Lord knows I was a fussy eater as a child.
And on top of this I had the misfortune to be born to parents who valued highly the nutritional and flavoursome attributes of cabbage. I kid you not. We got it on average three times a week though sometimes the cabbage marathon was spiced up with a hefty dose of cauliflower.
I loathed it. The cauli I could just about cope with but the cabbage made me gag. It was too stalky. And even the fleshy parts were like biting into small tiles of semi opaque plastic. Gravy did not help. In fact gravy – of the granulated kind – made it worse. Now the cabbage was coated with a grainy liquid that made it catch on the back of your throat whenever you tried to swallow it.
I inevitably left as much as I could on the side of my plate. In fact I became very cunning at disguising the sheer amount of cabbage that I could leave at one sitting. I devised a technique whereby an entire quarter of cabbage could be hidden beneath a single leaf which in turn was partially hidden by a carefully arranged knife and fork.
Alas, it fooled nobody and I was regularly nagged by my parents to eat it – you’ll never grow big and strong (they were right), starving people in Africa would count themselves lucky to have such food put in front of them (they’re welcome to it) and – from my granddad – it’ll put hairs on your chest (puberty did that anyway).
Now as an adult, whilst not inclined to jump for joy when faced with a portion of cabbage, I am able to eat it and even half enjoy it. I made my peace with cauliflower long ago and now rather like it. I’ve even been known to welcome a floret or two of broccoli.
You see, taste changes with age.
At least that’s what I’m hoping.
Our eldest, Ben, is giving us cause for concern at the moment as he is barely eating anything. Getting any kind of veg inside him is a labour of Hercules. Even the veg that I loved as a fussy kid – peas, sweet corn and carrots – he turns his nose up at. Now this in itself is normal. Kids traditionally do not like vegetables and, as recounted above, my own Cabbage Wars, have impressed themselves indelibly onto my memory.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t have a good appetite as a kid. Shove a plate of egg and chips in front of me and I’d wolf the lot down in a split second. Even a huge Sunday lunch found itself thrown down the back of my throat (except for the cabbage) and dropped into a bottomless pit once a week. My appetite was good; I was just fussy about the type of food I ate.
Ben is different. His appetite is worryingly small sometimes. Not just with vegetables but even with food he professes to like. Pizza and garlic bread picked at like it’s diseased. Spag bol – his one time favourite and one time guarantor of a cleaned plate – is now out of favour. Even food that all kids traditionally love – egg, chips, fish fingers, sausages, etc – are all sneered at and only eaten under duress.
Yesterday he hardly ate anything at all in terms of proper food. Nutrition bars and crisps – no problem. Sandwiches for lunch and pizza for tea barely touched.
“Tin ribs” hardly covers it. Literally.
So what to do?
Persist with the nagging? I know for a fact my parents eventually gave up and just lived with the abandoned cabbage mountains that regularly propped up my knife and fork.
Starve him until he’s so hungry that he’ll eat anything and be grateful for it? A friend of ours did that and it worked. But only for a while.
Give in and just let him eat gack until his taste buds finally mature? Plainly this is not a sensible option.
Serve him cabbage daily so he can see how much worse it could be and how lucky he actually is?
I have always just ignored fussy eating or not eating. My children are all really skinny (look at the photo of Joe on the banner of my blog - Harry is skinnier than that!) but that is the way children should be. We fatten up as we get older quickly enough. I was always a stick as a child.
You perhaps ought to check there is nothing wrong with him if you are seriously worried but I just ignore fussy eating. I put food in front of my children and if they eat it well and good and if they don't then I throw it away. They don't get a pudding though unless they eat everything. They do have a snack when they come in from school (a muffin or bread roll) cos they are hungry and they train most evenings so would probably faint if they had to wait till 7pm for food. But other than that we have a no snacks except fruit policy. And they only drink water. Squashes are terrible for spoiling the tastebuds and appetites of children. I rarely make child-friendly food - well, to be honest I rarely make edible food!!
