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explaining to four year olds why we don't waste food

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 

Hoping someone has a magic phrase or book or something that will help the kids to understand why we don't waste food. We've been talking about it for several months but it hasn't sunk in yet.

 

My frustration -

 

I give them choices for lunch. Ds is specific about what goes on his sandwich. I set the plate in front of him and he refuses it. I explain that food costs money. If we throw our money away by not using it responsibly, we don't have money for field trips, toys, summer treats. He loudly protests and asks for a different type of sandwich.

 

They do not get choices at dinner but it is always food that they like. Dinner is frequently met with protest.

 

I have recently cut back on snacks and grazing. They are allowed one snack between breakfast and luch and one after school It can be a cheese stick and/or piece of fruit.

 

We grocery shop together. They often are out of the cart helping me pick out produce, pick their own cereal etc. We talk about the quality of food, what is junk food, has ingredients I don't want them to have, if something is on sale or costs too much.

 

 

Maybe this thread goes elsewhere, but I really want them to understand that we need to be thankful for what we have and use/eat it before spending money/time on something else. I want them to know there is a cost of food and misusing it misuses our money. Perhaps this is too vague a concept for 4.5 year olds. I want to start the dialogue now so they will be good stewards later.

post #2 of 32
Quote:

Originally Posted by DeerMother View Post

 

I give them choices for lunch. Ds is specific about what goes on his sandwich. I set the plate in front of him and he refuses it. I explain that food costs money. If we throw our money away by not using it responsibly, we don't have money for field trips, toys, summer treats. He loudly protests and asks for a different type of sandwich.

 

And then what happens? 

post #3 of 32

Well, I find my dd prone to bouts of this - asking for a specific sandwich, eating only a few bites such that (to me, at least) I see almost a whole sandwich that I have to throw out.  I get that annoyance, for sure.  

 

 

I stop trying to provide the offending food (bowls of cereal, sandwiches, sometimes quesadillas for example tend to be the worst here - soup too, but since I like it it's less of an annoyance trigger and I make/serve it anyway).  I know kids are supposed to 'like' these foods, plus they're easy, but if I'm throwing them out AND it's bothering me, it's not worth it.  Kids are happy with a slice of cheese and some cucumber for lunch, that's fine and almost like a sandwich - and they'll eat it.  

I find this to be one of those issues that you'll need to find your own way to make peace with food waste over fighting with them to instill this lesson.  They'll probably learn to waste less food eventually - and won't grow up to become wasteful adults, but it doesn't come naturally, and it really is good for them to listen to their body and tastes.  It is/will be a lot harder for them to un-learn a habit of eating all food so as not to waste it.

 

 

 

I do stress to the kids, that I really dislike when they've asked for specific foods (or I've offered them), and they barely eat them -- and I'd rather they just get honest that they didn't want them, that they changed their mind, something.  And I might remind them to let me know next time to give them a little less.  And that's helped a little.

 

 

 

I do find it helpful to make foods that are easily 're-used' - stuff like rice/grains that I can re-make into another meal.  I make half boxes of pasta, and tiny bowls of frozen veggies for the kids (I mix it together and re-make them into a different pasta the next day, often).  I can re-use oatmeal for smoothies or muffins.  I make a lot of half-sandwiches, when I do make them, and add to it with a pickle and apples and raisins (which I totally save if they don't finish, and are less gross to re-eat later that a sandwich with a bunch of bites and things picked out of it.) 

post #4 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TiredX2 View Post

 

And then what happens? 

And then he is mad about it while I"m eating.

post #5 of 32

I don't mean to sound harsh but if you've made what he's asked for and he doesn't want to eat it, I'd wrap his food up and put it in the frige for later. Of course, I'd tell him that he has a certain amount of time to eat and at the end of that time the food will go in the frige for later. Honestly, it is my experience that hungry children will eat even if they don't love the food option.

If the dc wasn't given any choices and truly isn't enjoying the meal, I put the food in the frige for leftovers and offer a salad or fruit and cheese. A healthy option but not another meal preparation.

 

Kids can be finicky and they go through phases of eating something and then not.

 

hth

post #6 of 32
Thread Starter 

I'm happy with how I'm handling the consequences of their actions. '

 

What I want to know is - how do I explain my reasoning to four year olds? How do we go to the store, pay with a card and they relate that to me working. How do I explain that in our culture everything has a value including food? How do I teach them to be grateful for the things we have and not ask for something different/better/more?

post #7 of 32

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to suggest you didn't know how to handle consequences nor did I mean to suggest you weren't comfortable with the consequences you've put in place.

 

To answer your question, I don't think 4yo's get it, the money thing that is. They don't really have an understanding of how far a dollar goes nor do they care. That's one of the nice things about being a kid, no worries. I wouldn't want to put that kind of stress on my lo, y/k.

