Thursday 16 September 2010

Fussy eaters

It is most parent's nightmare........serving food to our children every night.

It is something I have given a lot of thought.

Why is it that after all the things we do quietly all day long for our children that we tend to judge ourselves solely on our children's reactions to what they are served and what they will eat at the end of the day?  I do suspect it has something to do with tiredness but........

Parents are the worst judges of their own behaviour and definitely give the Catholic church a run for their money when it comes to guilt.  Our minds flurry with self directed insults.......see list below and see if any have crept into your head sometime. 

  • "I am such a bad parent- my children won't eat (insert any number of food types here)".
  •  "If only I had made my child sit at the table until they finished their dinner when they were a baby they would be eating whatever I served now."
  •  "I wish my child ate like (insert someone else's child's name here who you once saw eat something your child won't"
  • "I dont know why I bother to cook dinner only to chuck it in the bin"
We all know the list could go on........

As you know I have five young boys- aged 12, 10, 7, 4 and nearly 2.

 I have asked all of the things on the list and many many more over my time as a parent.

I used to give myself SUCH a hard time over what my children would eat.  I am the most guilty parent going around who judged myself entirely on dinnertime success.

I look back now and ask "What the???"

I can laugh now especially as my fussiest eater whose diet was solely peanut butter sandwiches (at least they were on wholemeal bread!) and green apples is now my most adventurous eater.  He is 10.  He is the one who so excitedly dealt with the gutting of the sardines in a previous post.   He is the one who when we go to the market seeks out the items that are challenging for most adults and asks if we can buy it and cook something.  Last market trip it was tripe.  He loved the way it looked.  Food aversions aside it is a beautiful thing!

Anyway little Mr.10 cooked it up according to a traditional Italian recipe and we shared it with our extended family. Delicious.  All but 2 of the 9 children at the table devoured it.

His favourite foods now are the most adventurous of all of my five.  Hot curries, cheese (especially from Bruny Island Cheese- and the stinky, gooey and blue are his special faves), offal, weird and wonderful fruits (custard apple his current fave) don't put him off anymore.  Don't get me wrong- he doesn't eat ALL things by any means but he will try whatever is out in front of him- even things he has tried time and time again and doesn't like.  He still won't eat most tomato based cooked sauces- and when you think about it this rules out a lot of food.  No spaghetti bolognaise for him- CAN YOU BELIEVE IT????!!!! Have you ever heard of a child who doesn't LOVE it?? He just has cooked pasta with parmesan cheese instead.  Despite what you think- very healthy in itself and  no effort for me.

Why did I expend so much energy giving myself a hard time on something that in the scheme of things in fairly insignificant.

I have mentioned on a previous post about my children being very different.  Well of course they are!  Think about it like putting five of your friends together in a room .  You would never expect them to be the same would you?  Well either are my children....thank goodness.

Maybe this is where we find it so had to serve a family dinner that everyone eats.  We have an expectation that everyone eats the same things and enjoys it. For me there are five little people's food tastes to cater for- no mean feat to find meals that they all eat.  Why, when we happily accept that personality is unique, do we expect that our palate is not?  When you go out to dinner- do all your friends order the same thing? I doubt it.

OK- it is all sounding as scarily like I am leading to cooking five different meals. NO WAY!

I'm going to let you in on a mind blowing secret of mine! You know what liberated me from the stress? Brace yourself...........


I didn't give up serving dinner but I gave up expecting them all to like the same things.  And I gave up expecting all five of them to eat the meal put in front of them.  Don't get me wrong- you can hear the screams of delight in the next neighbourhood on the rare occasions that they all do eat the same dinner! 

As a child growing up in a family of five kids also it was the same for us.  We liked different things.  It became especially apparent when we all started having to cook for the family (I was 10) once a week.  Mum knew that the only way to get us cooking was to let us choose what we wanted.....mmmm ham steak and pineapple anyone?? Ooops! But her theory worked. All five of us are now keen cooks.

