My kids ask what’s for dinner at the breakfast table. They also wake up hungry and have very strong opinions about what they will and will not eat in the mornings. Before I addressed this problem when my two oldest were younger, I felt like a short order cook. I quickly began to realize that this demand, the demand of their little stomachs, was not a healthy thing. So, I set about to get at the heart of the matter- I had breakfast ready, or almost ready before they woke up. When they came into the kitchen in the morning there was only one option. Also, if I did not get breakfast cooked in time I would give the girls two choices and that was it- take it or leave it.
When my husband was a child he was allowed to eat whenever, wherever, however, and as much as he desired. His family hardly ever sat at the table, and he ate alone in front of his TV in his room. He was not trained, or should I say his stomach was not trained. As a result he is now an adult struggling with gluttony, he is a slave to cravings and addictions in this area. He hates this, and is struggling to mature in this area by overcoming his passions. In a real way, I think he understands true fasting, not because he is so great at it, but because he fails at it and keeps trying.
In my family, food was treated more organically. I was raised on a farm, and my mother cooked nutritious meals. We also sat at the table 99% of the time. We did not have the money to eat out, so when we did it was a treat. Most of our food came from a garden, and I developed a taste for fresh vegetables and farm raised meat. I was not allowed to snack whenever I wanted, and sugar was a rare treat. My mom loved to bake, and so I did not have all the packaged and processed sweet treats that my husband did. Food was always about fellowship. Our southern ways can sometimes backfire in that we think food defines an occasion. This is definitely the case with me. I have an expectation with food that desires a certain feeling. Needless to say, I also struggle with keeping food in its rightful place.
When we became Orthodox I realized that I did indeed have passions and cravings, and so when the struggle began to follow the church’s fasting rule it was difficult. It is still difficult for me. In my struggle I have tried to bring my children along with me. I talk to them, we plan meals, and we share our struggles with one another. Fasting has changed the way we eat, therefore it has changed the way we live. In that sense, fasting is one of the most important parts of our homeschool life. And fasting is not just about the days on the calendar when we are restricted from eating certain foods. It is about the totality of our relationship with food.
I do not know all the aspects or spiritual benefits of fasting. I have read alot about it, and I know our Lord fasted. I also know that the Church has maintained the discipline for a reason. These facts are enough for me to trust the Church and make fasting a priority. My goals for fasting change every year. Some years we have fasted better than others, mostly due to pregnancy and breast feeding. Since I am the main cook, it is hard for the rest of the family to fast during these times.
Here are just a few things I have learned about fasting with children. These are great for adults too (I try to follow these things too, and I struggle):
- Teach children to pray and thank God for their food. This is number one in my book.
- Do not allow a child to dictate what he/she will and will not eat. This requires diligence and patience. I see children who will not eat much of anything, they are so picky. This is something I feel strongly about, and I believe is the heart of training children to fast.
- Train children to say please and thank you for food that is prepared for them or given to them.
- Eat at the table as much as possible… together as a family.
- Limit appetite triggering foods: sugar and junk food mainly. (This is a hard one.)
- Set limits on how much or how little a child is allowed to eat. This rule is very relational in our home. A teenager eats more than a toddler. A toddler is not always hungry. There are different circumstances.
- Teach children where their food comes from and how to cook themselves.
- If a child refuses to eat a certain food, keep offering it for at least a year. If a child refuses to eat all together, set their plate on the counter. When they return and claim to be starving, offer them their plate.
- Teach them to limit the amount of food that they put on their plates at coffee hour, buffets, and pot luck dinners. Also, it does not hurt older children to get at the back of the line and learn to be content with what is left.
- Let children eat when they are hungry, but watch out for boredom or emotional eating.
- Keep celebrations and relate pleasure food with feasting times. If we never fast, how can we feast?
My goals for this year in the area of fasting are:
- Say a prayer of thanks over every piece of food that enters our mouths (this may be done silently at times). Even at snack times.
- Work together in the kitchen to prepare fasting meals that are nutritious. Let the kids take on some of the fasting meal planning.
- Stop eating right before we get full. This will take alot of practice..over and over and over.
Homeschooling families eat most of their meals together. This is a real opportunity of grace. I could write about the nature of fasting from my point of view, or how I believe deep in my heart, but I just do not feel qualified or ready for that. But, I can say that training the stomach is a highly spiritual and physical struggle, and that is why it is a pillar of our daily homeschool life. How do you teach your children to fast? Do you have recipes you can share or ideas to make fasting meaningful?
Let us encourage one another, and Happy Homeschooling!