Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Evolution of Feeding Children in Modern Times

A friend posted 30 photos of cute kids on Facebook yesterday, each with a caption about their picky eating habits.

All were under 5. A few were toddlers. The kid who dumps any food on the floor from his high chair unless said food is in a bowl gets a walk, and so do his parents. It irritates me more when I see parents not teaching toddlers about plates and bowls and consistently placin the food on the high chair tray. We aren't talking mashed potatoes, because said parents probably aren't teaching the kid to use spoons or forks yet, either.

What got me was the caption on a picture of one cutie, "I make my mom make something fresh every time I take one bite." Uh. Really?

You know, you don't see cat skeletons in the trees when they are scared to come down, and hungry children WILL eat.No need to make a fuss. No yelling or tears from the parent. Just...calm.

I have been volunteering with a mid-week program at my church for about five years now where the kids come in, sit six at a table with two adults not their parents, and learn to pass food family style. There are table rules, including taking a bite of everything, not leaving their seats or talking between tables, and not putting their feet on the table. The kids seem surprised. A lot of the adults let them break these rules regularly. These are almost all kids from middle class families.

I've had kids who screwed up their faces as they bravely ate one tiny little bud of broccoli at the beginning of the year who were scarfing down broccoli with cheese sauce by the end of the year. I've seen others who continued to find broccoli a yucky food. But they learn not to comment on it and not discuss the yuckiness with everyone else.

With new children, we ask if they have had family style meals before, and many haven't seen it except at extended family Christmas meals. In those cases, a lot of the time the food is served buffet style and someone else filled their plates. The big change I've seen in five years is the lack of experience even fourth and fifth graders have in serving themselves. Mom or Dad fills the plate and sets it in front of them. They have no concept of passing the food from person to person, no patience in waiting for the dish to reach them. They enjoy the task of getting the food on the spoon and to their plate without spilling. (You never know what skills you might learn in a church.)

And I, who am a basic slob where housekeeping is concerned, bite my tongue at the way the table gets set. My fellow teachers see no reason to make a fuss. It drives me nuts to see the fork and spoon to the right of the plate and the knife to the left, or some other non-standard configuration. I, too, let it go. The point is to talk to each other at the table and enjoy the food. I talk to them about the importance of seeing that everyone at the table has what they want before we all eat. Oh. One reason the kids love to be the server who goes for the food and then clears, I think, is another rule. We can pass the food, but until the server sits and takes a bite, no one can eat.

(I find I do this as well when I am invited to someone's home where the hostess is putting the food on the table. I wait till she sits down with us. I notice more and more that most people simply start eating. I think that's rude.)

A fair number of families still eat together one or more times a week at the table. Still more eat together on the couch in front of a movie on the television. I think that younger children are used to someone else dishing up and simply putting the plate in front of them. I find that five and six-year-olds can do it themselves. Awkwardly, and they usually take too much at first. They learn, We have very little spillage.

In this same five-year period, I am finding it harder to find some implements or foods I have taken for granted all my life. Society's choices are changing. Maybe eating together and passing the food is becoming archaic. I hope not.

Looking beyond your own plate is vital if we live together. It has been an easy tool for fostering harmony and smooth interaction in society, one table at a time.

I will be sorry if we let that vanish. It costs nothing to do. And it can be so pleasant.

And every once in a while, one of us stops to notice if someone else has an empty plate.

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