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So WHY were we forced to sit at the table till the food was gone??

I've read this in several threads about parents poor cooking or disliking a food & having to sit at the table till it was eaten so matter how poorly cooked & how long that took.

So knowing what we know now, kids won't starve if they miss a meal and doing this serves no real purpose as the uneaten food can't be mailed to the starving kids in China (my idea as a kid).

So really, WHY did our parents do this? Just a simple control issue??

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  1. because 20-30-40 years ago, that's how you were supposed to deal with picky eaters. Nothing psychological or evil -- that's just what all the doctors and magazines said you were supposed to do. Kids were supposed to clean their plate -- end of story.

    and no, I don't hate my parents for it -- they were doing what they thought was best. Kids don't come with instruction manuals, so you have to scrounge around and decide what the next best thing is...sometimes it IS the best thing, and sometimes we learn a few years or a few decades later that it maybe wasn't so great, after all.

    5 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      My parents tried this with the older kids, but by the time I came along, they had softened. My mother would put a tiny bit on our plates if we were the picky ones or it was something she remembered we didn't like, and she'd just say, "Try to eat a few bites. Even if you don't like it, it's good for you and you need your [vegetables, usually]." It worked, for me. And also, to anyone who makes exuceses for the good-intentioned forcing, I've noticed that the older kids in my family who were forced/rewarded with food have stronger food aversions and "issues" than the younger ones in my family. I think the important thing at the table is that you don't make a scene about likes/dislikes--or later on, the politics of the food. As I've gotten older, nothing is more annoying than some ranting vegan or snooty, holier-than-thou "green" (local/organic) or Martha Stewart devotee who uses the table as their soapbox to preach about all the errors of what other people eat. I'd rather sit down to a dinner of Cheez Doodles and Dr. Pepper with people who know how to have a conversation.

        1. re: staughton

          I drink milk, use butter, and eat eggs. Back in the 80's when the cholesterol scare was at its height (all shown to be much less significant than they thought by now), I was regularly lectured about my "poor dietary habits" by Coke/Pepsi-swilling, Whopper chomping, French-fry snarfing co-workers.

          Where I live now it's SUPER "liberal" - brains falling out of your head sort of liberal. This is the first place I've ever lived where I have been told I'm a "conservative"


          My son says of the area, "There's no prejudice about food choices here. You're perfectly free to be a Vegan or a Vegetarian."


          1. re: KitchenBarbarian

            Heh. LOL. Where would that be, I'm curious? :-) I get the impression that carnivore or omnivore might not be a choice in the area? ;-D

            1. re: huiray

              Let's just say it's a super-liberal college town in the middle of a largely conservative rural hinterland and leave it at that.

              Yah, omnivores/carnivores exist, but we try to keep in the shadows, LOL!

      1. Interesting question. I ate most everything as a child but my brothers were picky. Led to some strife with my bull headed dad and one equally bull headed brother.

        The other picky brother has nearly grown children now and since they were infants their parents insisted that they didn't have to eat anything they didn't want or eat anything at all if they didn't want it. On the other hand, if they didn't want to eat anything that was served they didn't get to have cookies for supper either.

        I can't imagine complaining about mom's poor cooking would have gone over very well as a child.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kengk

          I was a good eater as a child as well - I LOVED spinach & kale! I only didn't want to eat very certain things, but got the "sit there till you eat it thing."

          And no, complaining would have gotten me nowhere, agree. My mom cooked how my dad liked food - NO seasoning, PLAIN & mushy/overcooked....bleh!

        2. I gather I was in a high chair still when my dad tried this line on me. According to mom, I stared right at him, crossed my arms over my chest, put my head back - and fell sound asleep. Mom said to dad "well dear, he's definitely your son" and began to clear the table. I was still sitting there sound asleep an hour later, plate of cold food still sititng there when they picked me up and put me to bed. I was often encouraged to clean my plate after that, but I don't beleive they ever tried an ultimatum on me again.

          2 Replies
            1. re: LindaWhit

              funny how early children display their true character isn't it.
              thanks linda

          1. Respect.

            Many times dinner was not about eating what you *liked" (that's what McDonald's was for, for example).

            When mom made you something it was to feed you -- i.e., to make sure you were properly nourished and well-fed.

            Simply refusing to eat and leaving the dinner table because you did not *like* the food was the ultimate slap in the face of your mom -- as if to say, "I look at your love on a plate and spit at you!"

            13 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              OK I can see that....and I ate most of what I was given...spinach, kale - all boiled to death.....I think I even choked down w/o complaint the boiled canned asparagus tho I don't remember liking the brussel sprouts.

