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September 02, 2012


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Ooh, Jamie, I like this post a lot.

I think the first way to go about thinking about it is to separate a few completely different issues: (1) what your son chooses to eat or not (2) how he communicates food messages to his family and particularly to the person who is preparing the meals (3) whether it's right to intentionally mislead your children about what's in the food.

I don't think it is right to intentionally mislead, but it strikes me that the natural consequence of complaining unpleasantly all the time about the truth is that people will instinctively avoid telling it to you if they possibly can. (this is not to excuse the untruth, just to note that it is rather predictable -- it is also wrong to honk angrily in traffic, but if you drive like a jerk you can expect people to honk angrily at you.)

You didn't say how old the boy is. I see two possible approaches here to respond, but it depends on whether he is old enough to empathize with you and on whether he is receptive to learning a lesson about the natural consequences of how you treat other people.

Possibility one is to sit down and have a talk with him with lots of I-messages about how his tones of suspicion and disgust made you feel, and how your feelings led you to avoid being truthful. Putting myself in your place, I would probably try to give the message, 'it is never right to lie and I should not have misled you. But I want you to know that as you get older, if you give people the message "I will create trouble for me if you tell me the truth," you will make it harder for people to be honest with you.'"

Possibility two if he is not mature enough to receive and understand this kind of message, which I think is too subtle for many preadolescents who would fixate on the "But she lied and that was wrong and I told the truth about the zucchini and that was right because lying is bad and truth-telling is good" -- enlist Elwood to deliver a gentle but firm "respect your mother and follow our rules about eating your dinner" message. "But she lied!" can be responded to by "I want you to focus on your own behavior." If he is too young to empathize with why someone might avoid truth-telling, then he is too young to be judgmental about it. If he is old enough to empathize, my take would be method #1.

I am a big fan of having Dad deliver all messages related to treating
Mom with respect, if he is available and willing to deliver these messages, because if Dad does it then he is modeling "treat other people with respect," but if Mom does it then she is modeling "demand respect from other people." I have no theories about what to do if Dad is not present.

I'm with Bearing on this. With a little kid one could probably dodge the whole "you LIED to me" angle and just focus on how when we are served healthy nutritious food we eat it with gratitude, even if it's not what we would chose to eat.

I think I would fess up to having misled him and apologize, especially since he seemed to feel SO betrayed, but the fuss he exhibited would be the REAL topic for discussion. I don't make the kids eat food they find to be too spicy (though I have ways of helping it go down), and they are each allowed one food they won't have to eat (as in they can pick it out of the dish, like mushrooms or olives), but I still cook with it.

Honestly, one of the great things about being a grown up and cooking for yourself is that you don't generally have to eat things you find distasteful. There will NEVER be beef stroganoff in our house. But learning to eat what is placed in front of you is a life skill and I guess I'd want my child to know that. Many times I've been served dishes that have seemed unappealing, but it would be wrong to offend my host.

Smooth move to sail away in the van for a time. I'm not usually that slick and wind up in a heated argument.

So you told the truth, but not the whole truth. It seems like a good place to teach this lesson - and offer an apology.

At my house, there are many, many food allergies and intolerances (and only two children), therefore we often prepare multiple meals at the same time.

I understand wanting to teach children to eat things offered to them, as Sarah suggests. And I do feel badly when I must decline food offered to me or my kids, but living with food allergies requires constant vigilance.

If you do not suspect BWMNBN to be allergic, just averse to zucchini, perhaps he could help prepare his own zucchini-less meal. Or maybe he could be desensitized to its presence in food dishes?

Please let us know how this plays out during the zucchini days of fall. I know keeping everyone happy is a difficult task - especially around the dinner table.

Well, I am on your son's side here. I am a mother who is staunchly against stealth vegetables. I would much rather have my daughter at some point in her life decide she actually does appreciate a vegetable, than shred or puree it into food so that she might somehow eat it against her knowledge. To me it does feel dishonest, and something that could tear at the bond. If I did it, I can't shake the feeling that I would be doing it out of some place that lives at the intersection of smugness and control. This is just MY feeling, I am not saying it fits you. This is MY rationale for why it is not something I can do. To me, just because it exists does not mean it has to be eaten. It can always be composted, and will indeed serve a useful purpose in the pile. It's okay to lay down our sword.

I will also admit that DD is a very picky eater where fruit and veg are concerned, but as I recently told her pedi at the annual appointment, we love her anyway. Finally, she does have a food allergy (to coconut) and I am just a fan of simple dishes in case there turn out to be others we need to avoid. To be fair, I already had my convictions against stealth veggies prior to her diagnosis. I really love the Ellyn Satter approach to not making the table a battleground.

I wish you peace with the Zucchini Wars.

