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Friday, September 9, 2016

Mrs. Keffler’s Food Rules, or Oatmeal and Peas for Everyone!

I didn't serve them together. Really.
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I talked to a friend today I hadn’t heard from in a while. He’s the primary stay-at-home parent at his house, and was starting to make dinner for his four boys. He described the variety of food preferences and dislikes among his progeny, and lamented that they’re never all happy at once when it comes to meals. “How do you handle that?” he asked me.
How do I handle that? I tell my adorable little urchins to either stuff it in their mouths or stuff it altogether.
Those who occupy the chairs around my dining room table have two options when it comes to meals: take it or leave it. I am no short-order cook, and I don’t even like kitchen work very much, so by golly don’t you even think about trying to send something back to the kitchen, my short little friends.
Okay, the boy is officially taller than me now, so I guess I can’t call them short people anymore. Darn.
I once fed my children plain oatmeal and peas (separately, not mixed—I’m not that odious a parent) for dinner for an entire week. Why? Because of the extremeness of my fed-up-ness with their unbelievable ingratitude.
On the fourth day of oatmeal my sad son said to me, “How much longer do we have to eat oatmeal and peas?”
I knelt down (because he was still shorter than me then) and got nose-to-nose with the wretched lad. “Until everyone appreciates the food I put on their plates,” I responded, enunciating each word with the precision of a marksman on a firing range tapping a paper silhouette in the head and heart. Moments later I overheard the two older kids coaching the toddler in fervent whispers, “Tell Mom the oatmeal and peas are really good! Tell her they’re the best thing ever!”
To squelch her children’s grumbles, another friend of mine only has to threaten, “Do you want me to serve you guys oatmeal and peas like Mrs. Keffler did her kids?”
“Nooooo!!!” they cry.
Again, bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
I can already sense the frowny vibes of disapproval coming through the computer screen from those who think mothers should never scowl, raise their voices, or allow children to be anything but delighted and comfortable: “You’re a cruel, hard woman whose kids deserve better.”
Well, that’s probably true. I often wish my children had the benefit of a better mom.
But I still stand by my food rules:
You try at least one bite of everything on your plate.
You eat everything on your plate before you get seconds of anything.
You clean your plate before you get dessert. If dessert is offered.
And don’t even think about complaining about what’s put in front of you, unless you cooked it yourself.
I’ll send a kid to bed hungry if he refuses to eat what I offer. I got no problem with that. Because as our Best-of-D.C.-Area, senior-M.D.-at-the-practice pediatrician once counseled me, “No child will starve himself to death. When he gets hungry enough he’ll eat what’s served to him.”
And frankly, considering the number of children in the world who’d give anything to get a serving of oatmeal and peas every day, the last thing I want to do is raise a bunch of ingrates who think they got a raw deal if their burgers arrived on wheat buns instead of white.
So hey, friend who’s in the kitchen preparing a meal for the wee ones—make whatever nourishing, well-balanced, and reasonable comestibles you choose. You’re the parent, you’re the cook, you’re the provider. And here’s a few words to keep in your back pocket in case the kiddos complain:
“Go to your room and think about how blessed you are to have food on your plate at all. We’ll see you at breakfast.”

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  1. Another winner. Teaching children to be grateful for what is put on their plates is one of the extreme difficulties of the parenting process. But the end result is so worth the patience and fortitude it takes.

  2. GREAT!!! Excellent food rules!!! And it was a very good article I thought, and a challenge that all parents must go through. Not sure where you came up those rules/ideas, if your Mom had them when your were growing up or not. I do know your Mom was an awfully good cook!!! And especially with that pecan pie!!! In fact I have to make 2 of them for Thanksgiving!!! Thanks for sharing.