Teaching Our Children to be Thankful for Their Food

“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.

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  1. That’s funny about the pumpkin pie….but it made me think about how character is only truly revealed when something is difficult, don’t you think? When the food is not ‘too’ bad/yucky, then it’s not so hard to obey. But unsweetened pumpkin pie would test my gratefulness for sure 🙂 thanks for your continued encouragement to parents!

  2. We are working on this at our house.

  3. I don’t believe you should punish a child for not liking a food or send them to bed hungry. I also don’t believe that offering them an alternative food will make them grow up to be “ungrateful teenagers, and then grumpy, never-satisfied adults.” Would you as an adult like to be forced to eat something you didn’t like? Next time you go out to eat don’t like the food, I hope you will practice what you preach and eat it even though you don’t want to. Or if you choose not to eat it, do without anything for the rest of the night. I can’t believe you seriously mentioned a spanking for a child not eating. Sorry but this doesn’t sound very Biblical to me.

  4. Mary, I recognize I’m always putting my neck out on the chopping block as soon as I say anything without a real life context to relate the statement to. Parenting is an art. It is not all black and white. Situations vary. Children vary. But basic principles govern our decisions as we train our children. How we, as individual households, apply those principles may vary widely.

    My intent in this post is to simply address the need for gratitude. We can unwittingly train our children to be ungrateful, or we can proactively train them to be grateful.

    First, please remember that all the suggestions in this post are given along with the recommendation to have the child taste at least one bite of something he is unfamiliar with or doesn’t particularly like. I am not suggesting forcing a child to gag down a full serving of something he truly dislikes.

    In fact, I originally had another paragraph in this post, which I omitted in the interest of keeping the post shorter and more focused. Sometimes, when we know that a particular food is going to cause problems, it may be best to not serve that item to the child at all. That is a decision the parent can make.

    But children often want a different food than what is being served at the table. The food is not especially distasteful; it’s just not what they want. They don’t want mashed potatoes; they want dessert, for instance. They don’t want fried chicken; they want chicken nuggets. These situations can often become power struggles, with the child simply seeing who is in charge. Can he get his way if he fusses enough? The child wants something different than he is getting, and demands it with his actions and words. It is in these situations that a spanking may be appropriate (emphasis on “may be”). God certainly didn’t ignore the Israelites’ complaints about the manna!

    If a child learns to do something he doesn’t like in order to express thankfulness for the food that has been put before him, he will have learned one of many little lessons that will better prepare him to submit his will to God throughout his lifetime, thankfully accepting all that God may give or withhold for his good and God’s glory.

    I hope this helps you better understand my intent.

  5. Our rule is that the child has to eat one bite for each year of their age (ex. 3 years old = 3 bites). There are one or two foods that each child has never liked, even as babies learning to eat solids. I don’t make them eat that specific food, after all even as an adult there are some foods I’ve never liked.

  6. We need to be working on this in my home as well. Very encouraging article posted at the perfect time for me. 🙂 Thanks Pam!!

  7. Such a timely post for me and my kids today. Our ingratitude seems to be an overall issue lately, and you hit me in the heart as I have been complaining and grumbling about their attitude! Thank you.

  8. When I was growing up we had to at least try our food. Sometimes, though, it wasn’t about the food but about who’s in charge. One time I just refused to eat my food at all. So, my mother set it aside for me, and I couldn’t have anything until I’d eaten it! Suffice it so say it only took until everyone was eating dessert for me to obey.

  9. I think this is excellent and your comment in response to Mary was well put.

    Most often, it is not because a child hates a particular food. It is because they want to exert their will. You know when a child truly doesn’t like a food. You just know the difference. My daughter (9) is not a fan of mushrooms and hasn’t been since she was little. I can hide them and sometimes she’ll still find them because she knows their taste and they don’t agree with her. We do not make her eat mushrooms. But she is excellent about eating other foods and overall, is grateful.

    It’s my little ones I struggle with. I typically give in because I worry they are not eating ENOUGH because of the consistent meal skipping due to not eating what is put in front of them. Some children are just so strong-willed they refuse to give in no matter how consistent you are. 8

    I make it appoint to serve up something with the meal that me child enjoys and also try to serve only healthy food so that what my child IS eating is healthy.

    I notice when a treat is to be had after a meal, and the rule is that the child must eat all their food to get the treat, the child is more than eager to eat what’s in front of him…even with a sour face (mostly because he’s not getting his way–not because he doesn’t like the food).

    Children are smarter than we give them credit for!!

  10. Great post…and I feel really convicted since I have been complaining about my children’s attitudes for this exact reason lately…and though I don’t give in often, I do sometimes because it is easier.

    The rule in our home is that our kids must take a “no thank you” bite. They have to try one, normal size, bite, chew it, swallow it, and if they don’t like it, they can say no thank you.

    When there is dessert to be had, they only may have some if they eat all their food…but I usually will refrain from giving them something I KNOW they don’t like, or only give them a little of something if I am unsure if they like it.

    They may have seconds, but only if they eat all the food on their plate, or, have at least eaten a no thank you bite of the disliked food, and eaten everything else. I only serve healthy foods for dinner as well, so that way if they dismiss one item, there are still eating nurtritionally sound.

    I worry too, that my kids aren’t getting enough to eat somedays, and they are both skinny minnies, so I try to avoid sending them to bed without dinner…however, when I occassionally DO give in to giving them something else it is always something plain, and blah because we do have the rule that if you don’t eat what I make for dinner, you don’t eat. This isn’t a restaurant. If they are genuinely hungry though, and they don’t like what I made after trying a few bites, and there is no other alternative item with the dinner (I will sometimes make one dish meals when in a hurry like chili, or certain soups) then I will allow them to have something like a plain piece of bread, or a mozzerella cheesestick. Nothing exciting, nothing special, just something to fill a little space in their tummy.

    Something else that I always like to remind people of too is that it takes SEVERAL (some studies I’ve read say 21 or more!) exposures to new foods for the child/person to accept/like them sometimes. So, just because your child turns away carrots once…or even 10 times, does not mean they don’t like them. Now, an older child, who tries them 5 times, and REALLY tries them, can probably be assumed that they just don’t care for the taste, but a younger child needs to continually be presented with the food so that they do not have an extermely limited (and most likely un-healthy) diet when they are adults. 😉

    Thank you for this post. I had forgotten that I wanted to start teaching the kids to be gracious guests when in other’s homes as well, so thank you for the reminder!

  11. Great post and thank you. I go through this with my 7 year old. I do make her try a bite before she is allowed to not eat something she doesn’t like. One of these days she may like something she doesn’t like at the particular time.
    Our taste buds change as we grow. I was so picky at eating when I was a kid and now I like just about everything as an adult.

    My 6 year old hates mashed potatoes..I did too when I was small. They make her gag because of the texture so instead of giving her mashed potatoes I will give her more salad (we are having it at the time anyway). I do try here and there to reintroduce the mashed potatoes.

    I do have the rule you eat what mom gives you because this isn’t a restaurant. If do they choose not to eat all their dinner they aren’t allowed dessert. I also tell them “it is a long way until breakfast” 😉

  12. Hi Pam

    I liked what you wrote very much and I totally agree with you. It’s so much better to teach them to be grateful instead of sturggeling wiht them being ungrateful. However, it’s hard work!

    We have some rules in our house: If one doesn’t like a meal at all, they can have a plain slice of full wheat bread (the German stuff). That’s the only alternative they are allowed. Or of course, if they don’t like the meat (after trying at least one bite) they only eat vegetables and potatoes (what my daughter often does). But in the end, when I do my meal-planning, I think about the whole family and what they like to eat.

    I also discovered that a lot of children don’t like it when the food is mashed all together – serve the ingrediends extra (i.e. noodles and sauce) and they much more likely try and like it.

    Greetings from Germany