“I don’t want that!” my 4-year-old said, pouting at the chicken and potatoes I had placed before us.
“Jack, we haven’t even prayed yet,” I sighed. “Surely there’s something here you could eat?”
He furrowed his brow: “No!”
My husband leaned across the table. “It’s this or PB&J,” he said sternly. “Now fold your hands.”
Unfortunately, this scene plays out regularly in our household, so we often exercise the peanut-butter-and-jelly rule. Don’t want what’s on the table? PB&J it is. We do this to avoid food waste and offer a choice, but the constant conflict wears on me.
What I want most is for my son to experience enthusiasm at mealtime, and for his prayers of thanksgiving to be sincere rather than rote. How do I teach him a gracious and healthful approach to food?
Scripture tells us that “every moving thing that lives” (Genesis 9:3) is food for God’s people and that “everything created by God is good” and should be “received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Our faith affirms a positive approach to mealtime and the need for prayerful blessing.
Hardly a “picky eater,” Jesus spends much of his ministry nourishing others, whether he’s multiplying fish or breaking bread. In the Bible food not only brings people together, it’s also a favorite metaphor for faith. Jesus’ words “I am the bread of life” (John 6:25) provide comfort to many.
Another night, I invited my son into the kitchen with me. I showed him the zucchini our neighbor had given us, the one I’d later grate for muffins, and explained that God had made it grow with sunlight and rain. I held fresh basil to Jack’s nose and said it had been picked by other neighbors whom God had called to gather crops.
Later, when I placed pesto pasta on Jack’s plate, he took a bite and declared, “Mommy, this is really good!” I beamed with pride. At bedtime, we thanked God for gardeners, farmers and day laborers; fields, sunlight and rain; basil leaves and hearty zucchini. We thanked God for the pasta and muffins we enjoyed.
My son and I haven’t stopped struggling over food. But when I invited him into the kitchen, dinner was easier. And I’d like to think that our chats about creation have helped him connect food with faith.
Research together how your favorite apple is grown. Create a chart showing each stage of the growing process. Slice your apple to share and enjoy. Use your chart to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for each step (and person!) that brings food to your table.
Include your kids while cooking. Let them wash veggies or stir batter. Watch how their hands-on help changes their attitude toward eating. Explain that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” and explore what this means for us as faithful people. =