In our last post, there was a lot of ‘talk’ about whether or not children should be forced to eat food they do not like. The very interesting conversation thread that erupted is what inspired today’s topic. I will be using a lot of personal examples to drive home my points…

Growing up, I remember a time when an advert for a particular brand of oats hit the television screens. My siblings and I were so drawn to the ad that we began pestering our mom to buy it for us. Considering the fact that I have always hated cereals, I really had no business campaigning for oats. Nevertheless, I did, and eventually, my mom indulged us. But, that was after she ‘warned’ us that we were sure not to like what was coming.

As expected, one taste of the oats left me repulsed. However, my mom insisted that since I asked for it, I must at least finish what had been served out for me. At that point, I got ‘creative’. There was no way I was going to eat all of that ‘yucky’ stuff. So, when my mom was not looking, I sneaked up to her own bowl of oats and emptied mine into it.

Obviously, I was caught within seconds and do you know what my punishment was? I had no other meal that day until I finished up my ‘double’ serving of oats.

I remember another time I slept over at a family friend’s place. At their place, we were served one of their native dishes which looked terribly awful to me. All my siblings kept their thoughts to themselves and simply worked up the courage needed to ‘consume’ the strange meal. I, on the other hand, without even tasting it, blurted out – ‘The name of this food is yama yama’. Now, I’m not sure what the exact English interpretation of ‘yama yama’ is. However, my layman translation would be ‘disgusting’.

Good enough, our hosts were very simple, easy-going people. Hence, they made no force about my rude remark. My siblings, on the other hand, reported me to my mom when we got home and I got into serious trouble for my indiscreet bluntness.

I also remember that growing up, we were not allowed to waste food. For example, I liked bread but hated what I call the ‘back’ of bread. So, whenever I wanted to get out of eating the ‘back’, I would find a way to make sure that I didn’t cut into the bread first. Or I would cut out the ‘back’ very thin, squeeze it in my hand and go and hide it at the bottom of the bin, praying that my mom won’t find me out.

Now, I remember that this same ‘difficult’ mother of mine used to cook 2 different pots of beans. You see, everyone but my brother and I loved their beans mixed with corn. I was not a fan of beans and adding corn to my beans was just an additional ‘no-no’ for me. Hence, my mom would prepare one pot of beans with corn and another without corn. She would also introduce complements like garri or plantain in order to further ‘spice’ up the beans. When she was done, we all had no alternative but to eat our choice of beans.

My mom also used to make special Sunday provisions for us. Yes, again, back in the days, my brother and I hated pounded yam. So, she would allow us take out our yam whole before the rest got pounded.

I would stop with the examples now, hoping you are all seeing the ‘balance’ I am trying to hit at here – The balance my mom somehow managed to find. The fact she was considerate of the individual preferences of her children did not mean that her children were wearing the pants and calling the shots. What happened was that she came up with a meal structure that was fair to all parties, our body and health inclusive.

Now, the fact that the structure was fair to me did not mean that I had to be crazy about every single food on the time-table. The truth is that if every meal was exactly what I wanted, I would today be a spoilt, malnourished brat and my mom would have been hospitalized several times for spreading herself too thin, trying to indulge 4 different children.

In addition, now that I better appreciate the cost of ‘things’ and I am more aware of the millions of people who cannot afford a decent meal, I can definitely understand why parents would not allow their children pinch out portions of their food. As in, if a child agrees to eat a particular type of food, then, except due to a logically proven reason, he should be fine eating every part of that food because pinching out portions would most likely result in waste. That’s right, those condemned bits and pieces will be gold to those who do not ‘have’. So, since they probably cannot be decently packaged as give-aways, they must be eaten so that rather than throwing money into the bin, in the process, you end up saving up a little money here and there. Money that can be put to good use.

I would end with a last story. I know of a young adult who had to spend some time at a family friend’s house. Now, this young lady frustrated her hosts because she just could not cope with eating what they were eating. When they were eating rice, she would make noodles for herself. When they were eating eba, she would drink garri. When they were eating yam, she would fry plantain. When they were drinking water, she would take a soft drink Etc. She never once stopped to consider the impact of her ‘preferences’ on her hosts. For example, she was making them spend more on gas.

Okay, that is ‘her’. Now, this is ‘me’. I did my NYSC in the North and for a little while, stayed with a family from a tribe different from mine. To be honest, even though their meal plan was so different from what I am used to, I just could not imagine putting the nice family through the strain of mapping out a different meal for me. So, with a huge smile, I bravely ate what they ate, even when I did not understand it.

Guess what? I didn’t die from the experience. On the contrary, their food even started growing on me and I actually started enjoying it.

So, yes, in as much as it is good to indulge a child when it comes to his/her meals preference, we have to be careful to strike that all-important balance. Also understand that making meal time more interesting does not necessarily mean throwing away parts of the food or changing the food altogether. It could involve spicing up the meal presentation or putting together an exciting meal engagement/education. For example, who says a song about the benefit of beans will not change the child’s mind-set towards beans?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net