              BUT I HATED AND WOULD NOT EAT the steak cooked for me XXXXXXXXX-well done....had to sit at the table till I ate it and I would NOT. Funny, once they figured out I liked my steak pretty rare, the problems abated & I ate all my food.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                i agree with this. my mom simply didnt just order up some KFC or Dominos pizza and dumped it on a plate in front of me (of course, as a kid, i probably would have loved that). she took the time to make what she thought was a well balanced meal. not only does it *teach* you to know what a well balanced, nourishing meal is supposed to be (taste) like, it also teaches you to respect and show gratitude towards the people that are there to support you. now, if your mom took a bat out and started beating you with it until you ate your food - or, if your mom threatened you with a machete and all you had left was 5 or 6 peas left on the plate....then that may be too extreme. additionally, if the issue is simply too much salt, too less salt, too rare, or too well done - then i think the parent should attempt to figure out the problem as it may not simply just be the case of hard headedness.

                it's a lesson not just in food nutrition - but manners, respect, gratitude for your parents time, resources - and gratitude that you have food in your plate three meals a day in the first place. if food was merely just for fuel - my mom could have made as many shortcuts as possible to create a maximally nutritious meal - in this day in age, that's possible. but, food isnt just about fuel - it's about culture, sharing, family, gratitude, understanding - things i think people dont inherently have, at last through the medium/lens of food, but is developed growing up.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    That's a lesson I wish more parents would teach their kids now: being thankful for the care put into feeding them. I know lots of parents do, and I appreciate them!

                    1. re: SAHCook

                      If I had a friend over for dinner and I made soemthing they didn't like, too much spicy hot, had liver or whatever, I'd adjust that dish next time I made it for them. Why should I treat my friends better than my own children?


                      1. re: JuniorBalloon

                        Because parents are not only feeding and entertaining their children, but also teaching them lessons no one else will teach them.

                        That doesn't mean you can't adjust the dish for your children. But if you did it every time, the children have missed the opportunity for the important lesson that the world - even at the dinner table - does not adjust to their wants and even needs. That's not a lesson that can be learned merely intellectually but only by experience. It's better to be first experienced in a loving and nurturing context than in a thoughtless or cruel context.

                        1. re: Karl S

                          I know that is the "Standard" bit of wisdom on this, but I just don't buy it. That lesson, that we don't always get our way, is learned almost everywhere we go and in everything we do. I don't see that it needs to be overly reinforced at home. Home should be a place where we learn there are some people who will, within reason, listen to what we think and feel and work with us. Of course that can be overdone and some kids will turn out spoiled, but that's just bad parenting. Bottom line is children should be fed a balanced diet. That's where you draw the line. Pizza and french fires every night ain't gonna happen. But if they like peas and beef and not liver and broccoli, that should be fine.


                          1. re: JuniorBalloon

                            As a parent, you don't do it because you want to avoid a sense of entitlement with your children.

                            As a host, you do make adjustments because you are being polite.

                            The former is about rearing children; the latter about entertaining guests. The two are not the same, nor should they be.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I agree there is a difference, but isnt there some middle ground where you don't completely capitulate to your children while not forcing them to eat food they don't like. Perhaps we should treat our children a bit more like guests and not indentured servants who need nothing more than gruel?


                              1. re: JuniorBalloon


                                At least not until your children have earned that right to be treated like guests. That right has to be earned, and not just something that's expected.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  I agree that kids shouldn't be treated like guests, but I also agree that dinner on a nightly basis should not be a battleground over every dish served. It's tiring, it puts an enormous amount of stress on the family bonds, and it creates kids with lifelong food issues.

                                  There has to be some give and take on both sides.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    I think were saying pretty much the same thing. You would treat them with that respect if they proved to you that they understood what was expected. I would treat them with that respect until they proved they didnt understand what was expected. Same result, just a different route.


                      2. re: ipsedixit

                        You are 100% right.

                        I'm going to print this out and put it on my fridge.

                      3. My parents never forced me to finish anything I didn't like, after their somewhat disasterous attempt at feeding my sister and I "healthy blender drinks". As long as I was willing to try some of it, they didn't crow about it. I credit that change of attitude to allowing me to grow into an adventurous eater, even though I'm still maimed by the memory of "pink drink" and "green drink". (My blender only whizzes up pina coladas, and nothing else, as a result.) I even ate tofu when we had meatless night in the 60s, as long as it wasn't too often.

                        It was the same deal if I wanted to order the same chow mein over and over again when we went out. That's what I liked, and it wasn't ever a problem.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: RelishPDX

                          "my blender only whizzes up pina coladas, and nothing else"

                          You say that like it's a bad thing..... :D

                          I am, by the way, the most adventurous eater I know -- the list of things I won't eat is very, very short.

                        2. Many of our parents remembered the Depression and many others grew up poor. In many people, poverty breeds frugality and an abhorrence of waste. And for such people little was more repellent than throwing food away. Consequently, we were expected to be grateful for the food dad earned and mom prepared, and we were expected to eat it even if it wasn't to our taste. Furthermore, in previous generations the parents ruled the roost and the kids were the subjects. Regrettably, that very often is no longer the case.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            Exactly. I have depression/dust bowl era sharecroppers on one side of my family and nazi forced labor camp workers on the other side. So I have it practically hard-coded into my DNA - don't waste food, period.

                            You may not be able to mail the food to the starving chinese kids, but letting the kids continue to waste the food sets a pattern of wastefulness of a precious resource. It partly depends if the parents are being realistic on how much food they are giving the kids, they need to adjust what they give accordingly.