I already loved curries and I still cook the same curry now that  I cooked as my first meal for the family.
It came from the Asian cooking bible- Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian cookbook.  I am happy to say this is one of the few dishes that my children all eat (and one of the few with cooked tomatoes that Mr.10 eats).

It is a Malaysian chicken curry.  As a beginner I forgot to add one of the ingredients (there were quite a few!) that first time (coconut milk) but  I have to say I still prefer it without.
Click here for an adaptation of Charmaine Solomon's recipe.

One sibling had a special love for porridge.  Porridge it was for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Actually I am being unfair........sometimes he had weet-bix.  My mum decided it was a battle not worth waging.  He was growing and healthy.  The irony is that as a young adult he trained as a chef and is now a wonderful cook with an adventurous palate. 

I cook one dinner for my kids and those who don't like it can serve themselves Weet-Bix....but not until they have at least thanked me for my effort while I mutter "You little bastard do you know how much effort I have gone to?" under my breath! 

A while ago one of my most precious friends taught me a trick to deal with all tricky situations and here is where it comes in very handy.  "Put it in a bubble and blow it away".  Very freeing indeed.

I know now that my stress about mealtimes came from a place where I wanted my children to love the things I did (food especially)- but what I forgot was that for me it is the act of sharing that is important not the food itself.  More than anything I don't want them to grow up finding being at the table anything but an enjoyable experience. 

Can I say all this now because my older children have given up their food anxieties?.....that I don't think I can answer but giving up the stress was good for me and I know that that was DEFINITELY good for them. 

Sitting at the table at the end of the day is lovely.  We light candles and somebody chooses music.  It is generally not too stressful and pretty enjoyable.  Sometime it is a full blown disaster- but hey I have 5 kids!

So tonight when your kids kick up a fuss about dinner- break out the weet bix, open the wine kick back and stop beating yourself up.  After all when you think about it there aren't too many adults out there that are still eating weet-bix for dinner are there!


We are often listening to this at dinner........


  1. Your wish is granted!

    Oh my god, after last nights dinner disaster, I was pulling my hair out !! I am going to print this post out and put it on the fridge to remind me every night! Thanks!!

    I have emailed this link to my sister & sister in law - they would love this post also!

  2. You helped me with the fussy eating ! Now how do you get 5 kids dressed and out the door in the morning with out screaming!!!

  3. Wow, glad to see another liberated mum who can see the benefits of weetbix, museli or toast for dinner every now and then! To be able to accept the compliments that follow " you make the best weetbix EVER mum!", is another mean feat i have managed to accomplish. Often my children dont like what i cook - get over it- the world would be bland if we all liked everything. However i cant rest assured they will never be hungry and will enjoy the banter of mealtime no matter what they are eating!

  4. I eat beef tripe, :-) and I like them. Pity that I never know how to prepare them properly.
    To fix a meal for 5 kids...that's a real tough task.

  5. I burst out laughing when I read the line, 'I gave up.' How liberating, how freeing, with not just meals but with most things when you realise your investment is just that: your investment. I give up and I create a space that lets something wonderful in. Let go, let come, a wise friend of mine once said. Ta Ruth.

  6. another cracker Bunzi! love your work!
    But what's wrong with Ham Steak and Pineapple!
    Lots of love always,
    ps you forgot to mention the tuna mornay. Mmmmmmmmmm!!

  7. So nice to read your take on that time of day, reiterated a lot of things i've resigned myself to, of late! After all, it's all about joy, can be elusive but all the things you mentioned are I suspect just the ingredients needed to create some kind of velcro sticky glove for catching it. Love and hearty meals full of relaxed attitudes your way, Libby (Kate H's friend).

  8. Oh Ned!! The ham and pineapple AND the tuna mornay!! You are the BEST!!

  9. I gave up a while ago too. I swear my blood pressure dropped as a result! I'm going to try putting things in a bubble too.

  10. I still have porridge for breakfast more often than not ... Simple things well done is what I like (still).

    And my kids had some toast at tea time tonight ...

    Lovin' the music selections too.