So I would just be chilled about it. As long as he is not eating junk food instead of proper food I can't see it is a problem. He'll eat soon enough when he gets a growth phase and feels ravenous. It's better than having a child who is always hungry and putting on weight - that is harder to deal with I should imagine.
Does he have school dinners? Sometimes they will eat things in another environment that they won't touch at home!
Don't let food become an issue in your home - it is horrible going to visit people where their children act like little emperors demanding different food and eating junk. I have to restrain myself from giving the parents a good slapping!
Oh I know what else I meant to say. Re the pudding thing - I don't bribe them with puddings. There is always ice cream in the freezer and if they eat everything they know they can go and get some but I never say "oh if you just finish that little bit you can have a pudding" cos I don't think food should be like that. You should eat it because you are hungry and want to eat it. But they do have to stay at the table until everyone else has finished - including waiting for those who are eating a pudding. Often Joe will then decide he is going to eat his main course after all when he spies Harry's ice cream and he'll scoff it down stone cold! Yuck!
But my sister has had a lot of success with the pudding as a bribe strategy. Her children will eat anything!
Gina: pudding is definitely the leverage of choice in our house. You want pudding? Eat all your dinner. Don't want to eat all your dinner? Fine - but go without pudding; it's your choice. Of course we still get the "it's not fair" complaint. But it is worrying when Ben goes through days where a starving Ethiopian would give Ben food out of sheer sympathy... I guess you're right. It's best not to let food become a fetish or a major issue. And with regards the puddings, we do our damndest to ensure that they are as healthy as possible.
Growing up money was tight but we had a vegetable garden so most of the time I ate vegetables or didn't eat!
I am now a vegetarian but I still cook meat meals for my children as it is their choice.
However, the 8 year old has selective eating issues and we have learned to let her eat what she wants or she will not eat at all.Autistic 8 year olds can be very determined! She eats pasta and sauce,cheese pizza, fish fingers and sausages and I am grateful for that when I see how little some of her friends eat in school.The best bit is she refuses sweets but will eat lettuce and raw cabbage and she really loves it.When we were growing up my brother said the only vegetables he liked were peas,roast potatoes and chips and he grew up to be very healthy. He has worked in the sports centre for Wales since leaving school in sports related jobs and he is now 50 and pretty fit when you consider his early diet of chips,chips and chips!
Oh and my mother deep fried them in lard.....Yuk!
Ally: I'd be more than happy to see Ben eat potatoes and chips - but he has issues with those too!
I tend to agree with gina, and you certainly don't want to let the wee fella use food as a bargaining chip with you! I have 2 girls. The eldest is a sparrow when it comes to food, and yet she has days where she wille at almost everything and more. The younger one bounces through whatever is put infront of her. With the teenager I used to worry, as you would, and then I decided that she wasn't going to get the chance to use food as a weapon (strains of Pat Benatar?) and I thought it best that they learn to eat when they're hungry. Very few children starve themselves, but you might want to get his health checked discretely and maybe a dental visit? other than that, I'd go along the same ,lines as Gina.
It sounds as though he is engrossed in other activities and doesn't want to eat anything that will interrupt him. Do you all sit at the table together or does he eat whilst doing something else?
I agree with the others who say to not make a battle of it. Eating or not is one of the few control issues where kids have the upper hand. Fruit smoothies will get him his good nutrients as well as cabbage would. They can be made with yoghurt too. Good luck with all that.
Amanda: You're right (as is Gina). I don't think he'd starve himself but I do worry that he might trip up his physical development by not giving himself enough fuel. I have been wondering whether a trip to the doctors might be in order... but I have to say they're pretty useless in the UK.
English Rider: we all sit around together (committing the mortal sin of watching the telly) and all eat the same food. We're pretty strong on that - individual diners all get the same, not individual dinners. However, I don't think he's motivated by a desire to be doing something as such - just not to be eating.
