendly foods. Just as we must place before our children good intellectual diets of real books, so their actual food must also be wholesome. A large part of the problem is avoided by never introducing the junkier but tastier foods. Of course, anyone who has been to a birthday party knows you cannot avoid these things altogether. But to have a treat at a party is different from having it on offer every meal at home. Children are capable of understanding that we can eat pizza at Johnny’s house but we do not have it at home.  And if your child still won’t eat? I know some who just don’t seem to eat very much and it drives their parents to distraction. My advice would be to let it be. Having a battle over food gives the child power in that area. Present them with good food, let them see the rest of the family enjoying it, require them to sit at the table and be polite, but do not require them to eat.

Personally, we decided early on not to have food battles. This is because we did have some quite necessary ones early on. When my oldest daughter was 1 and a half, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The regimen she was on originally, required her to eat certain amounts at certain times. If she did not, her blood sugar would go low. Low blood sugar can lead to weakness, confusion, seizures, and eventually death (not that this was likely to happen from one missed meal while we were observing her; we do have a long epi-pen like needle that we can inject her with if her blood sugar is dangerously low). But my point is it was a matter of my 1-year-old’s immediate health that she eat. These were real battles, not ones that were optional. And she was not naughty per se about them. She just liked to chat. So she would sit there and chatter on to us endlessly but not eat. Remember that she was 1 and later 2 at the time. It was not something at that age that we could easily discipline her for. So mostly we cajoled. Fortunately she grew up and also got newer better methods of controlling her blood sugar that didn’t require certain amounts of food at certain times. But my point is, after having had real food battles, we never wanted to have optional ones again.

Our policy since has been to serve our children one reasonable-sized helping of all the main foods we are having (usually a meat, vegetable and maybe a starch though we don’t eat very high carb anymore). They do not have to eat, but if they do not finish what they were given initially, they can’t have any more of anything or anything they have not already had which usually means fruit. When they don’t like something, we have often said something along the lines of, “Oh well, you don’t like steak now. It is a grown-up taste. Maybe you will like it when you are older.” I imagine this is the sort of thing Miss Mason is thinking of when she says that children should be made to feel that it is a want of manliness to not like certain foods.

We have found that when we had other children who were regular guests at out table who did not usually have these rules, that they nonetheless picked up on them quickly and after a dinner or two realized that they were not going to get out of eating what they were served at our table. Of course, it is probably harder to introduce new policies to one’s own children. But if you explain that there are new rules and that we are doing these things for our good health and then, most importantly, be consistent and refuse to argue about food, I think even older children would adapt quickly. I would also recommend not provoking your children overly much initially by introducing foods very strange to them. Start with familiar foods and ones they are likely to take to before moving on to more daring ones.


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