 

hope I've been helpful. this time ;-)
 

post #8 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Casha'sMommy View Post

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to suggest you didn't know how to handle consequences nor did I mean to suggest you weren't comfortable with the consequences you've put in place.

 

To answer your question, I don't think 4yo's get it, the money thing that is. They don't really have an understanding of how far a dollar goes nor do they care. That's one of the nice things about being a kid, no worries. I wouldn't want to put that kind of stress on my lo, y/k.

 

hope I've been helpful. this time ;-)
 

Sorry if that last post was snippy. I was coming back to edit as that was not my intention.

 

I will work on letting my hang up go. So often that is the actual problem, not the kids acting like kids.

post #9 of 32

A 4 year old generally has no concept of money or what things cost and really those aren't things for a 4 year old to have to worry about.

 

I serve meals. I offer options. I do not always give them exactly what they want but generally it is mostly what they usually like to eat plus something new. If they don't eat, they don't eat. They will not starve themselves because today they wanted tuna and I gave them ham. If they are hungry, they will eat the ham and if they decide they don't want the ham then they are welcome to follow on with their day.

 

Except that I make it clear that until the next meal/snack time, they will not be getting more food. You do not play the "I'm not hungry during a meal but I will ask for another food 5 minutes after mom cleans up" game. It does not happen here. Sorry, but Mama has 2 other kids and other things to do and mama does not play short order cook all day. I tell my 4 year old "It is 2 and a half hours until snack, you will not get snacks or breakfast again until 10:30, so if you do not eat now you will be hungry" and if he makes the choice to refuse the food he asked for or that he wants to eat then so be it.

 

He will also play those games at lunch. He asks for an apple and then he refuses it. Apple can be served again at snack before dinner, or it will be offered to the 2 year old. He can't get mad if someone else eats it since he didn't want it, right? Well, of course he will but then he needs to learn to eat what he asks for or what he is given.

 

The ONLY time I bring up money with the kids (re: what things cost) is when he is intentionally rough or has been careless with a toy/book and it is broken or breaking. I tell him that we will not get a new X since he has hurt the old X. Why? Well, things cost money and we cannot always buy new things just because the old one is now broken, we must take better care of the old one. Why? Because Papa works hard to make money and we need to show respect for the hard work he does by not wasting. So when we buy a new item we should take care of it so Papa (or whomever bought it for us) knows that we appreciate them. Then we go into what waste means and what respect means and what appreciate means and it happens several times a week. I don't tell him "X cost YYY!!" but he needs to understand that new things can't just appear and someone has to work hard to get the item.

 

Anyway, back to your original scenario. I guess I'm a strict mom. My 4 year old has multiple food allergies and sometimes he cannot have what he wants. I never serve them gruel or truly horrible foods. I may put mango on his plate but I don't make him eat it. I do require that (a least some, possibly a "courtesy bite of) veggies are eaten before he gets more grains or a sweet. My kid could live on rice and meat forever, but I always serve some veggies and fruit and you'd be surprised how many times he eats a food he has refused before and all of a sudden he "loves it!!" If they have finished a decent part of their meal they are allowed carrots or apples or celery freely during the day. Usually they are allowed those things anyway, because they can't go wrong on those foods, right?  This system may not work for you, everyone is different, but it really works for me. I have 3 kids and I cannot spend all day making new food for them or I'd never eat or do anything else.  As it is, I am up in the kitchen for most of my own meal and I rarely get to eat with the kids. It is a lot easier to set up a system and give them options but ultimately choose the meal and let them decide if they are going to eat or if they want the power struggle.

post #10 of 32
Hmm what if you play a game for a week or two? You could give them each coins (or tokens or tickets or dollar bills or whatever) each morning... say 6 coins at the start of the day. Each meal or snack they turn in a coin in exchange for their plate of food. If they have coins left over, they can leave the sandwich on their plate & "buy" a new plate of food, but if they don't have coins leftover then their only choice is what's already on their plate. Get what I mean? You could even have them 'earn' the coins by doing some activity or chore or project if you wanted. If you want to get really creative, they could try to 'sell' the sandwich to a sibling or to you, so they can earn a coin for a different meal, but if no one wants to buy it then they are out of luck. Keep it really simple though, not $6 for pasta and $2 for a cheese stick, just one coin = one snack or plate of food.

