The Home School Court Report
No. 3

In This Issue


Doc’s Digest
Medical Advice from Dr. Sayre
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‘He Only Eats Mac and Cheese’

While a student at Jefferson Medical School and during a class on nutrition, I was shown a picture of two children having just swallowed a spoonful of cod liver oil. One child was an American Eskimo with a great big smile on his face. Yum, yum! The second child was a Californian schoolboy looking like he was just about to lose his lunch. The caption read, “Do we eat what we like, or do we like what we eat?” Understood was the concept that we generally develop a taste for those foods that are a common part of our diet. From the time they are old enough to walk, Eskimos have a diet heavy in fish. The child with the smile was expressing a predilection for this type of food. I wonder what type of expression he would have had if he had been offered a bowl of Sugar Smacks?


Many times in my practice, I have listened to parents explain that their children will only eat a particular food type, such as macaroni and cheese, or hot dogs. They are at their wits’ end: “I just don’t know what to do! He simply refuses to eat anything else!” My mind will drift back to that picture of the two children, and I can’t help but grin.

What is it, then, that causes some of our children to be “picky eaters”? My medical school professors postulated that a child becomes a picky eater because he or she has not been offered a variety of foods during their early years. Is this true? Well . . . maybe . . . but I think “offered” is too soft a word. “Made to eat” is probably a better way to put it!

Someone once said, “No child has ever starved to death with good food in front of him.” (I can't find this anywhere in the book of Proverbs, but it seems like it should be there!) In our family, putting this line of reasoning into practice means that my wife, Mary, and I don’t pander to the whims of each individual child. We can’t! Can you imagine what that would be like with 11 children?

Instead, each of our children is required to eat “what’s for supper,” including at least a little of every type of food that is offered. Sometimes this precipitates a battle of wills. If so, there is very likely an underlying heart issue that has to be dealt with anyway, such as frank disobedience, or a lack of respect for our authority. A standoff at the dinner table provides a forum for this type of confrontation. Although I am usually salivating and eager to “dig in” to my food, looking for any excuse to ignore misbehavior rather than confront it, I know that if I don’t deal with the heart at this time, I will surely have to deal with it later.

Putting off discipline is never a good idea. It only prolongs the inevitable, sometimes requiring conflict at an even more inconvenient time, or with respect to an issue of far greater gravity. I would rather draw the line in the sand over a few green beans than over a romantic relationship with an unsuitable suitor!

If, despite our “encouragement,” our children absolutely refuse to eat what they are served, it comes back in front of them for the next meal, at which time they are generally much less picky. It’s amazing how hunger attenuates the discriminating palate! Of course, there can be no snacks between meals when a standoff occurred at the previous meal. In this way, the child will be good and hungry, and therefore a lot less fussy about the nutrition available.

If you are into debate like our family, you’re probably waiting for evidence to substantiate the claim that picky eaters are made and not born. I must confess, besides what I was taught in medical school, I have only anecdotal evidence to offer.

For example, I have a 4-year-old who loves salad with no-fat raspberry pecan dressing—clearly not the food of choice for most 4-year-old kids! How did this happen? (Even Gruffy the Bear of Jungle Jam and Friends: The Radio Show! knows that eating fat-free foods is unnatural. That’s why he said to Millard the Monkey, who was being chased by a giant gorilla, “Try to look fat-free, Millard—nobody likes that stuff!”)

The answer is this: my 4-year-old sits at the table between my wife and one of my daughters, both salad fans who are careful with their diets. I must confess, if he were sitting next to me he would more likely be asking for the mac and cheese!

As homeschooling parents (and I’m preaching to myself as well), we’ve got to remember that children learn by example, and we are providing that example when we “sit in [our] house and when [we] walk by the way and when [we] lie down and when [we] rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7, New American Standard Version).

About the author

An HSLDA board member since 1997, Dr. Rodger Sayre is a family physician, and his wife Mary is a registered nurse. They live in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and teach their 11 children at home. Dr. Sayre received his medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and maintains board certification in family practice. A Geisinger Medical Group associate with a busy practice in Nicholson, Pennsylvania, he is a member of the Christian Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Sports Medicine.

Please Note

The views of guest columnists may not reflect the views of Home School Legal Defense Association.