I'd concur with the points about food being used as a bargaining tool. We get this from our Granddaughter.
It is a kind of power play that most children use. It isn't just about the food. She is subtle about it too. She will eat some vegetables but not others so we are left with little to argue about and end up making something with vegetables she will accept. A little victory for her.
I never had that problem as a child. I even loved Brussels Sprouts, especially with minced beef and mashed potato. I was once so greedy with it that I nearly choked and fainted at the table.
Cabbage, and sprouts, can be turned into so many nice things too; bacon and cashews can be added amongst loads of other stuff.
We make 'Cabbage Spaghetti'; basically greens just sliced very thinly and steamed. With copious amounts of gravy it doesn't really come over as cabbage. Granddaughter loves that.
AWB: I've noticed similar behaviour from Ben - he has a need to leave "something" on the plate at all times - even if it's just a small token item. A small victory, as you say.
I remember as a child hating brussel sprouts when my mum cooked them (hard anc crunchy) but loving them the way my nan cooked them (soft and mushy). I now know my mum's way was probably healthier but at least I ate them when at my nan's - much to my mum's annoyance.
Did you read about those brothers who lived to over 90 and never touched fruit and veg in their entire life?
It gave me hope.
Kaz: I didn't - and I hope the boy never does either... or the battle really will be lost!
I guess our house is one of the lucky few, our kids eat most everything without battles...
Does Ben like chocolate ? Maybe you could try making chocolate covered cauliflower... pudding and veggies at one go ???
ooh, 'rolling up my sleeves' before i wade in with my 2cents worth.
PAY ABSOLUTELY NO ATTENTION WHATSOEVER!
do not mention his lack of eating in his presence. he WILL eat when he's ready and the minute you talk about it you've made it an issue and it could become a power struggle. He may just be going through a phase and it will pass in time, all the better for it being downplayed. let him help plan a few menus such as "what shall we eat for dinner this week?" and have him help to shop for the items, the ones he likes and then do some cooking together, making him involved and having fun with it too. It may be a very limited menu but it will improve in time.
Owen: interesting idea - cauliflower cheesy chocolate, steak and chocolate pie, chocolate casserole... hmm. I could go for some of that myself. Not sure my cholesterol could take it though!
Clippy Mat: my wonderful wife, Karen, is reading from the same hymn sheet as you... and you're both probably right - the less energy put into it, the better. Least said, soonest mended, as the old saying goes.
My eldest , now almost 17, was really picky, even at 4 and 5 she seemed to hardly eat anything, she was and remains to be stick like. Though now she eats for England. I was the same ( though am no longer 'stick like').
I can't get into powerplaying either myself, just eat something, the kids go through different phases, the no vegs, the no pasta, the this can't touch that phase.
My other three are brilliant eaters so I haven't tried this method myself, but I have heard that the muffin tin approach works.
You take a muffin tin, with 12 - 15 spaces and put something different in each one, a marshmallow, some M and Ms, a floret of broccoli, a piece of meat... you ask child to enter into a contract to eat everything on the tray. You can start very minimal, make sure there are loads of things he's going to want to eat and slowly, gradually add in more veggies etc....( you can make it very colourful etc.)
Missbehaving: an interesting idea and one I think we'll hold in reserve in case Tom ever develops any food fads. I think Ben is a little too sussed to fall for it. We used to serve 10 peas with his food and he got pudding if he ate them all... gradually, over time, we'd increase the number of peas. Unfortunately he got very wise to it.
I have to agree with Clippy Mat here and your dear wife (if her name's Karen she must be a smart woman ;-).
The more we make an issue of food the more a child realises they have a bit of power over you. It's not that they mean to do it maliciously but it becomes effective because they know it worries you that they are not eating.
I had the same trouble with one of my daughters when they were young and to this day she still trys to eat differently to the rest of us.