I wouldn't do this as a long-term thing, just as a fun & light-hearted game to play for a bit, but it might start to get across the ideas you are trying to teach them. I don't know if it will make them less wasteful overnight, but it might plant the seed in their minds!! smile.gif
post #11 of 32

We found that gardening and visiting gardens/farms/etc and watching youtube videos and reading books about where food comes from and then help with the cooking and prep really helps our son understand where food really comes from. It's not money.  It's farmers and gardeners working to grow food, the food being transported to the grocery store, people at home washing and cutting and cooking the food, and then we eat it.  He just turned three and can explain in pretty good detail where various food items come from.  It's pretty cool, actually.  I won't say he isn't finicky...that's normal at this age.  But I know he "gets" it even though most of our food comes from the grocery store.  He also knows that food is NEVER thrown away.  He is getting really good at sorting all waste into trash (mostly plastic packaging, which we try to keep to a minimum), recyclables, compost, what goes to the dog, and what goes to the "chickies" (our backyard chickens).  In the kitchen, he has learned to safely use a sharp knife, helps crack eggs, whisk, chop, measure, etc.  We buy most of our bread but we bake a loaf periodically so he knows the work that goes into a loaf.  

 

We do not live a model life of self sufficiency by a LONG shot.  We're the people you see at Target a little too late at night buying their toddler a hot chocolate at Starbucks so he'll be cheerful while we do the grocery shopping we put off too long.  But we try to expose our 3 year old and my 14 year old brother whom we started caring for last fall to "real" stuff.

We live on a small urban lot and are very lazy gardeners but are still able to keep chickens and an embarrassingly unproductive garden that still teach our family where the food comes from and provides us with a lot of pleasure.  If you can't or don't want to grow some of your own food, many farms provide tours or you can search for an urban homesteading group in your area and contact them to find people who will let you see their chickens and gardens and so forth (I'm assuming you don't live in a farming area based on the original question).  Most urban homesteading types LOVE to show off what they've done.  

 

Or you can find a local pick your own farm.  http://www.pickyourown.org/

post #12 of 32

Deermother - I had some more thoughts in light of your other postings.

 

 

We make the effort to let our dd help with choosing, preparing, and whatever degree of growing food that she can.  While in doing this, there have (naturally) ended up being experiences where she chose, made, or grew something important to her and, somehow, it was ruined/destroyed.  In the past year (she's 5 1/2), these have been more profound for her and she has, to a degree, become more considerate about other food eating/wasting/choosing types of issues at home.  I don't thing she's be able to get that wasting food is wasting money (in the adult sense that I do), but as food has become more important and interesting for her, she's gotten better at understanding it's importance to me (with my requests of please try one bite before you stop eating the food, or make sure you take care of putting that in the fridge if you're done so it doesn't go bad, for example).

 

I think those experiences of hers have really made a difference, so it's just a matter of continuing to do those things with your kids and they will see and understand more about the balance about it that you'd like. 

post #13 of 32

Have you thought that maybe your giving too many choices? Sometimes kids get over whelmed and after they've made their choice regret and wish they had something else. Kinda that feeling you get at a restaurant when you are choosing between 2 dishes make your order and as soon as they walk away you know you made a mistakewinky.gif

 

I would start with preparing less food for them. Automatically makes less waste. Start with a half sandwich. My kids love having nibble lunches too. A few crackers,hummus,whole cherry tomatoes,cuke slices,broc/cauliflower,baby carrots. Whatever the kids dont eat go back into the fridge some gets used for salad that dinner other gets used for stir fry later in the week. Again no waste.

 

I really suggest smaller portions. Make less food in general. Kids will never go hungry. If they do actually eat everything and are still hungry they can have a half a pb sandwich to finish filling them up.
 

post #14 of 32

I second offering much less food...  Smaller portions have worked for us.  I used to get overwhelmed with food waste now I offer less but if they finish what they have they can always have more, say make them half or even a quarter of a sandwitch for lunch but leave the fixings out so if they finish what they have I'll quick make another. Also, maybe not the healthiest choice for me, but I'll make smaller portions for myself then nibble on what they don't eat (within reason).

 

Also, it's amazing how many veggies my kids will eat when they have the pride of growing them (well, helping us water them) in our garden.

 

As for appreciating food and connecting it to money.  I think that kids can definitely learn to appreciate and be grateful for food but may not be able to connect it to money yet.  Heck, I didn't really make the food/money connection until my late teens/20s when I started buying my own food redface.gif.  For appreciation and knowing where food comes from we start each meal with some thank yous- "Thank you to the broccoli plants for growing this.  Thank you to the chickens for the eggs.  Thank you to DD for watering the garden..." etc.  The kids have fun with it and I hope it will someday translate to a grateful and conservative attitude towards food.
 

post #15 of 32

I actually think that four-year-olds can have a concept of money and cost.  DD has had a bank account since was about three.  All her found and gift money goes into that account.  She knows how much it is to ride the mechanical horse on the avenue and she knows how much it costs if she wants to purchase frivolous items at the .99 cent store.  Maybe I'm weird but I think it is important to instill money concepts and the value thereof early on.  If I tell DD that she will need to spend her own money on something, she immediately refrains.  I think this probably has translated well into items that we buy as a family (like food, linens, all that stuff).  I think that if kids can identify a "price" with what they consume, their understanding of waste increases a lot.  

