Successfully catering for children – particularly in these circumstances we are in, where it is 3 meals a day, 7 days a week – is not about details. It’s not about lists or giving them this vegetable or that amount of rice. It’s about a state of mind. Specifically your state of mind. The state of mind of the child is utterly berserk and unpredictable and cannot be counted on at any time.
I am not going to tell you what you should be feeding your children. Children are so wildly and completely different and particular in their likes and tastes that the things my children will eat yours may not touch, and vice versa.
I am confident that by now, even if Before you outsourced almost all of your childrens’ meals to someone else – school/nanny/nursery – you will have managed to navigate your way into some sort of childrens’ eating schedule. You will have had to.
But you may be wondering why it’s so bloody relentless, why it’s so hard, why your children are so finicky and messy and ungrateful. You might be worried that they are not eating enough vegetables, or just enough food generally.
And I am here to say: it’s not you – it’s them. Children are, can be, go through periods of being, enormously difficult to feed. If yours aren’t then that’s fine, I envy you – but that’s not the usual run of things. Other people I envy are those who have managed to source seven meals that both you and your children are willing to eat, cutting down on elbow grease considerably.
Both mine, despite being weaned responsibly in exactly the same way, have gone through periods of nightmarish mono-diets. For six months Sam would only eat boiled eggs and cucumber. Kitty had a pesto-pasta sit-in that went on for what felt like most of 2012.
So, what is this miraculous state of mind that you have to get into in order to ensure the successful feeding of children? It is the twin pillars of sobriety: acceptance and patience. And another thing, another rather loaded word, which is: surrender.
Surrender is a tricky word when you apply it to the domestic sphere; many modern women do not surrender, don’t want to and don’t have to. This may be you; you may have gone straight back to work and scaffold your domestic life with all sorts of help and tricks. Tied to the home with children and no help can be a nasty jolt, particularly if you have no experience of surrender.
But those of us currently, or in the past, confined to domesticity – whether out of economics or choice – know that surrender is in fact not necessarily a negative thing. Surrender is sometimes tactical, and it doesn’t have to be a permanent state.
Anyway here we are, this is it. There is no escape. Accept it, surrender to it. There will be at least three meals a day, many of which may end up uneaten or on the floor and will at some point have to be cleared up. This is except on the times when you choose to deploy takeaway, of course.
And then, after the acceptance and the surrender, there is only patience. Most experts agree that the key to raising successful future eaters is a lack of tension at the childhood dinner table. I don’t mean let them crap on the floor or run riot; I don’t mean a lack of expectations, I mean a lack of tension.
The following might help loosen your shoulders if you are one of those parents, (there are many), who find mealtimes particularly stressful.
First: do not worry about the vitamins and vegetables thing. If there are literally absolutely no fruits or vegetables your child will eat, try to find a gummy vitamin pill they will take. Sam is fine about vegetables, but he will not eat any type of fruit, anywhere, ever and so he has 1/2 a fizzy vitamin tablet in water 3 times a week.
If your child will eat any fruit or any vegetable, give them that and don’t put them under pressure to eat new things, especially not now. They probably will try something else eventually, but it will be most likely due to peer pressure and sure as hell not because you insisted or cajoled or threatened or bribed them into it. It’s the same principle of that Instagram inspirational quote “Don’t look at how far you have left to go – look at how far you’ve come.” Okay, the child will eat raw carrots and cut-up apple. Boom – that’s their vitamin intake right there. Don’t sweat it.
Second: don’t worry about how much they’re eating. Children grow in fits and starts. Some weeks there will be nothing they won’t eat, they will drink the milk out of your tea and eat nine entire heads of broccoli. The next week they won’t touch anything except biscuits. Sometimes this eating/not eating thing is measured in months and years not weeks and it can really test you. It’s infuriating – but it is just the way that it is and there is nothing you can do about it.
Third: all the new and unusual things that my children have agreed to eat have been off my plate. Usually because they have come downstairs at dinnertime and they suddenly decide they want some of what I’m having. Then I will make them their own plateful the next day.
And that’s it, sorry. Possibly not remotely helpful. Maybe you know all this already. But if you don’t, when I realised these things, (on reading the amazing book My Child Won’t Eat! by Carlos Gonzalez), a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.
How are you doing? Please leave a handy comment in the box below if you feel like it.