On the topic of food we made only healthy foods available, fed ds when he was hungry, and didn't feed him when he wasn't hungry. My general philosophy is that children should have those healthy foods available to them which are available to their parents. The only caveat is that parents do not have unlimited time to bake everyone separate meals, so with very small children, I definitely would stock the pantry repertoire with those foods which can be offered with a minimum of fuss. I really have never understood carefully controlled meal planning, unless we are talking about a family that needs to feed a lot of people on a very limited budget. There again, the parents and kids are in the same boat, and we are not talking about withholding available foods. There is certainly no shame in not having a fridge full of alternatives to give a child at each meal--but the truth is that many of us posting here do
have extra's like packaged yogurt, peanut butter, fruit, noodles, or eggs, which are just sitting there in the fridge and could be made available to a child who doesn't want to eat the lasagna. When you have the food but don't want the kids to have it, it becomes a discipline issue--but that is very different than simply not having extra food. I find there is a lot of subtle nudging in these threads which hints: parents in the first category can, with mealtime rules, imbue a child with the kind of unquestioning gratitude and appreciation for "what's on the table" which would naturally develops when food is scarce, or hard won.
The problem, though, is there actually *is* more food available in these homes, and the discipline issues that develop are almost entirely the result of this fact. The child knows there is more food. They can see it plainly, in the fridge, or the cabinet. The only thing more frustrating that not having much food in the house, would have to be having food in the house, but having someone else tell you when and what you may eat.
Instead of feeling grateful for what mom prepares, kids often feel frustrated and resentful. Depending on the personality of the child, and the flexibility of the parent, a lot of the frustration may be easily placated with creative meal planning and lots of table variety. But whatever happens at the table, the parent often doesn't get back the kind of appreciation they want for their cooking, planning, and coaxing.
The second problem is that this kind of value for eating whatever is set before you may be quite harmful to children raised in affluent societies. It's hard to think about ourselves as affluent, but most of us posting here are wildly affluent compared to many of the people living in the world. Many people on earth could not begin to imagine having something *different* for dinner each week. The variety in our diets, the cleanliness of our food, is beyond the wildest imaginings of many other families on earth.
Ds will never learn gratitude by having available choices withheld. Just like I won't learn to appreciate what I can buy in the store by having the manager blockade various aisles at random. It would take a total catastrophe of deprivation to experience gratitude this way--a flood washing away all the stores, for example. I don't think most of us want to re create total deprivation in order to get our kids to the place of feeling humbly grateful for whatever crust is set before them. I have found it's very easy to foster gratitude in ds by simply stating aloud my own grateful thoughts, and encouraging him to do the same. "I'm so glad we have peaches today--they are my favorite fruit" said by me, might result in ds saying the next week "Oh I'm so glad we are having spaghetti, that's my favorite!". I also talk about our budget and show him exactly how much there is to spend and what food costs. Ds often spontaneously says 'Oh thank you mom for getting me this treat!" or 'Oh thank you for making pizza tonight!". With little prompting he seems to have developed a very natural appreciation for the food he eats.
But lets say that you could creat an atmosphere of thankful, compliant gratitude in the home by having lots of rules....your child would eventually have to go out into a world of excess and overwhelming food choices. Children who must live in that world--the world most of us here live in--need us to help them develop the skills to thrive among such excess.
Why not work with the knowledge our children possess instead? Why not help them make wise food choices in the home, so that they will be prepared to think critically and logically for themselves outside the home? Little one's are easily overwhelmed. We can help them by bringing home healthy foods, and make sure the alternatives are full of "yes"s rather than "no"s. Talk to them about what their body needs. Don't make a big deal out of food phases. Engage them in problem solving. Lead by example. If boundaries are needed, let them be short term solutions, while actively helping your child towards success with self discipline. Realize that good eating habits are a lifelong challenge for people in affluent societies. Obesity is a crisis for those in first world countries. Our children will probably never reach a point where they are "done" learning how to eat better and healthier--who here hasn't had to change something about their own eating habits in the last five years? It's a lifelong process. Good nutrition is so important, and requires active problem solving, critical thinking, and the ability to make good food choices. I think it's important to begin with a healthy food environment (breastfeeding, whole foods in the home) and work with our children as they grow and develop a greater awareness of food choices.
I have written a book here--I'm done--thanks for reading this far