                            The fact that Americans are rich enough to see food as cheap enough to waste (while many think themselves oh so poor and deprived) is very telling of our culture.

                            When it comes to picky eaters, its a bit different. We make our one son try everything and eat at least 2/3 of the food. Usually not a problem as we give him what we think he will eat, and he has an amazing range of foods he will eat (including this couscous/chickpea concoction I wont even try lol)
                            The other has food allergies and has been very very picky about trying new foods ever since his visit to the emergency room.
                            The youngest literally will go to the point where he is faint from hunger if not given one of his "safe" foods. So letting him sit at the table does no good, he would be there literally until the next morning if need be. We have tried every trick in the book but now dont want to pressure him because that makes it worse. Lately he has expressed an interest in some foods, but he eats a half bite of them then spits it out. So I am getting him involved in cooking , hoping he will want to taste what he helped make.

                            1. re: PenskeFan

                              sounds like a good approach (and yeah the kids are starving in where ever has never worked has it? I too abhor waste, but it's gotta be edible - my folks think I'm anorexic but I just wait until they're asleep) engaging the kid in the process can only be good.

                          2. In part to train you to learn you won't always have control and you are going to need to learn to deal not only with delayed gratification but non-gratification, skills that only build from regular training in each. The sooner children learn that the world does not revolve around their preferences, the better prepared they are for life. That's not to justify a sadistic approach to menu programming.

                            My parents certainly planned menus that involved items that any one or more of the six children detested. They specifically would not avoid those items. They never force fed them to us, but it was obvious that, in the case of genuine hunger, we would eat whatever was in front of us, so not eating it would not kill us or even traumatize us. It didn't.

                            Dining is one of the most traditional arenas where cultures train their youth in the discipline of delayed and non-gratification. A helluva lot more civilized than, say, the Agoge system of Sparta....

                            1. My Filipino mom grew up during WWII. Food was scarce and they ate everything they could, when it was available. Luckily my mom was a pretty good cook and I had no problem eating pork adobo, beef sinigang, chicken nilagang, "chocolate" meat as a child. It was when she started cooking American style food that I had a hard time finishing my plate. For breakfast, garlic fried rice with scrambled eggs were replaced with soft cooked eggs and soldier fingers. Blechhh - half the time the whites weren't set - a serious snot factor I had a hard time getting past it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: AntarcticWidow

                                AW - wow "Mom cook it like you used to we loved that!"

                                it's sad when assimilation takes precedence.

                              2. Because mealtime wasn't just about getting food in your children. It was about teaching table manners, the art of conversation, handling disappointment, waiting for dessert, and respect for one's parents. It still is, in my house. I don't make my kids eat everything, but I do ask that they speak politely about the food even if they dislike it, and at least try whatever I've served.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Isolda

                                  That's fine -- your rules about trying food and being polite at the table are excellent training so that a kid can acquire decent manners. But that's way different from trying to force a kid to eat something they detest.

                                2. Sometimes this was all the food available. We didn't have to sit til it was eaten, but were required to at least take a bite. If you didn;t like it, too bad,cause there was nothing to take it;s place. My Mom was a really good cook, so there were few things I would not eat. As a matter of fact, I can't even think of one.

                                  1. my grandpa made me eat my dinner for breakfast the next morning after not finishing my plate the night before. i hated it at the time, but i sure would love to eat ribs for breakfast most days now that im grown.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: swoll50

                                      I got that line, too. But now that I think about imy parents and grandparents going through the Great Depression, food was NOT something that was wasted nor taken for granted. We needed to learn to be grateful for the meal in front of us. And to be mindful of those who were not so fortunate.

                                    2. My grandmother would always tell me that "something bad would happen to me" if i didn't finish my plate (generically, not a threat of a beating). Not sure if that was cultural or just her own quirk.
                                      I hated liver as a child (always the big piece with the vein in it and fried to the point of shoe leather). One day there was a lemon meringue pie in the house due to visitors (desserts were rare, and the prettiness of the novel pie made me want to try it). At dinner hours later, I gagged as I tried to choke down the liver and my mother said if I ate it I could try the pie. It took me almost 2 hours to eat it (I was facing the clock in the kitchen). At the end when i asked for the pie my mother said "there was never any left, I ate the last piece."

                                      Surprisingly, I have pretty much zero issues with food today (there are only a handful of things I won't eat, liver being one of them of course) and only eat until I'm full.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Smorgasbord

                                        Oh, my sympathies on that lost slice of pie!
                                        LOL about liver. For years, I fed my overcooked bits to the cat, under the table. Thought I was getting away with it until, when I was about 20, my mother 'fessed up that she knew it all along.

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          our dog was the family trashcan under the table when my siblings and I hated our dinner. My brother used to try to hide food under the rim of the plate but amazingly this ploy never worked!

                                          1. re: smartie

                                            My folks would pretty much overlook pushing stuff around or hiding it under the pork chop bone.

                                            The previously mentioned bull headed brother that insisted on insisting that he wasn't going to eat something brought down the wrath.

