This post was first published in March 2016. In honour of my attempts to get TM cooking I am republishing an updated version today. On Friday, TM and MM helped me make a chicken risotto. It was yummy. Unfortunately, MM had to be removed half way through cooking after hitting TM with the wooden spoon he was using to stir with. It was a health and safety decision. TM gave it two thumbs up initially, but after eating all the chicken, concluded that the rice was too gooey! Things are improving but the food fight continues. It’s more of a tussle these days though.
Pre-monkeys, I loved to cook. Mr LMR and I would regularly have friends and family over to eat. I would cook all afternoon, lay the table, choose a bottle or three of red wine and then bask in the compliments sent my way. When it came to weaning TM, I intended to pass on my enthusiasm for food to him. Sadly he had other ideas. For him it was all about quantity and not quality, and there began the big food fight.
Mr Fussy Fuss Pot
Weaning is a stage that can invoke a mixture of emotions. Excitement, fear, guilt, apprehension. I grew up with an unhealthy relationship with food and I have spent most of my adult life, trying to unravel this complicated part of my brain. Being an overweight teenager and adult seriously damaged my self esteem. Therefore, instilling a love of good, nutritious food meant more than a good diet. As parents, we are overwhelmed by advice and guidance from everyone. Health visitors, grandparents and other parents. You are also constantly bombarded with unhealthy foods like sweets, crisps and biscuits. Which we rarely have in the monkey house. Not because I never want the monkeys to have them but because I am more likely to eat them before they even know they are there.
Being strict about the crap stuff has caused a bit of a backlash from some. For example, without fail, my mum will give the monkeys sweets immediately before we leave at bedtime. Once she gave MM a slab of chocolate cake as big as his head, whilst he was already strapped in to the car!!! We tried to confiscate it a few minutes down the road, but he put up such a fight that it crumbled everywhere. An almighty tantrum ensued. He eventually fell asleep, after we gave up and drove on. Tiny little fists grasping what remained of the cake. The car was covered by the time we got home and later his bed, after we transferred him, asleep, from the car.
A diet of breastmilk, weetabix and Petite Filo
As a first time parent, with the Top Monkey, I was eager to start weaning. After all of the early breastfeeding problems, he was ravenous. I enrolled myself on the weaning course at the local Sure Start centre and I was full of hope and ideas. I was going to be the queen of the purée and mash. My baby’s pallet was going to be wide ranging and forever excited by all sorts of flavours. Sadly however, my beautiful dream was shattered fairly quickly by the realities of the task.
We started, as directed with baby rice and mushy veg. This was quickly rejected. Still ravenous, we spent weeks walking TM through numerous flavours and textures. The same foods were reintroduced day in, day out, week in, week out. Nothing. Carefully prepared food was binned day after day. Finally, defeated and deflated, we resorted to a diet of breastmilk, weetabix and petite filo. Our only saving grace was that he also liked bananas and sweet potatoe. At every meal a sweet potatoe was baked and mashed, just to ensure some sort of nutrition entered my baby to help feed his strong will. (Big sigh).
The rise of Fishfinger Mum
Our food battles lasted for years. I tried everything. I adapted our dinners so that we all ate the same thing together, I involved him in the making of everything from mini muffin pizzas, decorated like bunnies, to a simple cottage pie. He rejected it all. Sometimes he would walk to the kitchen table, take one look at his meal and just say “I don’t like that”. Even if it was something he had never even seen before. He wouldn’t try even the tiniest bite. All my hard work and efforts discarded. It was so upsetting and demoralising. Especially when his nursery would tell me he had eaten all of his dinner. A whole variety of weird and wonderful things. I could therefore only reach one conclusion. He hated me. He was out to get me, to break my will and then take over the world!
We tried coaxing and cajoling, airplanes and trains. No joy. His plate became more and more bland, the colours drained away, as beige foods were introduced one by one. Waffles and fishfingers became a favourite. At least it was something different. I wanted to be Annabel Karmel instead I was Fish finger mum.
In our defence
I feel the need to clarify at this stage that we were not weak and we did attempt to withhold food until it was eaten. This didn’t work either. There was always a window of opportunity between hungry TM and “so hungry, I want to tear down the house and scream at the top of my lungs” TM. Once the latter was in the house, all you could do was take cover. Hide your breakables and wait for the storm to pass. He never wore himself out and he never gave up. Think what you like oh critical ones, you weren’t there.
It all came to a head when TM was about 3. I was trying out macaroni and cheese. It had been on the menu for weeks and made in the simplest way possible. I was stubbornly serving it week in, week out, in the hope that one day he would sit down and just eat it. He didn’t. Every week, the rejection of my carefully prepared meal would chip away at the last of my resolve. Then one night I’d had enough. Armed with a spoon of food, I declared war. We would sit at the kitchen table until he tried it.
The battle was waged over a good two hours and we didn’t stay at the table. I persued him all over the house with that spoon. Until finally, in his bedroom after much shouting and crying, I forced him to eat one very small piece. My victory was brief, as what happened next could not have been predicted. He was sick. Projectile vomit all over his bed and me. The war was over, my child the victor. I was done. Macaroni and cheese was taken off the menu.
Some kids are fussy, some are not
Fish Finger Mum became entrenched in our every day life. Food became beige and I cringed every tea time. My love of cooking was crushed out of me. If it didn’t go in the oven or the slow cooker it was not going on the table. When MM reached weaning I didn’t even try. We relied on convenience pouches and mashed some of TM’s fishfingers. Usually the same quick meals made every week. Serving up a steady and bland diet. Amazingly, however, MM had other ideas.
On a day out with my parents, when he was about 18 months, MM was bought a bowl of pasta in tomatoe sauce by my mother. While we argued with TM about his sausages and chips and how he had to eat some before he got an ice cream, MM began eating the pasta. In fact he steadily and quietly worked his way through the whole bowl. It was a glimmer of hope. A spark that might eventually rekindle my love of cooking. I began serving him a little of what me and Mr LMR were having. He didn’t like all of it, but lots of it he did. Despite my lack of effort this time round, he was far more adventurous. The only possible conclusion? Some kids are fussy, some kids are not. If you just chill out a bit, they might just figure it out themselves.
Stress less and they will eat more
Don’t get me wrong, I have continued to promote a healthy diet in all of my monkeys. However, the biggest change came after they had a healthy eating day at school. TM came home eager to try new things. He only likes about 20% of what he tries but at least he tries it. Also, having a healthy appetite, he is regularly drawn to the classroom fruit bowl. Now he eats all sorts of fruit and helps himself regularly from our well stocked bowl at home. Their regular meals are still a bit limited, but that has more to do with limitations on my time.
As TM’s approved list of food increases, my confidence returns, supported also by MM’s enthusiasm to try whatever myself and Mr LMR are having. In fact, we tried macaroni and cheese again last week. It caused a lot of trauma, not surprisingly. However, this time I listened to why TM didn’t like it. Apparently, the cheese was slimy. So I made him a bowl of pasta, added peas and ham and grated dry cheese on top. Do you know what? He ate the lot!