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Monday, October 2, 2006

Eating vs. Playing

Earlier today, Seth and I were in town trying to kill some time, and we stopped at Chik-Fil-A for a bite to eat. We got our food and sat at a table right beside the door leading to the play area. Seth took a sip of his soda and went to play, leaving his food untouched. There was a family sitting next to us…a mom, dad, and two little girls. The girls appeared to be around 4 and 6 years old. They sat obediently at the table with their parents, and they watched Seth through the glass as he joyfully played all by himself in the playground. I heard the mom say, “You can play after you finish your chicken nuggets”. A few minutes went by, and a grandmother with a preschool boy and girl joined Seth in the play area. Again, the little girls asked if they could play. Again, they were told they had to finish their food first.

I wanted to ask them, “Who’s it going to hurt if you just let them do what they want? Who’s it going to kill if they don’t finish their chicken nuggets?”

I also imagined the eating disorders these girls may grow up to have, being forced to eat everything on their plates before being allowed to have any fun. I know that my parents used to do the same thing to me (and probably this couple’s parents to them too), and I have been battling my weight and overeating my whole life.

Finally one of the girls was allowed to get up and go play. The other one sat at the table, longingly looking through the glass at the other children playing. I heard her dad say, “You only have one chicken nugget left. If I were you, I’d be in a hurry to eat it so I could go play.” I guess she forced it down, because she joined the other children in the play area.

A few minutes went by, and a woman walked by us on the way to take her kids in to play. Apparently, she and the force-feeding mom knew each other, because she stopped at the table to talk to her. The conversation went something like this:

Mom 1: Is Katherine in kindergarten?

Mom 2: No, she’s in 1st grade. She turned 6 in August. She goes to ABC elementary school. Which school is Kaitlin going to?

Mom 1: She’s going to XYZ school.

Mom 2: Oh really!? Do you like it?

Mom 1: Oh yes, we love it! She goes half-days.

Mom 2: Oh wow! I didn’t know they did that anymore!

Mom 1: Yeah, it’s nice because she can ease into it. But Kaitlin really wishes she could go full days, because she doesn’t get to do any of the good stuff, like recess and art, on half-days.

Mom 2: Oh yeah. But full-days are so tiring. Katherine comes home tired and hungry every day. They’re just used to snacking all thoughout the day, and now they only get to eat at lunchtime! *giddy laughter*

Mom 1: Yeah, Kaitlin’s friends that go full days are all exhaused and hungry too. *laughs*

My feelings:

1. It’s a shame that a child has to wish to go to school so she can do “fun stuff” like art and playing outside.

2. The kids are tired because they have to get up at the asscrack of dawn and go to school!

3. What’s wrong with snacking all day? Nothing. And if you’re the kind of person who needs proof, studies show that people who eat small frequent meals are healthier and fitter than those who eat three large ones.

4. Why is it so funny that your kids are tired and hungry?

I think back to the days when I was blissfully oblivious to the fact that The Way Things Have Always Been Done might not be The Right Way.

Forced and/or scheduled eating, sleeping, playing, “learning”. Why?

Who’s it going to hurt if the child doesn’t finish all of her chicken nuggets? Someone might say, “Well, it will hurt the child to not get proper nutrition.” Is that a fact? Or is it just something else that you’ve been programmed to believe? In fact, I’d have to argue that it might actually hurt the child more to be forced to finish her food when she’s no longer hungry, especially if that food is processed chicken nuggets from a fast food joint.


Sometimes, it hurts to stand alone. It’s uncomfortable to let go of the ideas that were programmed into us, the ideas that allow us to justify mistreating our children and making them feel insignificant.

The rule: “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.”

And then, questioning that rule: “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” I think Pink Floyd was on to something.

Go ahead. Just let them have their pudding. When they’re ready for the meat, they’ll eat it.

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