                                        2. re: Smorgasbord

                                          -It took me almost 2 hours to eat it (I was facing the clock in the kitchen). At the end when i asked for the pie my mother said "there was never any left, I ate the last piece."-

                                          Oh, ouch.

                                          It took a long time for my husband to open up to me about his disordered eating - he won't ever eat in front of people and he has a long, long list of food he cannot eat. His mother was a terrible cook - we're talking undercooked, green potatoes, burnt meat, greens that were already yellowing before cooking. And they had to clear their plates or they would be punished. The other thing she did which was outright cruel was to provide dessert for two (there were three children) and make them race. Oy. Teaching manners and delayed gratification is one thing, using such a basic necessity as food to torment your kids is an entirely different matter :(

                                          (please note I am not saying your mother played these games, Smorgasbord. I was just reminded of the situation by that particular sentence in your post)

                                          1. re: DunkTheBiscuit

                                            jeez Dunk I didn't know we're married I musta been scary drunk...

                                            lemme know our anniversary and I swear I'll send a card or something this year.

                                            yep that's my mom too. and they wonder why I'm almost borderline anorexic (not that extreme, but definitely a smaller than average appetite)

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              Heh! I was the only person stone cold sober at my wedding so anything is possible :P

                                              Yes, husband also eats very little - when we met he weighed just under 100lb at 5'6". He has hardly any appetite. For months after we met, I suspected he WAS anorexic because he would do anything to avoid eating in front of me. He's put on a little weight in the past 17 years though - he found out I CAN cook (extremely well lol) and I never play power games over food.The things some people do to their children, sometimes without realising it - don't bear thinking about :(

                                        3. Many of our parents remembered the Depression and many others grew up poor. In many people, poverty breeds frugality and an abhorrence of waste. And for such people little was more repellent than throwing food away.

                                          In my family, it was the above plus control issues.

                                          I was expected to eat huge amounts of food at a child, amounts that most adults would have a hard time finishing. My mom claims she was worried I didn't get enough to eat, which is completely insane, I was well over 5 feet tall in elementary, I towered over every other child, there was no way I wasn't "getting enough to eat." All of kids in the family (my cousins) have memories of sitting at the table for hours after everyone else left so it was a behavior our parent's learned from their parents. To this day, I am never "full" and can't eat normal portions. As a result of never feeling full, I am borderline obese because I can't stop eating.

                                          When my mom remarried, the force feeding came to a grinding hault as my (step-) dad thought it was horribly wasteful to eat more than you needed/wanted. He expected me to try everything that was served, if I didn't like it, fine. I had a choice, eat what was served or not, just be respectful and quiet about it, no whining or complaining allowed. No alternatives were allowed either. It did teach me that sometimes I needed to eat stuff I was less than fond of if I didn't want to be hungry for the rest of the night.

                                          Then my mom quit cooking anything so it was TV dinners for the remainder of my childhood.

                                          Addressing the poverty/waste element - I completely understand that. I can remember my grandparents saying things like "not liking certain foods was a luxury we couldn't enjoy"

                                          1. I asked my mom about this when my kids were small. Both my husband and I never forced our kids to eat anything they didn't like - why have all that stress at mealtime?. My mom's response - 'that's how we did things'. The idea was, her responsibility was to provide a healthy meal, and our responsibility was to eat it without complaint. Period. Ugh, I could never choke down her homemade vegetable soup - mostly turnips and rutabegas - always major drama when she made it. i still can't eat turnips to this day.

                                            1. I was very skinny and a picky eater growing up but my parents didn't make a big deal about it. As an adult, I have neither of those issues.

                                              1. Control, and the lack of trust that kids know what and how much to eat. Parents fear that, left to their own devices, children won't eat enough. I have a toddler; I don't pressure her to eat more, but I don't cater, either. I make sure that every meal includes at least one thing she likes; the other things are new, or foods she has refused in the past. She has come around on everything except pizza. I don't worry about how much she eats, and her growth is consistent - she knows what she needs. I don't want her to learn to override her appetite in any way. Hard to know whether this is the "right" approach, but it seems to be working for now!

                                                1. I can only give my opinion based on my experience in the 1950s. I have no idea what parents do now, except for a few family members, and I can tell you I didn't do this in the 1970s to my own kids.

                                                  Its a power struggle. 60 years ago kids weren't generally overweight. Well, I was, but I was in the minority. A thin child was fussed about. I remember our pediatrician saying that I was healthy and obviously didn't have tuberculosis. (To put this into perspective, my mom's mother had died of that disease when she was a little girl.) Chubby was considered healthy for children, especially small children, and we didn't have all that many choices for treat food. Indeed bakery treats, and soda were considered too expensive for everyday consumption. So, a thin kid looked unhealthy; and none of use were getting extra calories from that much junk food.

                                                  I never had probs eating food at home or anywhere else. But other family members did, Once parents decide that the kids' health depends on eating canned veggies, there can be an epic power struggle. I know of kids who ultimately won that struggle, and the outcome is not necessarily pretty. In my family, the struggle was more of a draw. I don't think my parents had the emotional energy to fully pursue it.

