In my last post, I wrote about why it's important to let your child leave food and to accept the waste that this inevitably entails. Now I want to talk about how your child leaves food. Children are not born with manners - they learn how to be considerate of others through what the adults in their life teach them and, more importantly still, how those adults behave towards one another.
Rejecting food is no exception. The 'right' way to do this has to be taught. Of course, there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat (or to turn your nose up at the cabbage). My notion of 'right' is basically anything that is respectful of the food and the people who have prepared it. I'd like to share my approach though, as it is a simple, accessible way of teaching children how to leave food.
"Yuk!!!! - That looks disgusting!"
I have never come across a parent who has not been met with this kind of horrified reaction as they set a meal down onto the table - myself included. But it isn't okay. It has become so normal and socially acceptable for children to be negative about their food and for us to respond by trying to persuade them to eat it.
Teaching children that it is not alright to be rude about their food is so powerful; it takes away much of the potential for drama and removes children's incentive to leave food as a way of getting a reaction from a parent or experimenting with their own autonomy and personal power.
"I'm not eating that!!!"
Having explained to your child that it's fine to leave whatever they don't want (a vital part of helping them self-regulate) , the next thing to teach them is about how to leave part (or all) of their meal without fuss or rudeness. I know this may sound old fashioned - I am actually super laid-back about most manners of the elbows on the table/using your fingers variety.
Leaving food politely, though, is bound up with respecting the fact that someone has planned, shopped for, paid for and prepared your meal. When children begin to appreciate food as something their body needs rather than something they eat to please a parent, eating invariably begins to improve.
My method of teaching children to leave food politely is simply to tell them to leave it on the side of their plates. No pushing away of meals, no exclamations of disgust.. no drama. In fact (and this takes most children a while to grasp). THEY DON'T EVEN NEED TO TELL US ABOUT IT.
This feels really alien for children who have been used to lots of attention for their picky eating and adults attentively encouraging them to eat up.
It's an amazing phenomenon - when children are leaving food politely and wordlessly, meals become about social interaction instead of who's not going to eat what.