Both my bubs were easy to feed as babies. They were never picky, pretty happy to eat what ever was served and even had a few curious loves like olives, gherkins and blue cheese.
Having been a teacher for a number of years before I became a Mum, I had developed quite strong theories about children and food. As with most things in motherhood, I have had to mould and adapt those theories through experience.
Before motherhood I would say that - "Fussy eaters were created by their parents. Children have a strong life force and won't let them selves starve. When they get hungry they will eat what is being offered. If parents give in then they are letting their children develop fussy habits"
Then while quite pregnant with my first bub Orlando, I taught a child that simply refused to eat - he once tried some watermelon after MUCH hard work convincing him that it was delicious. On tasting it he started to gag and threw up. This child obviously has some huge food issues in his life, but it got me thinking.... how am I going to deal with a child if they simply wont eat?
So I did some research into how to avoid this from the beginning and instead create healthy food habits in children. We have a very varied diet and I breast feed my babies, so right from the beginning they were having a variety of tastes. They moved on to solids easily, savoury veg first, and once established we introduced sweeter fruits. As we went we increased herbs and spices, even chilli and the kids were happy to eat it all. We were feeling good about the food habits we were creating and like we were off to a great start.
When both my kids hit around 2 or 2 1/2 their food preferences changed. With their increasing independence, food intake was no longer something I was going to be making decisions about... they wanted control of it. They worked out quickly that them not eating what I had prepared was a sure-fire way to get a reaction out of Mum.
I did some more research and happened upon a workshop that looked at kids and food. I was feeling torn between keeping to my theory (not letting the kids develop into fussy eaters), and being unhappy with what they were eating. Matilda is currently on a self-imposed dairy, meat and sweet diet. She is as strong willed as I am and will not negotiate any other food. I continue to serve it and she continues to pick out the protein and eat only that.
Through my research I discovered a few things that aided my understanding of the way children (particularly toddlers) eat -
* Instinctively children are drawn to sweet rather than savoury/bitter/sour, as in the wild, sweet foods are usually safe to eat. The others can be poisonous if the wrong foods are picked.
* Also in wild times, if food was scarce, it is instinctive to focus your food gathering, and eating on proteins. As it would sustain you and leave you feeling fuller for longer. The vegetables came a measly second.
* Children under 3 have a great level of calorific control. This is balanced over a 72 Hr period (not 24 like an adults) so they may have 1 day where they eat lots and then eat very little for the following 2 days.
This last fact provided me with much contemplation.... If we are born with an instinct and ability to control our calories, then how do we loose this? Adults managing their weight spend huge amounts of time trying to control their calorific intake, so where did this instinct go? Perhaps it disappears when we are trained to "Finish our dinner", "Eat or we will get hungry", and "Clean the plate or we wont get any desert"....
So... how do I get children who refuse to eat vegetables to eat them? How do I ensure they are eating everything they need for a balanced diet?
Well I use a mixture of techniques:
- The kids get to help plan our fortnightly menu. They both pick 2 or 3 dinners each that they really enjoy. We pick the rest and use these to justify why some of the meals are less "kid friendly".
- We choose what's served - they choose what to eat... If I am happy with all of the choices out, then if they pick and choose it shouldn't matter too much.
- The kids help us in the veggie garden. They plant, grow and harvest all the vegetables with great enthusiasm.
- The kids helps us cut and cook the vegetables. A little raw tasting is always done and usually preferred to the cooked bits.
- What's for dinner is what's for dinner... there is no alternative.... if you choose not to eat it then you go hungry.
- We talk at dinner about the good things the food is giving our bodies. This carrot is going to help my eyes see well, and this spinach is going to help me be strong, this chicken will help my muscles grow and this rice will give me energy. (Orlando at 5 now eats a wide variety of things he didn't used to, to give his body what it needs)
- We don't bribe with desert.
- We talk about eating a rainbow - all the different coloured foods give our bodies different essential ingredients.
- and then just to make sure all is covered... I hide vegetables.... (a very highly debated practise...I hide them but I also have them in the dinner so the kids have the opportunity to eat them and know that they are there). I grate carrot, zucchini and pumpkin into many sauces and dinners.
Here is a recipe from Jude Blereau's book Wholefoods for Children that we have been using a bit recently...
Makes 4-5 Cups
This is a brilliant base for many meals - it's great to have in the freezer
2 t butter, ghee or olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 sml/med zucchini, finely diced
1 sml piece of pumpkin, peeled, seeded and finely diced
handful of fresh herbs, including basil, oregano, and marjoram - all or any, roughly chopped
1 t dulse flakes
800g tinned tomatoes
1/4- 1/2 t apple juice concentrate (optional)
Melt butter in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, celery, carrot and a pinch of sea salt, and cook for 10 minutes or until soft and lightly coloured (you are not frying, just developing a little flavour).
Add the zucchini, pumpkin, herbs, dulse flakes and tinned tomatoes. Add 60 ml or water (or stock) to the empty tomato tins, swish around and empty into pot. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
Check the flavour and adjust - you might like to add a little freshly ground black pepper or the apple juice concentrate, but the pumpkin should have balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes.
Serve as is or blend in the food processor, thinning out with stock as required.
This looks just like a tomato pasta sauce. The texture is a little different but my kids have not discovered the veg and happily eat it.
Do you find your self hiding the odd vegetable? Any good recipes to share with the rest of us?