25 June 2012 22:28
What happened to my baby?
Do you look back on your baby years and fondly remember them eating all their puréed fruit and vegetables, a kin to a sparrow in the nest with no nonsense, relishing the next spoonful and wondering what the problem was about with fussy children? I certainly did. I think I really believed fussy eaters were born of parents not introducing tastes and flavours early on and proudly blended any veg we had for my babies, marvelling on how well mashed garden greens went down.
The first time mine began to express a preference was on the transition from mush to solids. Suddenly carrot was OK, peas and sweet corn tolerated, but greens and mushrooms were out the window, or more literally dropped from the high chair table! I have always been quite strict about food; I think it comes from my own upbringing and the need to avoid fussy eaters with 6 children. My solution was to impose a no pudding rule for anyone who failed to finish their main course, including all the greens! For some this worked a treat, for others it was a hollow victory as they just left the greens and endlessly missed out on pudding. Their choice, but I still worried they were missing important nutrients.
I am not quite sure at what point the penny dropped that children eat by more than one sense. They are more attuned to their senses than us adults and use them all more effectively. Liking is not just the flavour (which is stronger to them) but also the smell, the visual and the texture. Crack these and you crack your fussy eater!
Try making patterns, pictures or play scenes with meals. Favourites for mine were sausage and mash: The mash would be a mound to represent a castle. Sausages would be chopped into pieces and placed into the mash to represent soldiers, broccoli florets around the edge of the castle were the "baddies" and gravy the castle moat. As the children raced to eat the baddies and protect the soldiers, they quite forgot it was broccoli they were eating! Animals, faces and stick people are entertaining: carrot batons are great for this. Allowing children to help prepare and join in with the creating also gives a sense of ownership and desire to taste their work.
This lovely photo is thanks to The Boy and Me who kindly allowed me use it following her blog post The battle of the greens which looks at similar issues.
No matter how pretty and creative, there are some foods which most children just find off putting, onion and mushrooms for a start! Here I believe it is the food texture that is the issue. Cooked mushrooms have a slimy slug like feel and will even make many adults want to retch! All of my children fall into this camp but all eat plenty of onion and mushroom, they just don't taste them. My food processor is my "Desert Island" kitchen gadget and my key to feeding my children the vegetables I feel they need but which they dislike! All my mince recipes from cottage pie to Lasagne have at least 60% vegetable content, my trick is to chop the vegetables into mince meat size pieces before slow cooking with all the herbs, garlic and meat so that the vegetables and meat fuse as one texture and flavour.
My children are now age 8 to 14 and they will all try any food, still there are some they don't like, but casserole with vegetables is now ok so long as the "veg bits" are not too large. Admittedly the older children are more enthusiastic than the younger ones, but that gives me hope that it does all correct itself in time.
We eat as a family whenever we can, this is only
about half the week given all their clubs and activities, but on the evenings we are all home meal times are an important occasion in the day. Now that their tastes are maturing family meal times are much more versatile, I find I can be more liberal with the spices and herbs and more adventurous with flavours. That said I will still do a mince based dish at least once a week to ensure I use up any unpopular vegetables and help them along with their 5 a day!
I would love to hear if you have experienced fussy eaters and the vegetable rebellion and how you have dealt with the situation.