                                                  If parents are still trying to dictate, rather than encourage, kids to eat healthy they are missing the boat. They won't win in the long run. And if they keep sweets around the house, they will lose big time IMO.

                                                  1. For a few years I had an opportunity to play stepdad/uncle whatever. The child had been allowed to eat only what he wanted, with two or three fast food places within two blocks of his front door. We never made him clean his plate, but he had to 'eat some of it' unless it was really nasty to him, then he only had to try it.

                                                    He was also expected to articulate what was nasty about something - but not at the table. He went from a VERY picky eater (if it didn't have the fast food flavor he didn't like it) to a rather adventurous diner. A proud moment on his 12th birthday when we took him to a fine dining restaurant - his choice - and he confidently informed the waiter "I think I'll try the Lobster tonight, can I get that with asparagus?"

                                                    1. I don't know, but it caused damage to me! It also caused me to want to be a better cook. The crap I was forced to choke down was often only a reality with a huge pile of ketchup. lol

                                                      I think it probably is a control thing, a "I'm the parent and I said so" thing, you know?

                                                      1. In many families, dinner time is not considered merely a matter of feeding the troops, as in an army mess hall, but a time for the family to socialize together as a unit. It's a worthwhile tradition, in my opinion.

                                                        As for "control issue," it is a parents duty to control their children and give them a proper upbringing. There are far too many ill-bred young people these days, I think.

                                                        Now, I suppose we'll hear from the anti-fuddy-duddy crowd.

                                                        10 Replies
                                                        1. re: GH1618

                                                          Well, I guess I'm part of the crowd you expected to arrive because I very respectfully disagree that it's a parent's duty to control their children - I think it's their duty to teach their children how to control themselves...sometimes that's through parental control but ultimately it should and could not be.

                                                          Mealtime in my childhood home was a battle ground - not a chance to socialize - in large part due to my mother's "eat until your plate is clean or you will see this exact same food for your next meal and so on until it is gone". Let me assure you that my mother wasn't slaving over a hot stove to create lovingly prepared meals. She was pouring boiling water into instant oatmeal or somehow making canned tomato soup and grilled cheese absolutely inedible.

                                                          Mealtimes in my house ARE an opportunity to catch up with each other sans the power struggle that results from forcing kids to eat. A balanced meal is presented and each person can decide to eat or not and how much. Dessert is not a usual part of the meal just because that's not how we do it in our house but if it is available it's not dependent on how much you've consumed.


                                                          1. re: owen_meany

                                                            Of course it's parents' duty to teach their children to control themselves. This is quibbling, I think.

                                                            1. re: GH1618

                                                              No, it's two fundamentally different ideas. In fact, they're totally incompatible.

                                                              1. re: Exy00

                                                                Thanks, Exy00. Didn't seem like quibbling in the least to me but responding as such would have seemed like quibbling :-)

                                                            2. re: owen_meany

                                                              owen - yeah I knew the revolving plate of uneaten food. I'd just abstain until they felt guilty and I learned a lot about ignoring hunger, mind games and manipulation. I doubt that was their intention.

                                                              ipse upstream referred to a mother's love on a plate, mine was more a plate of clueless indifference (she tried really hard, just didn't have clue one) and while they wanted everyone present, the father didn't like talking at the table. enjoy the time too much and ya got smacked. talk about a mixed messaging fun-sucker. now he can't get enough of social interaction at meals.

                                                            3. re: GH1618

                                                              Actually, when I was growing up (even tho I'm an only child) socializing at the table was NOT allowed....there was to be NO talking whatsoever at the table. Period.

                                                              While I agree that it's a good tradition, I was more thinking about how we were brought up & why the parents did the crazy stuff they did.

                                                              1. re: jenscats5

                                                                no talking? now that is unusual. conversation was required when I grew up. Dinner was at 7, every night. At 7 my brother and I were to be at the table, hands and face clean, hair combed, wearing decent clothing. We were asked about our day, and expected to ask about our parents day. We talked about the neighborhood, school, last weeks national geographic special (the only time we didn't eat dinner at the table) upcoming plans, etc. And we were expected to be members of the clean plate club, although my parents respected... to some degree... that there were some things we just didn't like.

                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                  Yes, no talking....quite strange! Dinner was always precisely at 5:00 and it had to be finished VERY quickly and all plates clean! Had an aunt that would come visit & chit-chat thru the whole meal - drove my father nuts! LOL

                                                                  1. re: jenscats5

                                                                    holy shit jens - I just posted a few posts back describing the same situation, the only talking really tolerated was 'please pass...' or responding to a specific question from a parent. wow I thought we were the only socially harnessed at mealtime family despite the requirement of attendence.

                                                                2. re: jenscats5

                                                                  Yeah, we weren't allowed to talk either.

                                                                  As for the idea that the meal on the table was an "expression of a mother's love" - not in my house. My mother never cooked a thing - *I* was doing all the cooking, starting when I was like 7 or 8 years old. I did a lot of it before that, but my elder sister was still around to do some of it then. After she ran away from home (and boy did I look forward to the day when I could do that as well), it fell on me to do all the cooking and cleaning, as the "oldest girl" - at SEVEN.