Thank you, Celeste, for writing that straightforward description of why I could choose to not feel guilty about not enforcing traditional food standards with my daughter. As I learned from waitressing in my early 20s, food is a primitive, primal area for most of us. As a parent, I've found it very tricky to navigate without judgment, power struggles, sturm und drang.

Regardless of what sort of food standards are enforced, though, the question of politeness and respect and appropriate gratitude to the person who labored to prepare the meal remains.

Empowering children to decide how much of what they're served they should eat is one thing. Allowing them to believe it's okay to speak to the food-preparer in tones of disgust is quite another.

Part of empowering children to choose what to eat and what not to eat is giving them the tools to gracefully decline an offered food.

I completely agree with you, Bearing, about the manners related to the cook, the meal, and what to do when faced with the unpalatable.

Good discussion, Jamie!

FWIW, I think your son felt he caught you in a sin of omission. Chances are he would face consequences for doing the same sin to you, and in his mind there was unfairness in the relationship at that moment. He may be used to feeling treated very fairly by you, and thus he was stung to a greater degree by the incident. Food for thought.

Is it possible that he's had a bad zucchini? That's happened to me before -- something it soaked up from the ground made it just taste WRONG, but that didn't stop me from eating it prepared 1000x ways with a good one.

I'm on the side of continuing the stealth vegetable operation. Is it any less cake with zucchinis in it? No! The beauty of the recipe is that you CAN ADD zucchinis without any discernible difference. You really want to flip their lids, next time add a cup or 2 of pureed beets to the chocolate cake batter.

Picky eaters in my house who voiced their preferences laced with personal attacks to the cook (my poor mother...) were teased mercilessly by both parents and siblings for the ridiculous outburst, usually accompanied by extreme demonstrations of how much you liked the offending dish. You were allowed to dislike any you pleased, but you had no right to make a stink about it, particularly when everyone else enjoyed what was served. Did it make the table a battleground? Not that I recall -- it mostly made you aware that you were out of line.

I'm evil, so I'd make these (because they are delicious) and not share them at all with anyone else.

oh, wow...you guys...
I'm almost scared to write this.
It's squash. It's okay. Arguments have been had over smaller stuff, and bigger more meaningful stuff. It's all part of being human. No one is perfect, and we are allowed preference. We should also be gracious to the one who cooks for us. People were hurt. People forgive. It's all just okay.
Give the squash to someone so that it becomes a non issue.

I have had a lot of relatives tell me that my picky eater is just gaming me and that I am a bad mother for letting her do so. I do actually count on my top five worst mothering moments the time I took their advice and insisted she eat something she hated. It was a dinnertime battle moment and ended up with her gagging and in tears. That's not the kind of memory I want to be making. I really couldn't find the "win". My husband tried the chiding method. I couldn't take the humiliated look on my child's face, and I took the plate away. She didn't want to eat anything that night. I can't really blame her.

I can't speak for all picky eaters, but I think mine has some sensory issues. I think texture is part of it, and I think smell is the rest of it. I have foods I just cannot gag down. Don't we all?

I cannot recommend the Ellyn Satter books highly enough. Eating is supposed to be a pleasurable activity. It is a parent's responsibility to provide the food, and the child's responsibility to try it.

Finally, I'm not convinced that I want to train my daughter that she has no right to say no where her body is concerned. To me, it's all connected.

Hmm, the tone he used would bug me more than the request not to eat zucchini (says the mother whose children happily gobble down sardines, olives, and lettuce and beg for cedar-planked salmon for their birthday dinners -- clearly I am unexperienced and very lucky in this area).

Is he old enough to take on the responsibility of cooking once a week for the family? A co-worker of mine had each of her kids (only 2) cook a meal every week for the family starting at 10. They learned to cook really well and it cut down on complaints when mom cooked.

I am very jealous of your zucchini overload.

I'm sorry about the friction over the food. :( I'm loving the post and the responses though...very interesting perspectives on kids and food.

Last post, I promise. I am seriously not trying to get the last word here. This is just my topic, and I think every mother has one! ;o)

I love the idea of engaging The Boy in cooking. Maybe what you want him to appreciate is that it's WORK to feed a diverse crowd, economically and in a healthy manner, 7/30/365?

But I would also ask you to question yourself on the stealth nature of it. Okay, so you have a lot of zucchini and you don't want to waste it...or whatever your core belief is here. Only you can flesh that out. Is the quarter cup used in the batch of chili really significant, when you could just roast it as a side dish in plain sight so that those who do like it can partake and those who don't can have an extra piece of bread? The stealth is the part I think you should examine, if only to make yourself known and hopefully understood more clearly.

There is a food blog that I like a lot, called Dinner: A Love Story. The author specializes in meals that can be deconstructed so that everyone is eating from one cooked meal, but what is on each person's plate may vary. I love this approach and it makes me feel very good about the act of feeding my people.

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