Bread of Life or Deadly Sin: Kids Eating During Church

Hi there, Mamas!  I’m taking a break from my February heart-health theme (check out this article to see if your heart is at risk and this one to find out the skinny on fat) to talk about my morning with you.

L had an earlier than normal nap today, so by the time she woke up and ate, we were too late to attend our usual church.  We went to a later service at my childhood church.  Since we tend to go to earlier services, there aren’t typically a huge amount of families with young kids and she was fascinated by seeing all of the other children at this service.  Maybe it’s because of the general lack of youngins at our usual time, or that our regular church is pretty big and everyone is spread out, but it really surprised me how many children were eating during the service.

L at two months old, after her baptism.

L at two months old, after her baptism.

Take the family next to us: during the one-hour mass, their two kids chowed down on hard-boiled eggs, clementines, and puffs.  Whenever the kids would start talking or acting too rowdy, the parents would offer food.  Even though L had eaten right before we left, once she saw the yummy goodness, she would not stop pointing and grunting at the tasty treats.

Bread of Life?

I realize that food has many symbolic and literal representations in many religious celebrations.  From manna in the desert to the Last Supper, food was as an important part of life then as it is now (maybe more so, then, as it didn’t come so easily).  I won’t presume that I know the culture of every religious service (and I certainly won’t say that it’s easy to attend with a little one [or two, or three] in tow), but it puzzles me that parents think that it’s acceptable (or a good idea) for their kids to be eating during church.

Deadly Sin?

Feeding your kids during a church service is obviously distracted eating, similar to feeding your kids while they watch TV.  However, this isn’t just your kids eating while distracted; it can distract the parents of the eating child, other children (like my own), or everyone at the service if the food is spilled.  It could even be considered emotional eating if a child is truly upset about something and being told to silence their feelings with food.

They’re not sitting at a table focused on their food (or their feelings of hunger and fullness).  They’re not enjoying the taste of the food; just shoveling it in.  By “rewarding” kids with food when they are misbehaving (age-appropriately or not), it is reinforcing and encouraging the type of behavior the parents are wanting to stop.  What incentive do they have to pay attention to what’s going on in the house of worship?  Studies have shown that young church-goers are more overweight than non-church-goers once they hit middle age.  Could these willy-nilly feeding practices be contributing to that?

How to Repent

As I’ve said before, I’m no parenting expert, but I do know a little more than my fair share about food (and eating).  If you have been feeding your kids during church (or other non-table setting), here are a few tips on how to cut back so your family can focus on eating mindfully.

  • Practice division of responsibility.  Ellyn Satter, an authority in child nutrition created the division of responsibility.  The parents are responsible for what, when, and where their children eat and children are responsible for how much and whether they eat.  I would venture to say that in many situations, church is not an appropriate “where”.  I am certainly not talking about young breast- or bottle-fed infants here.  These tiny tots need to be fed when they are hungry, wherever that may be.  This division of responsibility is parents: what – breast milk or formula; infants: everything else.
  • Feed your kids before (or right after) the service.  Feeding your kids on a schedule helps to give them expectations about when to eat and allows them to become hungry, so that they actually want to eat when food is served.  If the service falls right during your typical meal time, you might need to give them an extra snack or an early breakfast, lunch, or dinner to tide them over.  If your kids have a diaper bag, you might consider some water to keep thirst at bay.
  • Attend to your child’s emotional needs.  If your child is truly angry or sad, address the issue.  Neither you, nor your child, will get anything out of the service if he or she is deeply bothered by something.  Don’t encourage them to bury their feelings with food.
  • Bring a religious book.  We all know kids have attention spans about as short as they are.  My newly-walking one-year-old gets fidgety once she realizes that she can’t run around for an hour.  We bring a child’s prayer book for her to look at when she is getting especially agitated.  (It’s soft in case she gets the urge to chuck it at the person in front of us.)

I hope these tips help you and your little ones enjoy your next worship service, Mamas (& Daddies).  Maybe you’ll even be able to enjoy it more once you can stop waitressing at the same time.  Let’s worship during services and save the eating for fellowship gatherings afterwards.

For more on distracted and mindful eating, check out Are You Teaching Your Child Nutritional Curse Words?

One comment

  1. Serena says:

    Great post! I did Cheerios in church with the first 2 kids. But not with the last 2 kids…as you say, it’s distracting – especially to my own kids who don’t get Cheerios! And then they have a harder time to learn to just sit and listen in church. Because what’s the ‘right’ age to cut them off from Cheerios? So we never started!

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