“O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever… Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Ps 136:1 and 25).
The Israelites complained about the food God gave them. There it was, miraculously appearing on the ground every morning, “angels’ food” (Ps. 78:5), free for the gathering. It tasted good. It was good for them. Their loving Father, creator of the universe, provided it for them. But they chose to grumble. “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6, ESV) Not exactly the epitome of thankfulness, huh?
Sometimes our children don’t like the food God gives them. It appears on the table at meal times. It’s good for them. God has graciously provided it through the labors of their loving father, and it has been prepared by the hands of a devoted mother or other family member. But they choose to complain about it. They may refuse to eat a particular food. They may ask for (or demand) something different. They may spit it out, drop it on the floor, or hide it in their napkins (or pockets…yuck).
Our children reveal ungrateful hearts when they grumble about the food that is given to them. In response, instead of correcting them we are often tempted to:
- Tolerate or ignore their complaints.
- Manipulate them into eating.
- Give in to their complaints or tantrums in order to preserve peace during mealtimes.
- Go to the fridge to search for some other food that will please them more.
- Allow mid-meal snacks because they are hungry after not eating at meal times.
- Grow impatient and angry with the child, and start to do our own complaining about their attitudes.
When we do these things, we are encouraging them to become unthankful children who turn into ungrateful teenagers, and then grumpy, never-satisfied adults. Worse, we are teaching them to not give thanks to God, who is the Provider of all things.
Mealtimes are training opportunities:
- Teach your children to give thanks for the food that is placed before them. Pray aloud with them. Teach them to pray aloud. Thank God for the food He has provided, and for the people who have worked to purchase and prepare it.
- Teach them to cheerfully eat at least one bite of everything they are served, and to graciously explain when they don’t care for more. Make sure they understand, however, that they may not ask for a different food to replace the food they have chosen not to eat.
- Teach them to quietly taste new foods when visiting in others’ homes, and to refrain from comments when they don’t care for something. My step-mom, Vickie, loved to tell the story of my little step-sister objecting to her piece of pumpkin pie at a Thanksgiving dinner at our house many years ago. Vickie was about to quietly insist that Jessica eat at least some of her pie, when my dad caught her eye with a discreet but clearly sympathetic grimace. Later, when I finally had my piece (I was too full to eat it at the meal), I discovered that I had neglected to put the sweetener in with the pumpkin! That was clearly a time when it was good to excuse a child from politely eating what was put before her. The funny part is that my father-in-law had insisted it was the best pumpkin pie he had ever eaten!
- Train them to thank the cook, and to compliment them on dishes they especially enjoyed. This should happen at home, as well as when visiting in others’ homes.
- Involve your children early in cooking and meal cleanup. Helping prepare and clean up a meal will give them a greater appreciation for the work entailed, and they will also be more interested in eating something they have helped prepare.
- Teach them to obey you at all times, including meal times. If they have learned to obey in other areas, they will be less likely to challenge you during meals. When issues do arise during meals, however, deal promptly with them. A spanking for disobedience may be appropriate. Other times, grumblers may learn by cleaning up after the meal, losing the privilege of eating the meal, or taking responsibility for preparing all or part of the next meal. Discipline will ultimately lead to peaceful obedience and a pleasant meal for all.