Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dinnertime Blues

My wife complains that there is no single meal that she can prepare that every member of the family will eat. It's true that some of our children are rather picky about what they will eat. But I know that I am part of the problem too.

It seems like everyone from church leaders to mental health experts to doctors and dietitians to the government has for a number of years advocated families sitting down to home cooked meals together. The benefits of doing so are said to include:
  • Stronger family relationships.
  • Better communication skills.
  • Lower food bills.
  • Healthier eating.
  • Better physical and mental health.
  • Better academic performance for students.
That's a pretty impressive list. Why would anyone give up such bountiful advantages?

Well, it turns out that trying to have a regular sit down family meal each evening can be pretty challenging. Part of the problem is the variable schedules of family members. Once children reach the age where they have their own schedules outside of the family, trying to get everyone together for a meal at a specific time can be very difficult. Add to this the demands on parents' time and it becomes darn near impossible in a family the size of ours.

Then there's the problem with variable dietary issues. The problem started with me years ago when I decided to get serious about losing the 40 lbs I had gained in the year following our wedding.

My lovely wife has never quite dealt with the same kind of propensity to pack on weight that has plagued me throughout life. Yet she joined me (most of the time) in my newfound healthy dietary regimen.

Once kids came along, my diet diverged from the common family diet. You see, my diet fulfilled all of the health gurus' recommendations, but it was far from tasty. Moreover, food preparation under my eating plan was difficult and time consuming. Although she has constantly supported me in my health pursuits, my wonderful wife simply couldn't bring herself to try to force little kids to eat that way.

I know people that say that they will never have a picky child. They will simply tell the kids to eat what is prepared or to go hungry. I suppose that could work in real life if both parents can maintain a hard stand. But we can't bring ourselves to implement a Soviet Politburo style of parenting.

We thought we had the eating thing figured out for our kids. Most of them ate broccoli with delight — until they were about four or five. Then vegetables became anathema to them. (Except for my daughter, who still adores certain vegetables.)

We have two children that absolutely refuse to eat eggs in any form. (Except perhaps in baked goods.) We have a child that won't eat turkey at all. He'll eat some chicken, but never turkey. We have a child that would eat only protein and fat if he could get away with it. Another child won't eat anything that is primarily protein.

This is maddening to my wife, who makes efforts to prepare family meals. Thankfully we've got two kids that are somewhat more adventurous in eating. Alas, one of those has an allergic reaction to coconut and has to be careful about dining adventures.

We've tried all kinds of things. The occasional pot roast seems to go over OK, except with the anti-protein child. We can get pizza, but I usually won't partake of it. Even when we get pizza, we have to get both pepperoni and cheese (only) toppings. We used to be able to do pancakes, but some of our kids won't even eat those nowadays.

The upshot is that evening mealtimes often require the preparation of three or more different meals. It is not uncommon for various meals to be prepared and consumed at various times throughout the afternoon/evening. Other times we've got everyone eating at the same time, even if they might not be eating the same meal.

It's not that we are unappreciative of the benefits of a daily sit-down family meal. It's that we simply can't bring ourselves to go through what it takes to get there. It doesn't seem to be worth the effort, fighting, whining, etc.

To those that are far better than us at this, more power to you! I applaud you. You inspire us and we aspire to be like you. But we're still a long way from the ideal.

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