I hope I’m a mums mum. I don’t believe in passing judgement, I won’t offer you my opinion, even when asked I’m reluctant because I don’t know the ins-and-outs of anyone’s life, and I don’t doubt it’s very complicated. Id rather not say something out of ignorance and make another mum feel bad. I’m not a strict parent myself, I’m completely flexible on every issue. Before I had children I was adamant I wouldn’t let them eat junk, watch tv, would change nappies on time and wash them everyday… none of this is the case as you all know. There is one thing however I do have very strong feels about… fussy eaters.
Recently I went out with some friends and we agreed to order a mixed selection for us all to share, including the kiddies. Some of the mums looked over the menus and picked a few things, others had long debates with their toddlers and infants about what they wanted to eat. It turned out there was a huge list of things their children didn’t like. Onions (cooked or otherwise), sweet corn, any veg, rice… the list was extensive and quite frankly silly. How does an 18 month old decide they don’t like cooked onions? And why wouldn’t you encourage your children to have vegetables just because they say they don’t like them. I know it sounds like I’m being judgmental, but I’m not (maybe a little). I completely respected their choices as I don’t know anything about their dietary requirements (they could have intolerances or allergies for example) and also mummies have to do whatever they have to do to make their lives easy. If that means cooking 4 different meals for the four different people in the house, that’s their choice and I respect it.
Now, to those of you who have plain old fashioned fussy eaters, this is for you. I don’t know who you are or your circumstances, so you can decide if this applies to your situation. Children are not born liking or disliking food. They are blank canvasses in many regards, some might have a taste for something you enjoyed while pregnant, but they won’t dislike anything. That is unless you encourage that. So for example, if your partner pulls his nose at onions, and your children see this, there’s a chance they might copy it. Or if you talk negatively about foods, for example I literally didn’t eat cooked veg other than potatoes before Aasiya was born. I knew I didn’t want that for her so I would purée all veg and smile and eat it at the same time as feeding her. It turns out most roasted vegetables are perfectly yummy. So if my tastebuds can adapt and change at the older age of 33, I’m sure younger children, who are far more mailable, can be encouraged to eat some vegetables.
I say this as a fussy eater myself. When I was younger I was the only fussy eater at our table so my mum would always make something separate for me. I wasn’t encouraged to eat food I didn’t like the look of (like lady fingers, I had literally never tried them but decided I didn’t like them)! Interestingly, I’m 4 inches shorter than my next tallest sibling (there’s five of us and my sisters are 5’6 and 5’8 and my brothers are 5’10 and 6’ approx) I’m also the only one who suffered from teenage acne and while my brothers have receding hairlines, they all have thick luscious hair, mine is limp and lifeless, expect in pregnancy! I’m the middle child so there shouldn’t really be any other mitigating factor. Your food provides you with nutrition. Your babies need that nutrition, especially at these crucial early junctures, not only for their physical development, but also for their brains (I’m not saying I’m the least intelligent… you can draw your own conclusions 😉 although I do have the worst memory 🤷🏽♀️)
I think the easiest thing to make anything tasty is to just add butter or try cooking it in a different way: steam, boil, roast, there are so many options and the flavour always changes slightly. I never add salt, but try other seasonings. Or try having positive conversations around food. Instead of reaching for crisps or other sweet treats, give them a bag of apples or other fruit. Just blitz a handful of berries in full fat yogurt, let that be a treat. I know people argue that fruit is more expensive, but I’m not a high earner and I feel there are lots of options out there including cheaper supermarkets – change where you shop. My local Aldi always has 6 fruit and veg on offer for under £1 each! It introduces variety and doesn’t break the bank. I feel really passionately about this because I feel like I’ve personally suffered as a consequence of it. Honestly, I know it’s hard, when your juggling so much else, but this is about your child’s future health and growth, so it’s worth that little bit of extra struggle. It’s ok to be flexible with sleeping sometimes, eventually they tire themselves out, and if it means you get to go on date night, what the heck, it will help you mentally recharge and refresh. Yet parents obsess over sleeping rules and routines (which FYI I’m not saying are not important, sleep is crucial to brain development, but if they sleep a little later hopefully they’ll wake a little later, that’s been my experience). Children need to get a certain amount of sleep, as long as they are getting those hours it doesn’t really matter when they get them. Of course encouraging good sleeping habits is important, but I’d argue it’s lower on the parenting pyramid of needs than food.
It’s really integral to encourage good eating habits in children as these will be habits for life. It’s paramount for them to have a good relationship with food so they grow up appreciating its importance, especially these days with obesity in children on the rise. In 2015/16, over 1 in 5 children in Reception, and over 1 in 3 children in Year 6 were measured as obese or overweight (stats from gov.uk) and conversely eating disorders are also on the increase in the UK with the most commonly affected group being young girls aged between 13 and 17! (Beat eating disorders) we have to help our children have a healthy relationship with food, and that starts the moment they can eat. They need to make smart food choices and one way to do this is to try and have meals together as a family. In fact a Canadian study found that not only does this improve children’s eating habits, it also encourages them to try new foods as well as perform better at school. Here’s a link to the report so you can see some of the other benefits to.
Growing up we always ate together as a family, and I’m really passionate about recreating this for my children. Dinner times were some of my favourite times. It’s hard to recreate that nowadays, with both parents working, after school clubs, evening commitments but I’m adamant that it’s something we will do, even if it means I have to sacrifice some “me time” in the evenings.
If you need ideas on meals or just want to have a ‘thought shower’ with other mums and dads please leave a comment below. I know meal times are h.a.r.d work, but your not alone mama/papa I’m always happy to help.