The children are shocking spendthrifts; their endless goings and comings, their restlessness, their energy, the very wagging of their tongues, all mean expenditure of substance: the loss is not appreciable, but they lose something by every sudden sally, out of doors or within. No doubt the gain of power which results from exercise is more than compensation for the loss of substance; but, all the same, this loss must be promptly made good. And not only is the body of the child more active, proportionately, than that of the man: the child’s brain as compared with the man’s is in a perpetual flutter of endeavor. It is calculated that though the brain of a man weighs no more than a fortieth part of his body, yet a fifth or a sixth of his whole complement of blood goes to nourish this delicate and intensely active organ; but, in the child’s case, a considerably larger proportion of the blood that is in him is spent on the sustenance of his brain. And all the time, with these excessive demands upon him , the child has to grow! not merely to make up for waste, but to produce new substance in brain and body.
Our language reveals the truth. We say to our children, “You are wearing me out.” Or, “If only I could bottle that energy …”. We tell them to calm down, to quit, to stop, to settle down, to go in or go out — not in and out. We say, “Please don’t jump on Mama” or “Walk please” or “Don’t wrestle near where your father is sleeping.” All the while they ask questions, “Why is the moon not round tonight?” and “What do you mean you could strangle Daddy, Mommy? That’s mean!” And if they are not asking questions, they talk, they sing, they prattle, they make nonsense noises, popping in during conversations not meant for them, absorbing the general tensions or happiness around them like filter feeders. Children are prodigals of energy. They spend all they have on nothings. They do not conserve. They do not play it safe. They do not pace themselves or look ahead. If they have energy, they spend it immediately.
And all of this is commanded from the brain — the physical activity, the language, concepts, emotions, everything zips through the gray matter at light speed. They do all this oblivious to any need for food, ignorant of the laws of health.
What is the obvious conclusion? That we feed the child well. Charlotte Mason recommends regular meals at usual, unbroken intervals. We should avoid feeding children fried or overly spicy foods. They shouldn’t drink until after eating. Fresh fruit at breakfast is invaluable, as well as oatmeal and bacon. Animal food at least once a day for the brain. Jams in which the leathery coat of the fruit is preserved and without high fruit corn syrup is important and enjoyable. Also, drink water first thing in the morning and last thing at night to keep everything regular. With all this, however, remember:
It is not the food eaten as it is the food digested that nourishes the body and brain.
All this will be wasted if the child’s body does not thoroughly digest what is eaten. Charlotte Mason says:
… people are apt to forget how far mental and moral conditions affect the processes of digestion. The fact is, that the gastric juices which act as solvents to the viands are only secreted freely when the mind is in a cheerful and contented frame. If the child dislike his dinner, he swallows it, but the digestion of that distasteful meal is a laborious, much-impeded process: if the meal be eaten in silence, unrelieved by pleasant chat, the child loses much of the ‘good’ of his dinner. Hence it is not a matter of pampering them at all, but a matter of health, of due nutrition, that the children should enjoy their food, and that their meals should be eaten in gladness;
Of course, Charlotte could not have foreseen the attack upon our food and the many poor choices which would become the norm of the American table. She assumed people knew how to eat right. Today, we have to educate and discipline ourselves to eat right.
Parents often fall too near two extremes. One is to offer too little guidance in the matter of eating — giving him whatever he asks for and not restraining many of his impulses. Sodas are for the taking, as well as chips and cookies and all kinds of junk food. “Just as long as he is eating,” says the worried mother about her thin, underfed son.
This does nothing for the training of his tastes and his habits, which we should remember as the chief end of his education. Sitting at the table to complete meals, where only delicious, healthy things are offered does more than just give food for him. He learns the habits of table and the pleasant conversations during this time increases his language and conversation skills. He learns to chew slowly and sees good eating modeled.
But another disturbing trend has emerged where parents make too much of their children’s food — where “healthy” food becomes an “unhealthy” obsession. The child’s meals are extremely controlled. She is tested often for allergies. She becomes extremely delicate and unable to meet new situations without extreme preparations. These obsessions or controlling behaviors interfere with digestion and wellness, inculcating a fear of the outside or creating suspicions of all things out of personal control.
If we spend much time and energy fretting about the “right” food, this can interfere with digestion as well as a fight at the dinner table can. Parents should make broad, simple decisions about how they eat, they should make eating around the table a regular event, and they should remove as many stresses and promote as many happinesses as possible during meals.
- Work, Rest, and Play (gentleartoflearning.org)
- Eat What Your Body Wants! (mariaroseholistic.com)
- Healthy Foods for Digestive System (healthylifestylesliving.wordpress.com)
- Plum Organics’ Food Philosophy (plumorganics.com)
- Sleepy After Eating (plushbeds.com)
- What is clean eating? (mommyunderconstruction.wordpress.com)