Lesson 5: Get creative
Have you ever really watched a child eat? No matter whether we’re talking about eating or other topics, it is generally assumed that children are the ones learning, and we adults are the ones teaching. But it’s a two-way street, and little eaters have more than a thing or two to teach us about really enjoying our food. Adults may know something about what to eat, but children are experts on the how. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the children in my life.
Lesson 1: Savor the flavors
Watching 15-month-old Emma eat, with all her seven shiny new teeth, is an amazing adventure. From head to toe, her whole body is engaged. She takes great delight in new flavors, especially surprising ones like cranberry. Her enthusiasm is contagious, so everyone around the table feels the wonder of her perspective. If we all ate like this, more meals might feel like celebrations.
Lesson 2: Relax and enjoy good company
Toddlers are not exactly known for their cooperation, of course. When Emma went through a very finicky phase and her mom became concerned enough to enlist Grandma’s support, Grandma used a smile — her most powerful weapon. With a little bit of old-fashioned mealtime encouragement, Emma blossomed and began to eat. A simple smile can be much more powerful than a frown, and Emma now signals “eat” in sign language whenever Grandma walks through the door.
Lesson 3: Water is wonderful
I once sat beside a toddler on a bus trip across the state and watched her savor a small cracker. She spent 20 minutes gumming, nibbling, turning it sideways. When she had finally eaten the last bite, she pointed to her mother’s water bottle and took two mindful sips, a look of satisfaction on her small face.
Lesson 4: No means no
Have you ever noticed how decisively a child signals that something doesn’t strike their fancy? I’m not advocating that you embarrass yourself by flinging peas across a restaurant or hold your breath until you fall from your chair if you don’t like something that’s put in front of you. However, I do believe that it is in our best interest to say no to foods that we do not care to eat, whatever the reason.
A friend of mine is the creative type: When her son developed a taste for bell peppers, she made him a colorful “rainbow” of red, yellow and green pepper strips. Even if you can’t imagine yourself designing chicks from deviled eggs and black olives or copying watermelon cakes from Facebook posts, you can still try your hand at using apple slices to make smiley faces. Besides, kids appreciate the effort more than the finished product, especially if you let them help.
Enjoy your meals and the company with whom you share them, no matter if that’s your children, friends, family or someone you’re just getting to know. What so many of us hunger for in life is connection. Children can teach us about that, too.
This post was written by Maria Shine Stewart. She is a counseling intern at Cleveland Clinic Lifestyle EAP. She is also a writer and writing teacher.