Saturday, 11 February 2012

Food for thought

On the fantastic blog that is 'SAHDADPROUD' - the 'SAHD' for those of you who are initiated in the world of parent blogging stands for 'stay at home Dad'- a recent post entitled "Where have I gone wrong?" was published.  The post finds SAHD questioning his parenting skills due to the refusal by his son to eat the healthy nutritious food lovingly prepared by his Dad.  I started to write a comment in response to this brilliantly written piece but soon realised that I was writing an epic of my own.  And so, instead, here are my thoughts.

If I transport myself back in time, around five years to be precise, SAHD's post could well have been written about The Eight Year Old.  I had, through the weaning stages of introducing my first born to the delights of' solid food' been positively smug about the range of food I had successfully exposed him to.  The Health Visitor had marvelled at the foods my son would happily devour, "..avocado you say?","yes, I do say avocado, he loves it". 

The smug smile was soon wiped off my face though .  As my son got older and progressed onto so-called 'finger foods', and then later graduated onto such delights as the potato waffle, he quickly realised there were options he found preferable to the healthy vegetable-loaded meals  that his Mum spent hours planning, and making.  And so it was, that his diet became more and more limited until, at around the age of two, and for what felt like forever, he would only eat eight things (aside from the biscuits and crisps that he would happily have eaten all day):-  pasta in a homemade tomato sauce, potato waffles, tangerines, cheese sandwiches, porridge, weetabix, fromage frais (the children's sort that are fuelled with sugar)  and a 'pretend' fish pie made with boil in the bag cod in sauce mixed in with a pile of mash and a few peas on the side. 

If I put any other foods in front of him he would never shout or tantrum, no, he knew that the silence or the quiet tears would be equally as powerful  if not more so, to move me into giving him exactly what he wanted.  Just like SAHD, I too, felt like a huge failure.  In response - once I'd done tearing my hair out  - I decided I couldn't do with the daily food face-offs and subsequent disappointment (from both me and The (then) Two Year Old) whenever I tried to temp him with something new and flavoursome and nutritious.  And so instead, I tried to find a compromise that gave us both a bit of what we wanted.  I aimed to maximise the vitamins that we could gain from the healthier things he would eat.  I went down the route of 'hiding vegetables' in the  pasta sauce (onions, red pepper, carrot, celery, courgette) and then blending until smooth so they couldn't be detected.  I decided that if he unknowingly ate those vegetables along with a couple of tangerines a day then we were doing ok vitamin wise.  Throw in a bowl of porridge or weetabix for breakfast and we were having a good day.

The more relaxed I was able to be - and it really doesn't come naturally to me to be relaxed about this stuff - the more relaxed my son was.  So I kept on giving him his favourites and tried to offer him a choice of two relatively healthy options (more often than not, the pasta in tomato sauce or fish pie) which made him feel like he had a choice and some control over what he ate.  The  battling stopped and we both became less stressed.  If he began to reject any of his 'chosen' meals then I'd try to react as little as possible and then offer him a bowl of cereal or slice of toast (never anything more exciting than that) so that I wasn't worried about him being hungry and not getting enough food inside him.

In a very low key way, I kept on offering him different things that I would be eating and eventually - we're talking years. rather than weeks or months here - he became more interested in trying other flavours.  The use of a 'reward chart' helped with this  - ok so it may not be the best parenting technique 'bribing your kids into eating new things' but sometimes we just do what we need to do!  The incentive of gaining a 'star' each time he tried a new food, a small treat after collecting three stars and then a bigger treat after getting ten stars, was enough to tempt my son into trying different things and he surprised himself by even liking some of them.  Starting school and seeing other children eating lots of different foods was a big turning point too which saw him being a little more open to the possibility of life beyond pasta. 

From that time of food battles, there is something that really stuck with me. One day we were at the local library and another Mum looked on in wonder at my son as he ate his cheese sandwich.  "My daughter won't even entertain the thought of eating a sandwich" she said. As we compared notes she added this: "I tell myself that you don't see many eighteen year olds who don't eat sandwiches so I'm guessing this is just a phase".  Since that day I have applied this theory to many, many situation.  "You don't see many eighteen year olds who are still potty training", "you don't see many eighteen year olds who will only eat pasta for every meal",  "you don't (these days) see many eighteen year olds who can't read", to name but a few.

My best piece of parenting advice, for what it's worth and should anyone be interested, would always be this.  Babies, kids, they go through phases - we are all aware of this but it is easy to forget when we feel 'lost' in a particularly challenging parenting rut.  Our children, they change all the time.  And so do the resulting challenges that we face as parents.  No parenting rut will last forever, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel no matter how long that tunnel may appear to be.

As far as food goes now with The Eight Year Old. Well, we're getting there slowly but surely.  I can't honestly say his diet is particularly varied but we've come a long way.  A roast chicken dinner - complete with carrots, green beans and peas - rates up there amongst his favourites these days.  He still thinks baked beans are the devils very own poison, wouldn't dream of trying broccoli and thinks I'm lying when I tell him he used enjoy avocado, but hey "how many eighteen year olds do you see who won't eat baked beans eh?"

To help get The Eight Year Old more interested in the food that he eats - and also to help me fulfil my role as a Mum who's trying to do a good job of raising boys who will become the next generation of men - we've started a new thing in the last few weeks.  Instead of 2012 New Years Resolutions we set ourselves 'culinary challenges' . Read all about it in our blog called "Cocoa & Fig".  It's a new battle now, between Lego and cooking but hey, a girl's gotta try!

Check out SAHDANDPROUD by clicking here.


  1. That, right there, is a brilliant blog post and full of some really useful advice and tips!! Thank you for posting that. Currently my little man eats pretty well, but you never know what is around the corner.

    1. Thank you for leaving such a kind comment, you've made my day! Be sure to check out the SAHDANDPROUD blog post that inspired me to write this piece. And please do come back and leave lovely comments any time ;-) Jx