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by Karen Legge

When Did You Become A Fussy Eater?

Weaning. It was such an adventure.

Pure, wholesome foods. A rainbow of vegetables. A cornucopia of textures. Every mealtime was met with the full suite of facial expressions as mini-me munched on bitter, sweet, spicy and some downright tart flavours as he began to experience the joy of food.

And never was he happier than with a tenderstem broccoli in hand, nibbling his way down with his two front-teeth – gumming it in to a green pulp.

Now. Now we have a different story altogether. My world kitchen enthusiast, who made me so proud in devouring delights from chilli con carne to prawn stir-fry has gone on food strike. Vegetables are now the minions of the devil. Things that he loved yesterday, are now “deeeeskussttting.” Alright little man – Mummy may not be Essex’s answer to Nigella but please don’t knock my chicken, bacon and tomato gnocchi.

I’m trying to be very relaxed about it but my concern is there’s some kind of genetic sharing of the vegaphobic I once was. One of my earliest memories is sitting at the table in our R.A.F. quarters in Cornwall wailing. My stubbornness knew no bounds when it came to cauliflower. I wasn’t allowed to get down from the table till I’d eaten it but that wouldn’t be until hell froze over. I do believe I won that battle!

It has to be said, my mother was not and never will be a role model of healthy food consumption – I know she’ll agree with this. She has her own demons to process, but it meant I grew up with the stock phrase – “I don’t like it.” If Mum wasn’t eating it, why should I? I was twenty before I tried baked beans… curry… garlic bread… pot noodles FFS (they have peas in them – fear the peas)! I would spend hours meticulously picking out the onion from a pasty – and anyone who knows me, knows I love me a pasty these days.

Although there are still certain foods that will never be masticated by myself (mushrooms are the spawn of the devil, alongside their evil counterparts olives), I have made it my mission that Harry sees me eat the full fresh veg aisle of Tescos. And it seemed to be working. Until now…

Somewhere along the way he’s adopted my youthful mantra – “don’t like it.” You liked it yesterday. You liked it last week. Deep breaths mumma – don’t lose your cool. The dinner table does not need to become a battle ground.

Like any good mum I consulted the oracle: google. Should I be worried? Was he going to be malnourished and contract scurvy? I’m rather gutted that I didn’t bookmark it but I stumbled upon an excellent article. It stressed that you shouldn’t show stress – that you should worry about what your little one eats across a week rather than a day. I don’t think they were necessarily referring to gingerbread men and black forest gateaux though – two of Harry’s most favoured food stuffs. There were also some great strategies for managing the fussy phase – and I’m really hoping it is a phase that doesn’t last till he’s twenty like me.

How I’m coping…
  • Timing. We were trying to eat as a family. This meant serving up at about 6pm. By this point, I was finding the cupboards had been raided for snacks as he was hungry. More than once I’d found him on the sofa with an entire loaf of bread he’d swiped, chowing down. It’s wonderful vacuuming the entire house to find Hansel has left a trail of breadcrumbs for you to follow. Hence, I’ve shifted mealtime for him to around 5pm, meaning he’s hungry without filling up on seven slices of Hovis!
  • Options. The suggestion was children serving themselves. I don’t think I have the patience for serving spoons and all that jazz so I’ve taken to putting a few different options on the plate alongside the main event e.g. some slices of cucumber, a few small squares of bread, a sprinkling of cheese, some peas or sweetcorn – you get the idea.
  • Portions. I’m a feeder. I’m definitely a quantity girl. It can be daunting having a mound of pasta that looks harder to scale than Everest, so I’ve cut right back. Less is more. If he’s still hungry – he can ask for seconds.
  • Pressure. I was doing the ‘give it a go – just try a mouthful‘ routine. Nope. The advice I’ve read is remove the pressure. Tell them “you don’t have to eat it.” And if they don’t – they don’t.
  • Alternatives. If they don’t eat it, don’t work your way through Delia Smith’s Encyclopaedia of Cooking to find something they will digest. Don’t offer an alternative. I used to stress that he’d go to bed hungry. Actually – it was far more selfish than that – I used to stress that he’d go to bed hungry and then wake me at 1am when the belly rumbles kicked in. I now believe if he’s hungry he’ll eat something. I don’t offer alternative.
  • Pudding. “You’ll get no dessert if you haven’t eaten your meal.” Hands up who has heard that one served up to them in their youth? I’m not sure how I feel about this but the article I cannot name recommended still offering a dessert, even if they don’t polish off their plate. I have started offering a little fruit whatever. Still not totally convinced by this but I will persevere.
  • Sneaky veg. Can you call yourself a parent if you haven’t hidden some form of vegetable in a meal somewhere. There’s my ‘tomato pasta sauce‘ with a tonne of veg blended in. There’s the ‘cheese sauce‘ that has broccoli or cauliflower casually blitzed. As Harry seems to exist on a diet of pasta, at least there’s some hint of his five-a-day being consumed. We love a smoothie too with kale whizzed in alongside banana, peanut butter and almond milk.
  • Leave it. In an attempt to minimise the amount of food that ends up on the floor through careless forking or foul play, I would whisk his plate away too quickly. Despite it being cold, often I’ve found he does go back to a plate. Congealed cauliflower cheese…. yuuuum, said no one, but Harry. Instead I ask him to take his plate to the bin when he’s done.

And how is this working out for you Karen? Crap! Some days he’s a star. Somedays he exists on cereal. Can I predict it? No! Does it drive me insane when I’ve cooked for him and he refuses? YES! I feel like even the gold star dinners are failing me. He turned down beans on toast yesterday. Beans on toast! This was the foolproof dinner of champions a few months ago.

Whether it be control, changing palate or just a phase, I’m trying to roll with it and keep calm. The last thing I want is for him to see food as the enemy. And after all, when he goes to nursery – he eats everything. I mean – everything. “He had seconds of chilli con carne today.” What – the boy who spits rice out like I’ve laced it with arsenic. “Oh, he had sandwiches.” What – the boy who has had every possible filling combination cut in to every conceivable shape from dolphins to trains to entice him and has still refused them? Roll with it mama. Keep calm. Remember – it’s food over the week and his nursery day probably counts for 40% of that!

So the conclusion here is that I’m trying stuff. I’m shifting patterns of meals and my expectations but it’s still driving me to insanity. Will it take me dipping broccoli stems in peanut butter to get him back on the greens?

Have any of you had similar issues with fussiness developing? How have you coped? I’d really appreciate the wisdom and experience of others who have been through similar.

Is there any great websites or cookbooks you would recommend? What are the guaranteed wins on lunch and dinner that get your little one gobbling up their meal without grief? Any ideas would be amazing!

Help a mumma out purrrlease!

Written by Karen Legge for her blog, The Unyoung Mum. Follow her on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.
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