Thursday, July 17, 2008

Turning Picky Eaters into Good Stewards

Picking up here we left off a couple days ago on the subject of food conservation...

Last week's story coming out of Great Britain calling for food conservation reminded me of the World War II rationing my mother used to tell me about. Not to be alarmist about what's going on over there. The government's not decrying the end of the world. But with no relief in near sight for the world's energy woes, it appears the British government is trying to help its citizens navigate uphill challenges ahead.

My parents were young adults during a period of rationing here and I grew up hearing stories about how people had to make do without an abundance of things like sugar, coffee and nylon. My mother described the way in which women without hose would draw a line down the back of their legs using eyebrow pencil and people began to drink a coffee-substitute called Postum and would sometimes use things like jam or jelly to sweeten beverages.

"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' (Matthew 6:31)

The Bible tells us we're not supposed to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. We are to trust in the total sufficiency of God as our provider of all things.

"For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (Matthew 6:32)

Some translations use the word "pagan" instead of Gentiles. The point here being that those who don't have faith have material concerns because they are fundamentally of a mindset of self sufficiency. Christ followers, in contrast, are to realize their inadequacy and trust in God to provide. He knows what we need and we are to set our minds on spiritual matters, instead.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

I imagined myself coping in a world of rising prices and dwindling resources of "worse case" rationing magnitude. I've trained myself over the past few years to essentially live without added sugar and, except for some limited dairy, I avoid most animal products. Not for "doomsday" but health reasons. With the exception of coffee, which turns the ignition key in my brain, I like to think I could transition without major trauma to a lifestyle of stricter conservation (though, admittedly, fewer choices would take some getting used to...).

But my gut reaction as I extrapolated the Great Britain story was concern for my children's future and how unwise it's been for me to serve as "short order cook" all these years. "Oh, you don't like dinner tonight? Well, what can I make for you, instead, little sweetie?" Consequently, "Good Cop" Mom (versus "Bad Cop" Dad who's quick to say "Eat what's on your plate and thank your mother for this delicious food!") is raising up these children who are text book picky eaters. What if some staple of their diet was suddenly no longer available? They don't do substitutes too gracefully. A world of cutbacks and conservation in certain areas would be pretty difficult for my crew.

Mercifully, my default is Scripture where Matthew assures me that it is not a stocked pantry or a tremulous economy but God who sustains my children. I trust that He will provide. Still, as a mother, I have a responsibility to guide my children and if there's the chu-chu-chu-chu-chu of a slow train coming, God wants me to shoo them off the tracks.

So I've avowed this summer to make some changes. To begin building a healthier respect for our food and other resources. To expand their culinary horizons beyond the limited offerings within their respective comfort zones. I know that many if not most of you are way beyond me in this area having already adopted and are living out some of the tips that follow. But in case you find yourself in the same indulgent food rut with your kids, here are some suggestions:
  • "Clean up your plate!" is well intentioned but can lead to food issues and even eating disorders. Better to teach kids to serve themselves small portions then return for more if desired.

  • Let them participate in the cooking process. Give them a "grown up" task beyond simply dumping ingredients into a bowl. This has to be carefully supervised, obviously, but let them chop up vegetables and other ingredients when they are old enough to handle a knife responsibly. I wouldn't let my eight-year-old do this yet (unless the job can be accomplished without frustration using a butter knife), but now frequently enlist my ten-and-twelve-year-olds in the chopping mission. I will hold the knife with them for some tasks involving foods like onions which can cause a blade to slip. I've been amazed at what the kids will try and like when they've had a meaningful role in the cooking process.

  • Trim off eaten portion of foods they don't finish (to prevent the growth of bacteria) then promptly wrap and refrigerate. Tell them this will be their snack later. You'll be amazed at how this helps with the child who takes more than she wants. All it takes is one or two half-eaten, left-over slices of pizza or peanut butter sandwiches as the "snack" for Junior to begin taking only what he will really eat.

  • Gently talk to your older children about rising prices worldwide and the importance of being good stewards of God's resources. Tell your older children about World War II rationing and the creative ways in which people learned to substitute one item for another, and how a nation of individuals became a patriotic team. Talk about the importance of any ongoing environmental programs you already have in place, such as recycling. Be positive. Read from Matthew and assure them that God is always in control.

  • Consider having a "Good Steward" day this summer where you plan to cut back on consumption of energy (no television or driving). Prepare a vegetarian stew and homemade cornbread for dinner. Heavily involve the kids in the cooking process and look for ways to make the day fun and memorable. We did something like this last week. We worked together to make a lentil stew using a lot of vegetables we had on hand for salads. The kids did most of the prep work and for the first time ever... everyone not only willingly tried the lentils... but thought the stew was absolutely delicious. It's probably 102 degrees where you are this week, but the stew is healthy and tasty and you might enjoy making a batch this summer. I'll publish the recipe soon.

  • Tell the kids "no" in advance of shopping missions... that "no" will be the response to any requests for the junk you typically cave into in response to "Can I have it... please?" Then mean what you say. Don't buy it! After a few trips, the kids will see that you mean business and will back off the supermarket junk food barrage. But it's important to be consistent. Don't say "no" in advance then say "okay" to silence them at the store. Short term respite does not make for lasting relief.
Maybe some of you have some other ideas to share on this topic or some good recipes for left-overs. I'd love to hear from you! Hit the "comments" button to reply. You can sign your name or remain anonymous.

Photo by all in green: see for restrictions.

On my iPod... Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore by Bon Jovi & LeAnn Rimes

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