I'm seeking advice on something that's been really bugging my husband and me recently. Many of our child's friends' (8-9year olds) are picky eaters. They'll take a couple of bites of something and then refuse to eat the rest. When they stay for lunch or dinner, I try to make things they have expressed an interest in eating, but often it's not quite to their liking (egs."my mom uses wider pasta"--linguini, I think vs. my spaghetti; " I like smaller, redder tomatoes"). On a recent group outing, we knew the kids liked hot dogs and turkey sandwiches, so we thought we were safe when we ordered these items at a small restaurant; well, apparently the turkey "wasn't like any turkey" they've ever seen before (it was fresh, not the rolled stuff), the hot dog was more of a polish than the standard oscar meyer beef dogs). I have witnessed these kids doing the same thing in their own homes and their parents seem to be fine with them throwing out an entire plate of food (it's possible something is said after we leave).
I suppose we would be more understanding if our child were a picky eater. She isn't at all. She will try anything, and eat anything if she's hungry. Plus, she knows what our family values are around wasting food, so she will eat something even if it's not her favorite. Of course, being a loving and sensitive mom, I rarely make something that I know she doesn't really enjoy...But, there is literally dozens of things she will happily eat.
A couple of things we've tried with her friends: we give them a taste of the item to see if they like it before giving them a full portion; whenever possible, we have them make their own sandwiches if it's lunch time.
My question is should we have some general (not super strict) guidelines around food when friends are over? What might they be? Thanks in advance for any suggestions, thoughts, insights into this issue.
The thing that really irks me though, is that our daughter gets teased and humiliated by her friends because she likes so many unusual foods. She used to take our unusual leftovers - pot-stickers, burritos, oxtail soup for example - but now insists she has to have a turkey sandwich on white bread, because otherwise the other kids give her a hard time.
I have studied food preferences and child-rearing as part of my professional research. There are always cases where food avoidance has a biological basis - kids are very sensetive to certain strong flavors, and some people have serious allergies, or genetic differences that make some foods (like cabbage or fava beans) taste terrible. But we live in a culture where food has all kinds of meanings and powers - and where we are bombarded with messages (many contradictory) about food and health, beauty, and culture. It takes very strong and determined parents to navigate all of this to raise a kid who has a positive attitude towards a wide range of foods.
In my own opinion, the biggest problem is keeping food from becoming an issue of power and control in the family. That means not using food as a way to control your kids (eat every bite! no more meat till you eat all your spinach!) - and not letting them use food to control you (like always dictating your choice of where to eat out, or making you fix special meals). I hate to say it, but Spock has some good advice on this, and he notes that food often becomes the focus of power struggles between parents and kids at age 5 or so. I suspect that nowadays, when families may only actually all get together at meals, "food fights" have become even more common.
In addition, it seems to me that parents should be telling their children to be more gracious at other people's houses. They don't have to like things, but they are not entitled to gripe about them. I don't think this is too much to expect. Good luck.
I remember when I was 5 years old my best friend's mom trying to make me eat all of my lunch while having lunch at their house. Thirty-five years later, I still remember the meal: grilled American-cheese sandwiches and Fritos. But I was not at all used to the flavor or consistency of processed cheese and really didn't want to eat it. I felt extremely uncomfortable being pressured to do so, and alienated from my friend's mom afterwards -- it felt out of place for her to be exerting that level of "discipline" on me. On the strength of this experience, really I would advise against trying to pressure your child's friends to eat food they don't want to eat, and even more so since you wrote that they are not accustomed to that sort of rule in their own homes.
Moreover, nowadays, being made to eat all of what is on one's plate is considered by many to be instilling a (bad) habit of overeating. Another reason not to pressure your guests to eat. In fact, they are doing what every diet program tells you to do: avoid caving in to pressure to eat things that you have decided not to eat. I myself try to congratulate myself for all of the food my toddler daughter leaves on her plate: at least I'm not teaching her to over-eat. Of course having a dog helps me not feel like it's going to waste.
Maybe some guidance about what to do could be taken from looking at what you would expect from an adult in the situation--being served food they don't want to eat, for whatever reason. I see no reason to treat your guests with less respect because of their youth. Perhaps you could tell your guests what you would like them to do if they don't want to eat what you've offered them. For me, and this comes up regularly as I'm living in Russia just now, where fare is frequently far greasier, more gristly, and less well-cooked than I am accustomed to, not to mention being served animal parts that I ordinarily eschew, this means that I try to eat a nibble and look busy with it, but if I just can't stomach it, I leave it quietly on the plate and ask for more of what I do like--bread, if nothing else.
I have a few other ideas you might try. One idea is to offer the food in very small portions--instead of offering each child a whole sandwich, cut the sandwiches into quarters or even bite-sized portions and let folks help themselves to as much (or as little) as they want. If they eat one bite of a quarter of a sandwich, at least just that quarter is wasted, not the whole thing. And you avoid the expectation that they will eat "the whole thing."
Or you could casually say at some time other than meal-time something about how much you admire someone who is willing to try eating foods that are very different from what they're used to, or tell them about the polite way to refuse food if you just can't eat it. You could try instructing them in the age-old adage of polite society: "If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." Of course you should try to find a nice way to say it :o) Or you could consult with the friends' parents--find out what their attitudes/rules are and try to negotiate something--maybe the friends should bring their own foods to make sure they have food they can enjoy--a potluck!
Good luck with this issue.
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