That, of course, is the first rule of nutrition. And there are no other rules.
I just read this fabulous post over at Spilt Milk: Let us eat cake, and in the comments, in my own rambling, I had something of a revelation, immediately followed by a reality check:
I said that the Boychick never “doesn’t like” what we have for dinner, and then joked that I’d regret saying that later. But then it occurred to me — it is often the case that he doesn’t eat what we have for dinner. Or rather, he’ll eat only part of it (say, only the broccoli, or everything but the broccoli — don’t ask me!), or will eat only a very little bit of it, or, very very infrequently, will decline to eat with us at all (which on the two or three occasions that’s happened has been more about him wanting to run and play right then than a commentary on the meal itself).
And my revelation was that some parents might frame that as “not liking” what we served. Because he’s not eating it. Or because, tonight, unlike the three hundred nights that preceded it, he says he doesn’t like noodles. Or broccoli. Or chicken. Or whatever it is he’s declining to consume on this particular night.
But never, not once, has it crossed my mind to conclude that, thus, he “doesn’t like” what we made. Because I know that toddler tastes change by the day — sometimes by the minute. Because I know that his choice to not eat something right then doesn’t say anything about whether he’ll like it at some other time. Because I know that he ate it yesterday, and even if not, he’ll probably eat it tomorrow1.
But mostly because we trust him. We trust that he’ll eat what he wants, and how much he wants, when he wants. It’s how we fed him as an infant — as much breastmilk as he wanted whenever he wanted, in which he got tastes of everything I ate — and it’s how we introduced solids2 — whole foods, the same foods we were eating — and it’s how he eats now. He eats spicy black beans and chicken makhani and mushroom stroganoff and pretty much whatever we eat. Except for when he doesn’t. Which is ok, because he’ll eat something else later.
The reality check is that there is absolutely privilege in this: we completely have the first rule of nutrition covered. If he doesn’t eat what’s on his plate right now, no one’s going to starve. No one’s going to go hungry because he wasn’t interested in that food right then. There will always be plenty more food later, and different food, and enough food to fill him up, and enough food to waste.
And that is not true for everyone all the time. That is not true for many people within just miles of me. That may not be true for all the people reading this.
Which is something we need to remember — I need to remember — when extolling the virtues and joys of unconstrained living, of intuitive eating, of whatever privileged philosophy3 is being promoted that day. Some of us simply do not have those options. Some of us must make our children eat whatever is in front of them right then because who knows when or what the next meal will be.
Sometimes, it is eat this — or die.
- Even zucchini, which for quite a while was the one food we knew he would consistently decline. Until the night he ate it and wanted more. ↩
- Mostly. In retrospect, we could have eased up on avoiding the “allergen” foods a bit earlier, but according to mainstream America, we were already neglectfully blasé about the whole thing, what with letting him eat off our plates, even if we did pick the nuts out first. ↩
- Yes, even when it is a social justice philosophy, intended to work against fatphobia and sexism and age oppression. Because this is how kyriarchy and intersectionalism work: privilege in some areas can shield us from the worst of oppression in others, or can give us the ability to negate the effects some. Under capitalism, money makes up for much. ↩