                                                                  So the whole "clean your plate" thing was TOTALLY due to control freakyness. No other excuse. My mother deliberately planned meals so that there was something served every single day that at least one child had a strong aversion to. Hence, we all have foods we cannot eat or even smell, some of us, to this day.

                                                              2. When I was 5, I spent an entire morning confronting a 3-minute egg before finally gagging it down. Raw egg white made and makes my stomach heave. Why couldn't they cook it a few minutes longer? Control.

                                                                9 Replies
                                                                1. re: sr44

                                                                  I think my mother's fascination with serving the same meal over and over if you didn't eat it the first time ended abruptly after my sister threw up all over the table after choking down the soft boiled egg at lunch she couldn't force herself to eat that morning.

                                                                  1. re: owen_meany

                                                                    In that case your mother lost. This is a power game, and she lost. It isn't worth it to do this kind of stuff. Encourage, teach, yes. Control, no.

                                                                    1. re: owen_meany

                                                                      That would not have helped in our household. It happened, and all it meant was I had to clean it up and start over.

                                                                    2. re: sr44

                                                                      When I was 5, I spent an entire morning confronting a 3-minute egg before finally gagging it down. Raw egg white made and makes my stomach heave. Why couldn't they cook it a few minutes longer? Control.

                                                                      Oh I feel your pain!

                                                                      1. re: cleobeach

                                                                        I was not a picky eater. Au contraire. I regularly left a clean plate, and we were a family of adventurous eaters.

                                                                        Throwing up would have left my mother cleaning up the mess, and she wasn't the controller in the situation.

                                                                      2. re: sr44

                                                                        It seems to me to be a case of poor cooking skills rather than control, but I wasn't there.

                                                                        1. re: GH1618

                                                                          No, the controller preferred eggs soft-boiled for 3 minutes.

                                                                        2. re: sr44

                                                                          I remember very early in life facing down a fried egg. I'm not sure if it was an entire evening or an eternity--but I never ate that dammed egg. Bawled my eyes out and understood that I was bad bad bad! Went to bed without supper.

                                                                          I like fried eggs now if they are over easy but I wonder what that battle was like for my mother. Maybe she was worse off for the battle and maybe that's why she insisted we try something before we put it on our plate.

                                                                        3. Key is picking the right parents. We were permitted to leave the table when we were full, not when we had stuffed ourselves.

                                                                          1. I only remember being forced to sit at the table till I finished (most of) my food on only one or two occasions, and don't even remember what it was that I was refusing to eat. I recall only two things in dishes at our family table that I regularly disliked when I was very young - mushrooms (shiitake-type; we didn't have those white button mushroom thingies that are 99%of the mushroom offerings here in the US, except in cans, and that was a treat) and bittergourd. I was allowed to separate out the shiitake pieces from the rest of the dish, or to pick up just the meat (beef pieces, for example) from the bittergourd dish. When I had noodle dishes in certain restaurants that unavoidably came with shiitake slices in the sauce, I would pick out every piece of mushroom into a clump and either my mother or elder sister (if she was at the table) would scoop up that heap onto their own plate. Of course, later on I didn't dislike them anymore...

                                                                            1. my parents were never too strict about WHAT we ate at the table, but more about HOW we ate at the table. the only food rules were that i ate whatever was served for dinner (if i didn't like the options, too bad - however i was allowed to have input on deciding the menu), and i had to at least sample the vegetables.

                                                                              on the other hand, my mother was very strict about:
                                                                              - nobody starts eating until everyone is seated
                                                                              - nobody finishes without being excused
                                                                              - always ask before taking the last portion or serving of a dish

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: jamieeats

                                                                                That sounds similar to the way I was brought up as well (for the most part) and the way I hope to raise my kids.

                                                                                1. re: jamieeats

                                                                                  Those are pretty much the same rules I impose on my 7 & 9 year olds now. Add elbows off the table and clear up afterwards and I think you've got it covered :). And occasionally, since I'm the cook, we have something that I love even if nobody else really likes it. Luckily, my husband sticks up for me with something along the lines of "I don't like it either, but she always cooks, and sometimes you get your favourites, so it's only fair she get hers!"

                                                                                2. My mom's only rule was that we had to finish our milk before leaving the dinner table. I'm one of those folks who finds milk to be slimy, and while I choked it down back then, the only time I drink milk as an adult is in hot cocoa.

                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: beachmouse

                                                                                    I, too, faced down many an overcooked vegetable well into the evening, after everyone else had been excused. Back in the 60s, most of our moms only had access frozen or canned vegetables; I didnt taste a steamed green bean until I was in my teens, at someone else's house. But as others have pointed out here, there were two mitigating factors involved:

                                                                                    The Depression syndrome - my parents were children during the Depression, raised by parents who conserved, repurposed and never wasted anything. The starving children in (choose a 3rd world country) were often invoked, and I was firmly reminded that they would go through their own garbage to eat the mushy carrots and grey green beans I was turning my nose up at.

                                                                                    Control: "Because I said so" was the only reason I ever got for anything they wanted me to do. "A choice" was something I was told I had to wait until adulthood for. As a rebellious Indigo child, with a stern career-military dad, conflict was inevitable. If they let me "get away with" being disobedient at the table, it was perceived as a gateway to other (far worse) largesse.

                                                                                    Last year I was visiting a cousin of mine (who had similar parents) he was preparing dinner for his 2 kids, aged 6 and 8. He was asking each one "do you want chicken or hamburger? Do you want corn or carrots?" etc. I told him I thought it was nice that he gave them a choice, as my mom had so often served up a big steaming bowl of "just eat it" every night and we were expected to comply. As he prepared a serving of chicken, a serving of hamburger, a serving of corn and a serving of carrots, he looked up and said "Sometimes I think your mom had the right idea."

                                                                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                      there's something to be said for giving options, but too many options becomes a problem. my parents might have asked if i felt like chicken or hamburger, but whatever we landed on would be the one main dish. more often, my choice was just cheese or no cheese...

                                                                                      1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                        Because I said so--I heard this very often. I wonder if our parents had so little control over their own lives, they felt that had to control their offspring.

                                                                                        However, I would never ask kids which things they wanted to eat for dinner. I did expect my kids to try things. I always told them that I only cooked good food. I said it often enough, I think I convinced everybody, including myself. It always helps to have united parents too. There is a special place in my heart for the overwhelmed single parent.

                                                                                        1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                          "There is a special place in my heart for the overwhelmed single parent"

                                                                                          I can't imagine the challenge that brings, although there's no coordinated message issues either I suppose. I have friends who are by circumstance or from the get-go and the kids seem to be just fine. the parent? well that's a different question.

                                                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                            There is a special place in my heart for the overwhelmed single parent.

                                                                                            ^ This! My husband sometimes complains about the pre-packaged frozen hamburger helper type meals his mother used to feed him and each time I think- she worked two jobs raising two rambunctious boys all on her own... You're lucky she made you anything and all and didn't just shove you into the backyard with a shuffle and a dartgun and say "good luck!"

                                                                                          2. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                            I often offer a choice, if what I have to hand is roughly equal in preparation (a typical offering might be chicken stir-fry, or pasta with chicken and broccoli)

                                                                                            But I only cook one meal per night -- I could see going with the protein that one kid likes, and the veg that the other kid likes....but I have always made it very clear that I am not a short-order cook.

                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                              exactly! my parents would offer what was on hand, and not make special exceptions once they began to prepare the meal.

                                                                                        2. I spent between 2 and 4 hours at the dinner table every night because of this theory. I hated almost everything and I'm still picky. My daughter eats everything but my son is as picky as I was. I don't have this war with him.

                                                                                          1. Still an issue today, but now i think its more a factor of teaching balanced nutrition and limited attention spans. I have my kids (and wife) assign a numerical rating to every meal, I know they aren't all going to get a 10, because they don't love every vegetable, but i do incorporate their feedback when its useful. - example putting Kale through the food processor before adding it to sauce is preferred to chopping with a chefs knife. Many times they stop eating- saying they're full - but then ask for treats a few minutes later. Sorry- back to the table kids. At some point i had to realize; they aren't full, and they don't detest their dinner, they are just bored, which unfortunately leads to my regular outbursts of - JUST FINISH YOUR DINNER ! WHY ARE YOU STANDING UP? SIT AND EAT! They aren't necessartily picky eaters just easily distracted. If there really is a detested ingredient, i'll be reasonable and pick it out, or just have them try it, but I think its important for them top keep an open mind, and realize that not every meal coudl or shoud be pizza and hot dogs

                                                                                            1. It was a societal convention, and a respectful way to finish a meal.

                                                                                              Now, it makes no difference, as people seldom bother to sit for a meal. Instead, they text, and chat on the telephone, so there is zero consequence. Just get up and leave, and go play video games.


                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                Hunt - I think the issue was of being required to eat a meal when one wasn't even hungry in the first place. presence at the table and engaged in conversation is desirable and good. that one is expected to chew for the sake of chewing is different.

                                                                                                I will happily join the table, but if I don't eat it means nothing more than 'I'm not hungry right now'

                                                                                                eating just because of time of day or the schedule of others sounds like a good way to get fat - granted a homemade meal I will have some bites and make very nice compliments (even if I hate it)

                                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                                  That could well be. However, a family normally has a "dinner time," and it is great for them to all dine together, and for no one to leave the table, until all are finished. However, in the era of iPods, iPads, PDA's of all sorts, and the like, families cannot be expected to ever dine together. Hey, too many e-mails to return.


                                                                                                2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                  I agree, but I think it goes deeper than that. Food for my Depression era parents was not something to be wasted and since it is rude not to eat what's put in front of you at a host's house you'd better learn to choke it down. As my grandmother used to say "if they're hungry they'll eat it."

                                                                                                3. Yes, I see it as a control issue. I also see it as a violation of bodily integrity force someone to eat something they really truly despise. My parents did it to me and I vowed never to do it to my kids, and I haven't.

