I was at my brother's house for dinner a while back, and I heard that there was a new house rule: No complaining about the food. Perhaps there'd been a lot of bellyaching about dinner lately. I could imagine my poor sister-in-law, the house chef, trying to take into account the tastes of five children (the littlest having presumably having no complaints about the breast milk). I asked the oldest kid, aged ten, why he thought his parents had made such a rule.
"Because they didn't want to hear any complaining."
"Do you think they were trying to make you appreciate the fact that they work hard to serve you home-cooked meals every day?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah." He was doubtful and he's probably right. Me, I don't have any children, so I'm still full of long-term goals like teaching children gratitude instead of everyday goals like making them shut up. The parents just got sick of the whining.
There is a famous story in my family of the night that my mother tried to branch out her recipes and make sukiyaki. Her cruel, ungrateful children (I wasn't born yet) called it "super yucky." I don't remember there being a lot of complaining about food in my childhood home, other than the occasional squabble over the hot dog pieces in the macaroni and cheese. However, I bet if we had started whining, my dad would have promptly shamed us into grateful silence. Then he would have finished our leftovers.
Daddy must be a pretty easy man to cook for, in that he always seems to like whatever is on the table. Maybe he doesn't explicitly compliment the food, but he doesn't complain about it either, and he always cleans his plate before cleaning the plates of any little brats. He compliments the smell of the cooking if he happens to pass through the kitchen, making lots of loud, enthusiastic "MMM! MMM! MMM!" noises and occasionally cuddling up to Mama to sing the chorus of "Hey, Good Lookin'" while she works at the stove.
I think of this because I made brussels sprouts the other night. I'd found an interesting recipe and bought some frozen veggies without bothering to ask Josh how he felt about them. To me, brussels sprouts are tiny cabbages that want to be broccoli, and seeing as how Josh likes cabbage and broccoli, I couldn't figure how he'd have any sort of problem with them. But when I asked him, he said he didn't like them. We had a small argument about whether or not they taste like broccoli, and then I conceded, "Well, okay, you don't have to eat any."
"You're not going to be that easy on my kids, are you?" His kids, isn't that cute?
"Of course not, they'll have to eat their age in brussels sprouts. But you're a grown-up. I'm not going to make you eat twenty-five brussels sprouts."
"I'll eat brussels sprouts."
Later I was filling up the plates with food, and I put a single brussels sprout on Josh's plate, because I'm a smart aleck. He came into the kitchen and protested, loading up his plate with an eight-year-old's serving. After we'd been eating awhile, I asked him how the sprouts were treating him.
"I like them. You've converted me."
Girls are stupid, and we believe a lot of untrue things that boys tell us, but I was not to be fooled. I was midway through a protest when I realized that Josh had complimented everything I'd ever served him. Surely he hadn't liked everything.
"You're never going to tell me that you don't like something, are you?"
"Sure I will. I mean, not right away. Later, when you start talking about making it again."
I guess Josh's family had a rule about not complaining about food, too. He's always very appreciative when I make him any kind of food at all, even brussels sprouts, and so I suppose it worked. It must be a pretty good rule. Maybe you can teach kids to be gracious and get them to shut up at the same time.