What’s for dinner?

It was late in the fall of ’97 when my company had offered me an opportunity to do some work in Dallas,Tx. I had only been working for Ford Motor Co. about 3 1/2 years but they had asked if  I’d be interested in flying down to the auto show and help introduce the new line of cars at the Texas State fair. Since I had never flown before, I was hesitant, but my excitement won. And before I knew it, I had found myself in the “everything’s bigger” state.

While I was there my two oldest sons were very little, around 6 and 2. It was heartbreaking to leave them but they were in good hands and this was definitely a chance I couldn’t throw away. During my time in the South I met many interesting people. The fair had attracted so many during its football season and fair-goers were happy to come out and see what us Northerners had brought into town.

During one of the days at the show, I met a very interesting couple. They had lots of questions about the mechanics and what-nots of our autos, and after going into detail a conversation came up about our personal lives. The couple revealed to me that the husband was in fact a pediatrician and his wife a reporter for the local paper. We started engaging in conversation about our children, and of course I took advantage (being a young mother) to ask the doctor for a little advice on how I could improve my young children’s eating habits. I had mentioned that though we were young parents, we wanted to give our children healthy options, but that wasn’t always so easy with the convenience of fast foods and the popularity of sugary drinks and juice boxes.

“My kids won’t eat healthy, they just refuse to put down the soda and sugary cereals and make a fuss when I try to introduce water and fruits and vegetable as substitutes,” I leaped right in, hoping this doctor from out-of-town was going to give me the hidden secret to take back home with me. That he would help me get my kids on the right track to healthy eating.

“Did you say your kids won’t and that they just refuse to eat healthy?” he asked. Almost embarrassed with what I was about to say next, I answered with a meek,”yes.” He asked again.” Who’s the parent? Who is the person buying the groceries and laying out the menu?” Ashamed and embarrassed, but starting to see his point, I said “I am, me, and their dad,” making sure I wasn’t going down in flames alone. With kindness in his words but truth in the message, he said “you see, when you give a child options you leave the door wide open for them to make huge mistakes. Take away their options and no mistakes can be made. You can’t let a 6-year-old tell you that he refuses to eat healthy. Why are you treating your child as if he were an adult, a contributor to the household? The only person that is in the position to make decisions in you,the parent. Never give a child the strength to maneuver or manipulate the house, especially the kitchen.”

He was right. And it was so simple. Why was I letting my child tell me what he will or will not eat? He didn’t have allergies. He wasn’t educated enough to make decisions on his own. Why was I putting the responsibility of choosing to eat healthy in the hands of my kids? I took home a valuable lesson. It was me that had to be out of control. I was not going to allow my child to rule me or tell me what they liked or didn’t like. I wasn’t going to give in just to make them happy at the expense of their well-being. Almost 15 years later I found myself in the exact same position. Two more children, a career and a divorce later, I found, once again, I was letting my children determine “what’s for dinner.” And I heard the words of the doctor ringing in the back of my mind. “Did you say your kids won’t and that they just refuse to eat healthy?” Gulp. That was it. From that day on, I decided we didn’t need pop in the house, water was fine. We didn’t need 3-5 different bags of chips–apples and oranges will do. We didn’t have to have cereal box after cereal box lined up on the counter to jump-start the morning. Bagels and yogurt were perfect substitutes. Boy, did I hear the noise for almost 2 weeks straight. All I heard was, “Where’s the pop? Where’s the chips? We need cookies!!”  I put my foot down and repeated to myself and out loud for everyone to hear “We don’t need it!” and after a month went by, something changed. I was running out of water by the case. The kids were running to me to peel their oranges and freeze their grapes. I couldn’t believe what had happened. It worked. Once I decided that enough was enough and that I was in charge, no one fought back. They followed my lead. To this day you will find cases on top of cases stacked in the pantry of water and Ziploc baggies I make filled with fresh red and green grapes in the fridge. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and in the long run it was the best decision I made for my kids .

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