Thursday, 15 May 2014

Catering for Taste

Youngest is a bit of a fussy eater.  No, scratch that, he's not so much a fussy eater as a point-blank, hysterically-obstinate-refusal-to-let-certain-items-past-his-lips kind of eater.  He loves meat of all kinds (interesting as I am vegetarian), and hates all veg and fruit (except bananas).

Eldest has vegetarian leanings, though less from an animal care point of view, more that he just doesn't like the taste/ texture of meat.  He is better at eating vegetables than his littlest brother, but it can be challenging.
He does not like trying new food, but he will do if encouraged.

Middle has quite a good palate and is more adventurous in trying new foods.  Given his brothers' preferences for 'safe'/ 'normal' food, I am often surprised when he develops a taste for slightly more interesting food such as coleslaw or pesto.

So mealtimes can be interesting.  Sometimes, with a little creativity we manage to all eat the same meal. These often involve 'hidden veg' sauces and fruit smoothies to provide the nutrients that the children may not receive left entirely to their own preferences... and careful management of the amounts of meat on each child's plate. And then sometimes, in an attempt to provide each child with a balanced diet across the week, I will make more than one meal, with the need of each specific child (and parent) in mind, not to forget the attempts to introduce small amounts of new food!

And this is my "normal".  Actually, this is normal for many parents who have children with differing tastes and needs.  We would be foolish to expect our children to all be the same - and while making more than one meal per mealtime didn't figure into my rose-tinted dreams of "when I'm a parent..." and while I'm sure many parents who don't have these food issues may look down at me and declare that I should have done it their "successful" way... it's what I do.  It can be challenging, but that's life.

You know, educating my children really is not that different from feeding them.  Whether feeding their stomachs or feeding their minds and emotions, they all have needs and preferences for different things.  Which is not surprising really as they are all beautifully different individuals.

Sometimes we all sit together and enjoy the same learning opportunity - such as today, when the boys were all simultaneously engrossed in the Horrible Histories "Rotten Romans" DVD from start to finish.  Sometimes I sneak in the educational equivalent of some hidden veg - a bit of parent-led learning because I can see something important is missing.  Sometimes, handily ensuring that the boys different needs and preferences are being met, they each do different things, like just now with Youngest cutting out playing cards while Middle read another Captain Underpants book and Eldest went harvesting virtual pumpkins and building a storage chest for farm materials in Minecraft with a friend.

Sure, I could sit the boys down and teach them all the same subjects as each other every day, just as I could sit them all down to dinner and serve them all exactly the same food as each other every day - but you know what?  If I did that at the dinner table they would all leave different parts of the meal according to taste - and they would do that with whatever I was trying to 'teach' too.  It's a waste - yes of food, but even more so - of time and energy.  Why provide something that you know will not be found interesting?  Introduce new things, sure - but why persist in presenting them with things that are known to be distasteful?

I read a quote today from Katrina Gutleben, who said,
"Learning can only really happen when a child is interested.  If he's not interested, it's like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating"
Oh, that resonated with me.  It can be tempting to have a "lesson" at home, for the sake of subconsciously placating the anxious voices in our heads, to tick a subject off a planner, or to have something interesting to write in our Home Ed diary/ tell concerned family members about - but would that mean our child has learned something, or would we just be throwing marshmallows at their heads and calling it eating when in reality they're just not that interested?

When new home educators are attacked with the wobbles, the thought "if they were in school" is usually very near the surface.  We assume that in school children are getting a balanced education, because they are being 'fed' full-time by education professionals - but the percentage of actual learning that any individual child experiences during a school day is surprisingly little, compared to breaks, crowd-control, waiting for help etc. (*update: a lovely friend found this link for me that discusses the use of school time further*)  And of that "learning" time, I wonder how much of it is really mass marshmallow-throwing rather than substantial individual input.

In summary (and with apologies for the meandering - I've tried to give you the condensed version of what has actually been going around in my head): when it comes to catering to taste, to being able to provide an education that specifically meets the needs of the individual, there is quite simply no-one better equipped than the parent who knows and cares passionately about their child, who knows what to supply that they will likely be asked for - and how or when to introduce something new, just to see - and what to avoid if you don't want to depress everyone!  Yet again, home ed rocks!

PS I was tempted to go through a summary of each child, giving their educational tastes and preferences, just as I did at the start - but I think you get my point


  1. Fab post. I've heard that quote before and loved it, but I think I need to print it out and pin it up where I can see it, as am having another wobble at the moment, and I think I have been guilty of throwing rather a lot of marshmallows lately! Thanks for reminding me how pointless that is! R x

    1. Thanks, Rachel! It's a great mental image, isn't it? Am going to try to remember it too xx