 

One other thing that we do with food is this:  you don't eat it, you have to find another use for it.  Food can't just be thrown away.  There are birds, animals, others who would benefit from the morsels that we take for granted.  This concept has worked for us in that there is a certain amount of recycling that goes on if we are in a situation where we are not in a position to eat the food.  It goes to the concept that even if we don't eat it, there are other uses besides the landfill.  

post #16 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeerMother View Post

Sorry if that last post was snippy. I was coming back to edit as that was not my intention.

 

I will work on letting my hang up go. So often that is the actual problem, not the kids acting like kids.

You're all good.

I actually told dh that I had been a doofus and didn't even answer your original question and that I appreciated your putting me in my place. lol

post #17 of 32

I would say something simple along the lines of "It's wasting" or "It's a waste".  

 

It's a waste of my time and labor and all the labor that other people put into it, and the earth and rain and sunshine to grow it.

 

Later you can explain that it's wasting your time (the time you spend shopping for it, bringing it home, storing it, &  preparing it) and it's a waste of resources (work by humans to plant, grow, & harvest it, transport it, process it (e.g. grain mill), transport it again to a store, workers stacking it, working check-out lines, etc etc.

 

Maybe ask the children's librarian at your local library for good kids books about "Where Food Comes from"?

 

If you believe in G-d or some higher power, teaching your child to say a grace before of after eating may also help to cultivate appreciation for food.

 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by DeerMother View Post

I'm happy with how I'm handling the consequences of their actions. '

 

What I want to know is - how do I explain my reasoning to four year olds? How do we go to the store, pay with a card and they relate that to me working. How do I explain that in our culture everything has a value including food? How do I teach them to be grateful for the things we have and not ask for something different/better/more?

post #18 of 32

I haven't read all the replies yet, but I take the direct approach and tell my children that on this earth, most children do not get to eat everyday. We are very lucky to be able to buy food and so it is loving on our part to not waste the food we are blessed enough to buy. This has led to some very interesting discussions and research with my children. We talk about how in some places it's hard to grow food because of drought, most lands do not have grocery stores, many families are very poor and cannot buy enough food for each person in the family to eat everyday, in some lands bugs are considered fancy like sushi, facts of this nature. They ask many questions and I think talking about this issue makes them feel connected to children around the earth and they seem to enjoy and appreciate the food they eat more. That doesn't mean they never waste though!

 

ETA: Went back and read the thread. My parents used the above approach with me. Not in a shaming way, but in a "you can show more love to more people" way. This is the approach I take with my children. FWIW, my kids are 6, 4 and 2. We also do let them know from time to time that if they waste food and then we run out of food and can't buy more food until we get paid (has never happened yet), we will all be very hungry. Not sure if the concept is real, as it's never actually happened.

 

As far as money goes, we have been on a tight budget for years because of my husband's disability. DH and I talk constantly in front of and with the kids about using our money wisely, not being able to afford "x", saving for "x" if we need/want it, finding alternatives to buying "x" with money etc.,. My kids know about money and even save for big ticket items, but honestly, I think the concept of how we obtain/save/spend money is still not well defined yet. It's something we are slowly working on. smile.gif


Edited by Thyme Mama - 5/23/12 at 10:07pm
post #19 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thyme Mama View Post

ETA: Went back and read the thread. My parents used the above approach with me. Not in a shaming way, but in a "you can show more love to more people" way. This is the approach I take with my children. FWIW, my kids are 6, 4 and 2. We also do let them know from time to time that if they waste food and then we run out of food and can't buy more food until we get paid (has never happened yet), we will all be very hungry. Not sure if the concept is real, as it's never actually happened.

Maybe it's just my children being who they are but this would make my children very sad and upset at the notion that the possibility exists that we might run out of food. I envision dd's response being in the line of crying, stressing, worrying about our not having food.

post #20 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Casha'sMommy View Post

Maybe it's just my children being who they are but this would make my children very sad and upset at the notion that the possibility exists that we might run out of food. I envision dd's response being in the line of crying, stressing, worrying about our not having food.

 

I do agree with this for my kids. They do understand "Sorry we're out of milk until shopping day" talk but to say "Don't waste food or we won't have any" would send my dd into a full on binge mode"

 

I have a big problem also with the "Finish what is on your plate". Thinking that eating food that our bodies don't actually need isn't waste blows my mind. I've been giving my kids less food and I have less waste and then they don't feel like they're being forced to eat so we don't "waste". It really has been the best thing for us

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