                                                                                                  I'm so sick and tired of the picky eater theme. Not liking something doesn't mean one is a picky eater.

                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                    Yes, that is often a side-effect. Sometimes, it is the produce, and sometimes, it is the prep.

                                                                                                    I personally hate some of the foods, that I had to endure, but much later in life, I found out that there WAS a big difference between canned beets vs fresh beets, frozen Brussels sprouts vs fresh ones, frozen squash vs fresh squash. I mean, who knew?

                                                                                                    Wife was forced to eat copious quantities of red sauce with the various Italian fare, when it destroyed her GI system.

                                                                                                    That was what parents did, and thought they were doing the right thing.

                                                                                                    Things that I despised in my youth, were suddenly very good, when a few aspects were changed, like FRESH!


                                                                                                    1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                      I dont like eggs by themselves. I remember many times sitting at the breakfast table for half an hour trying to get one down. My mother was adament that I eat it...oh...for a dog!...I can now enjoy an omellette with plenty of veggies, cheese, etc.....but that one fried egg in the morning was purgatory. And believe me, I wasnt a picky eater....it was just that morning egg....My son always had a choice...what I'm cooking, or bread and an apple....I'm not cooking you something different.

                                                                                                      1. re: katy1

                                                                                                        I love a fried egg with grits (Southern boy), but then also will "spice 'em up," with a bit of curry, and some fresh-ground pepper. Just having the egg would not be my "thing."


                                                                                                    2. Reading these posts, I see that my family growing up was pretty liberal. Fortunately, my mother was a good cook, and I never was a picky eater. I do recall one time being forced to eat all the canned peas on my plate before I could leave the table, then high-tailing it to the bathroom around the corner to spit it all out.
                                                                                                      The biggest problem we had was that the four of us children (all girls) were a bit too high strung for my poor suffering father, with all our giggling and/or snapping at one another. He'd get mad, yell at everyone, and take all the fun out of dinnertime.

                                                                                                      Raising my own kids, the chosen dinner was pretty much by consensus, and both boys helped with the preparation from an early age. One is kind of picky about certain things, the other eats pretty much anything you serve him. Even if they didn't help cook, I kept in mind each person's preferences with whatever I made, so we could all enjoy the same meal. Now and then, if my husband and I wanted something special, and the boys didn't, they were welcome to make a simple meal for themselves.

                                                                                                      As far as staying at the table, we have always had such a good time talking at dinner, that it's just been a habit to sit around chatting long after the food is gone. I don't remember that either of the boys ever asked to be excused from the table before the rest of us were finished eating and yacking. I think I've been a lucky mom! Now my boys are grown and gone to see the world, and what I wouldn't give for dinner with the two of them again!

                                                                                                      1. In my house it was definitely about being frugal. We were raised to just not waste food. Today it's still one of the things that irks me bigtime!
                                                                                                        I even feel a little upset if a guest leaves good food on a plate at my house.
                                                                                                        It's not that I am being frugal, it's that I have such love and respect for food that it irks me when people don't.

                                                                                                        That person that said you'll never get fatif you develop the habit of leaving a little food on your plate shpuld be SHOT! Repeatedly!

                                                                                                        We had rules growing up.
                                                                                                        We had to try the food first. If we didn't like it, Mom wouldn't put it on our plate.
                                                                                                        Otherwise we had to finish everything.
                                                                                                        Both of us kids were pretty picky eaters.

                                                                                                        When we grew older and started our own cooking experiments. The rule was that we could cook anything we wanted but if we cooked it we had to eat it.

                                                                                                        My Mom got a sandwich griller from somewhere--like a panini press..but it was probably 40 years ago. My brother wanted to make a bacon tomato sandwich and didn't realize that you have to cook the bacon first. But he choked down that sandwich with raw warm bacon and pretended to like it even though he didn't.

                                                                                                        I think the idea of starving children in China, Africa, wherever was that we should be dam grateful to HAVE food.

                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: Sparklebright

                                                                                                          Re: Starving children - It was Armenians for my parents' generations and Biafrans (anyone remember Biafra?) for mine.

                                                                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                            Yup, in my family it was Biafran children as well.

                                                                                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                              I was never threatened with visions of starving children elsewhere in my childhood. ;-)

                                                                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                It wasn't a threat, just a statement.

                                                                                                                The other statement that was more often used was "Take all you want, but eat all you take."

                                                                                                          2. re: Sparklebright

                                                                                                            With my family it was "like your grandparents". My grandparents were sharecroppers on one side and WWII labor camp escapees on the other. And food was not wasted.

                                                                                                          3. I wouldn't really call it a control issue, but it has to do with respect and manners. Also, even if kids won't literally starve, parents do worry about their children and nutrition.

                                                                                                            Someone spent the time to cook for you. To push the meal aside is just disrepectful.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: dave_c

                                                                                                              Definitely a control issue in my house.

                                                                                                              Besides, *I* cooked the meal. If I then don't want to eat it (or any part of it), what, I'm disrespecting MYSELF? LOL!