My mum advised me to ignore it and she it explained it to me like this. When she was young, she would refuse to eat breakfast every day. Oh she was starving and really wanted to eat but she knew it upset her mum if she didn't so she went without to upset her. It sounds like she hated her mum doesn't it? She didn't, it was purely a means of having a bit of power in a family where they were all a bit downtrodden by life and an overbearing father.
I'm sure Ben will be just fine and will eat when he's hungry. My Chelsea lived on toast and mashed potatoes for about 9 months and lived to tell the tale.
I've seen a few progs on tv about quirky child eaters and the experts' concensus seems to be to leave them to it. Having said that it must be quite distressing as a parent to watch a child refuse to eat tasty and healthy food. I mean egg and chips - who couldn't love egg and chips :)
KayDee: I see I have a concensus (or conflux) of Karens to contend with! I better doff my cap and acquiesce peacably in that case! Though worryingly Ben doesn't go a bundle on toast or mashed potatoes either. In fact I'm pretty hard pressed to name a food stuff that he does really like (aside from chocolate and crisps). Oh - he likes popcorn. So that's one vegetable at least! ;-)
French Fancy: my point exactly! How can anyone not like egg and chips? Or fishfingers? I mean, they were made for kids! Captain Birdseye would tear his hair out in our house!
I can handle anything but Spring Cabbage. I have vivid memories of a piece stuck in my throat, and almost choking.
Still, even cabbage is better than mushy peas. Some things I NEVER get used to.
Rol: I must confess to a soft spot (well, naturally) for mushy peas. Both my nan and mum worked for a time in a fish and chip shop when I was a kid so I got hooked on the stuff from an early age. Fish, chips and mushy peas is still a treat for me. Agree totally about Spring Cabbage though. Urgh!
oh this food thing has done many cycles at our place. when i was a little girl, there was a family saying: "if grown ups like it, it must be nice". kind of weird, but the meaning is that "just try a mouthful, and you might like it now you're older". which works with some things/kiddos and not with others.
i really am no help cos my kiddos all have "healthy appetites" but of course would prefer junk food to fruit and veggies if it's there. which it isn't, much, although Bulldog has an annoying habit of always finding three big bags of chippies (crisps) "on special" whenever he pops to the supermarket.
so - i say what gina says - try not to let it come between you and ben, just do what comes naturally, offer food at food moments and if he's not hungry, just gloss over it and offer something else later.
so - our experience is that now danny eats absolutely everything (oh, he went off meat a year ago, but now eats "happy beef" but no gelatine products - that's fine, i do try to make things that he loves when he's home and we eat the same thing.) and the others eat bits'n'pieces of most things.
oh, last night i made Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad and offered those who didn't want that to make their own dinner. mousey cut up an apple and joined us at the table!! everyone else ate it, but charlie picked the parsnips, pumpkin and kumara out of it.
no problem, someone else ate that.
i think my mousey is around ben's age and i do insist he chooses "real food" first and "fun food" afterwards. which not very unschooly, but we know i'm a contradiction.
egads, that's a whole blog post right here in your comments. and i seriously doubt i've suggested anything new. oh well, saves me writing anything at my place tonight lol X
Katie: it is an honour to host such a superlative posting! Thank you - much food for thought (and thought for food)! After such a great response to this post I find I am less stressed about it all... and Ben has eaten some decent portions of food over the past 2 days. ;-)
Completely ignore fussy eating. Praise anyone at the table that eats veggies including your spouse. Act like good eating behavior is fascinating and fussy eating is invisible and boring. Pretend you don't hear your kid if they say they don't want to try someting or say it tastes bad. Lavish attention upon all good eating behavior.
This worked 100% for me with my two kids. I don't know of any food item that they refused to eat. I don't know if the super taster thing is a myth or what.
Check out the Kazdin Method and/or Incredible Years parenting books for more.
Tom: this is more where we are leaning towards and encouraging to hear of its success rate with your kids. Thank you.
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