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Why I’ll Never Punish My Kids For Not Finishing A Meal

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As a parent, do you force your kids to eat all of their food?

When I was a child, my parents were adamant that nobody could get down from the table until they’d “cleaned their plate.” We were forced to eat every scrap; rank cabbage, gristly meat — the lot. I couldn’t bear gristle in my meat and sometimes retched and threw up. That meant a beating. If I refused to finish my food, then they would quite literally serve it up for the next meal and again for breakfast. I eventually worked out that food went bad and I’d win in the end. I got beaten for that too.

Refusing to eat, without complaint, quite disgusting meals reflected on your moral character.

Let me give some historical and cultural perspective on this. My parents grew up in wartime Britain under rationing. When they were small, food was in very limited supply and the quality was dreadful. Meat was a rare treat. Using every edible morsel so that nothing went to waste was a national imperative to avoid mass starvation. There really was no choice — picky eaters would be malnourished or go hungry. My parents had it drilled into them that they needed to eat whatever was put in front of them.

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It wasn’t only the rationed food my parents digested during the war. It was the injunctions to “waste not, want not.” Refusing to eat, without complaint, quite disgusting meals reflected on your moral character.

This became their unquestioned mental programming. They carried that program into their own parenting over 2 decades later, and in very different circumstances. When I was small, there was enough food for everyone, but the unquestioned rule remained. “Eat what’s on your plate!”

It wasn’t until I had children of my own, and that programming rose up in my mind like a monster from the deep, that I began to question where this parental “must-eat” program began.

I was able to apply logic to challenge what I’d been taught. I could then create rules for my own children that work in the present day. I’m a great believer in having a diverse diet. They’ve been brought up to eat a very wide range of foods and cuisines. However, I do not force them to eat everything up. I want them to tune into their bodies and recognise their internal signals of appetite and satiety.

toddler peas and veggies

If you ever find yourself telling your child “because I said so,” or “that’s just how it is,” pause for a moment and ask yourself whether this is a program you inherited or is a reasoned response to the situation.

It’s good to be a thoughtful parent. Don’t unquestioningly do to your children what’s been done to you.

A different time and different place.

Janie Keddie is an imperfect mum, experienced wiper of tears, bottoms, floors and worksurfaces. Read more from Quora below: