The Good Eater

Dec 6, 2008 by

“He’s a good eater,” I hear parents say. A father once told me that his child “did great with the food” on a trip to Europe. “She’s not bad about trying new vegetables.” “Good job! You ate it all.” Extra points for cleaning the plate.

Do these evaluations suggest that eating good food is a satisfying delight or that it’s a praiseworthy act of self-denial? The body is created to crave and enjoy the food it needs, as the mind is made to go after knowledge. Because of children’s genuine need for nourishment, both mental and physical, we have only to give them opportunities to naturally treasure what’s good for them.

If we don’t enjoy what’s good for us more than what’s bad, something’s wrong. As Aristotle asserts, the point of education is to learn to take pleasure in good things. What happens when something that’s supposed to be a pleasure becomes externally motivated, an issue of duty and utility? The health of the natural appetite tends to suffer.

Knowing when to back off and when to push is tricky for parents. There are indeed times when a child must learn to deny self or make an effort. Eating, though, unlike the apprenticeship of good manners and habits of the table, is a natural act.

Dr. Benjamin Spock tells parents never to ask a child to eat something. Indeed, if a normal child is faced with well-prepared food, what need is there to tell her what to do with it or to praise her for doing it?

I once saw a child wearing a t-shirt that said, “Reading for success.” Even if it were effective to tell a child that he will make more money when he’s thirty if he reads, it’s one of the most sadly utilitarian motives to do something that is its own reward. It’s like listening to Mozart to increase your IQ, or hugging your spouse to improve your child’s self-image. Eating, like reading, is a time for life-giving enjoyment that’s satisfying and nourishing. Compensation in the form of praise or approval sends the opposite message. If it can be a pleasure, and it can, what better reason need we give?

When I was a child, if I didn’t want to eat something, my mom would give me the best reason to eat it: “Good. That leaves more for the rest of us.” It was manipulation, but at least it was effective; I’m a “good eater.”

I tried a similar response with my children when they said, “We don’t want any of that”:

“That’s good,” I said, “because I didn’t really make enough for you children.”

They came back with, “Well, we want some!”

“Well, I guess you can have a little bite.”

And just that quickly, “No, a big bite!”

When I told a relative about that conversation, she objected: “But they’re not learning to obey.”

Wouldn’t you rather children eat healthy foods with delighted satisfaction than out of a sense of duty? Eating well shouldn’t be an uphill moral battle against all desires, but a natural and satisfying choice. Eating isn’t a question of obedience. I don’t want my kids to eat because I told them too.

A habit of enjoying good food creates a natural resistance to bad food. When casting out demons, don’t leave the house swept and empty; don’t count on sheer force of will to fill the vacuum, but fill it with the most delectable, nourishing possibilities. An ounce of replacement is worth a pound of repression.

“Habit is driven out by habit,” educator Charlotte Mason quotes Thomas à Kempis: “The fundamental law of education.”

The child’s natural appetite, faced with only good food made as appealing as is in your power, bolstered by regular and proper habits at the table, are the parent’s best allies for developing love of right food in children.

Related Post:

Safety in Numbers: Perfect Insurance Against Food Worries

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon November 19, 2008 All Rights Reserved


  1. […] The one time my kids resisted eating something I’d fixed, within 30 seconds, I had them begging for a big bite. Here’s how. […]

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  3. […] You could try doing what I did the one time I remember my kids saying such a thing at the table. I told them it was a good thing they didn’t want any, because I hadn’t really made enough for them.  For how they talked me into giving them some after all, see “the Good Eater”: […]