  11. Oh my goodness Ruth. thank you so much for this post, I'm not ashamed to say I shed a few tears reading it. I give myself such a hard time about this. Such a hard time. Autism lives at our house and the sensory sensitivities that come with that add extra complications about which foods our beautiful Batsman will try. It's getting better but very very slowly. I am saving this post somewhere to remind me about the Weet box and the wine. Thank you xo

  12. You are SO right. Thank you for reminding me.
    90% of the time I am totally with you. Serve up well cooked, healthy, wide variety of foods and then they eat it, or they don't eat it. It's just one meal.

    Especially after a day at work, it is totally exhausting to have the delicious pumpkin soup, that you have carefully made, and that was a total winner night after night for months, rejected out of hand. 'I don't want pumpkin soup.'

    So then I serve up plain pasta - fabulous orrichetti - and plain pan fried free range chicken. All of it gets eaten. I get a request for a stuffed olive. 'What is it mama? What are you eating?' I am chastised for not watching out for the pit! But he really won't eat it. Nor will he eat the carrot sticks that I put on the side of his plate.

    It will pass. I long for the day of the tiny toddler who devoured mashed cannelli beans with garlic and peas and litres of pumpkin soup. The child who ate banana after banana - even when they were costing me $10 a kilo. I hope to see him soon.

    Thanks for reminding me what's important xox

  13. What a beautiful post, Ruth. Most days I try to let go too and I'm pleased to say that my eldest is turning a corner with her food choices and I'm hoping her sister will ask for something other than jam sandwiches someday! Anyhow, I'm going to share this post widely and put it somewhere to remind me on those days when I find it hard to let go. It is about the candles and the music and the food and mostly the company at the end of the day and we all need to remember that. xo

  14. Here from Suz's blog. I hear you sister!

    I guess in a way it is easier for me. I was the fussy eater in our home, so the stresses of having two fussy eaters did not drown me. Caused angst, yes, but blame, no.

    Thank you, great post!

  15. I don't yet have children, or a boyfriend for that matter...none the less, one day I shall, and I hope to remember your sage words of wisdom. I too sit here with tears in my eyes.

  16. I've just starting to go through with my 16 month old Ruth and it is soul destroying as I love to cook and like every other mum here, I make the effort and really think about what she likes and how I can make it different.

    A book that I have re tips for Toddlers says not to serve them anything if they don't eat dinner and they will learn to eat what they are given......what do you think about that? I really have no idea whether just to do porridge or go down the path of 'if you don't eat this then there is nothing else'??????

  17. Read your post...then Suz' here
    Hear hear is what I say.
    We've always offered cereal or plain apples/carrots as a dinner alternative.
    I'm going to try malaysian chicken curry though...with fingers crossed

  18. Nipped across from IG. Thank you for posting me a reply after Laura linked you in. I am very grateful. I am getting stressed about it and your right, what's the point?! We have a box of 48 weetabix in the house so there's my alternative. I think what's made it worse for me with my youngest is that he's a pretty bad sleeper too! Little monkey! I always hope that if he's had a good supper he might, just might sleep through.... Thanks Ruth xx

  19. Michele @ The Hills are Alive18 February 2014 at 19:34

    there WAS a guy on a documentary I once watched about extremely fussy eaters (and I have one of my own aged 6 and 3/4) who only ever ate Hot Chips. That is all. Day in day out. Every meal. Just hot chips. And he was in his 30s or something. Wish I could find a link to it. Took a heap of psych sessions and a lot of hard work to break him out of it - Made me feel better about my custard and weetbix and pb sandwich eating kid who has an ASD diagnosis and was a shocker feeder from Day One. Its been a long hard road for us with many meals wasted and tears and tanties over meal and snack times (and thats just from me!) and sessions with a speechie and dietician and using the SOS feeding program but pleased to say that he is now eating a wider repertoire of food. Not a WIDE repertoire mind....but WIDER...making progress.

  20. Wow, such a first world problem. I used to be hung up on what my children consumed too until a friend of mine who visits India regularly told me she had never, ever in all her years of travel there, seen a child turn their nose up at food. Put things into perspective for me big time.
    Totally agree with your point of having the kids involved in the food prep and meal planning.


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