Saturday, 24 September 2011

Starving the little tykes into submission... By Kate

My mum tells me that at the age of two, I ate everything and anything put in front of me. By the age of five, I was Little Miss Picky. Not to an unmanageable or unhealthy extent, but my fussiness was exasperating for my mum, who was - and is - a wonderful and imaginative cook. In time, my food foibles also cast a blight over my own enjoyment of social eating and I suspect it's partly for this reason that by adulthood I had pretty much trained myself out of it.

Not surprisingly then, I am keen that Rosie will not be a finicky and unadventurous eater. I want mealtimes to be enjoyable, family occasions rather than battlegrounds and I want her to grow up appreciating good food. Nor do I want to have to faff around giving Rosie separate meals from mine and Theo's. Life's too short.

So I felt a tad dismayed when it became clear that Rosie, after a promising start, had become a vegetable refusenik and developed a deeply suspicious view of any unfamiliar ingredients. And what's more, her repertoire was shrinking rapidly. Something Had To Be Done.

With a bit of analysis, it occurred to me I was making it a piece of cake for Rosie to refuse her main course by always offering plain Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit (which she adores) as a follow-up. My reasoning had been that it wasn't a major disaster if she didn't eat much of her first course because she would at least have had something nutritious to follow it. But in fact, it was an own goal. Why bother making the effort with a strange new concoction if there's a Sure Thing on the horizon?

So I changed strategy. If Rosie refused to more than play with her main course, there was no alternative option on the menu. My reasoning being that if she was truly hungry, she would eat whatever was put in front of her - or at least some of it. If she's not really hungry, then she clearly doesn't need more food.

We also started making an effort to have family meals every day - bringing our own suppertime forward to accommodate the change - in the name of "monkey see, monkey do". And if Rosie is fiddling with her food, we try not to draw attention to her and likewise try not to make a meal of it when she does deign to put something new into her mouth. Furthermore, if Rosie decides she doesn't want what's on offer, we try to curtail the meal with the minimum of fuss - no scolding or cajoling (although she gets re-offered the food if she indicates she wants it back again) - we just clean her up and get her down from the table . Oh, and we've also cut down on snacks between meals. Apart from occasional treats, she's only allowed a bit of fresh fruit, and nothing too close to mealtimes.

Rosie hasn't become The Incredible Scoffing Toddler overnight, but the good news is that the Get Tough Starvation Strategy is getting results. Rosie is now usually willing to at least try the things in her bowl and her repertoire is widening again. She's also surprised us (and probably herself) on several occasions by doing a last-minute volte-face and suddenly stuffing her face with a previously despised food and asking for seconds. I'm hopeful that in time we'll even get her on friendly terms with undisguised vegetable matter, but I'm not kidding myself that will happen any time soon.

"You won't actually let her starve, will you?" one concerned relative asked me after I'd outlined my new eating plan for Rosie. Of course not. And I'm even more confident that Rosie won't let herself starve. The only real drawback is that a supper refusal will tend to result in a horribly early start the following day. Rosie wakes up, can't get herself back to sleep because she's ravenous and in a neat piece of toddler revenge, ensures that Theo and I eventually give up our warm bed for a bleary family breakfast on the wrong side of 07.00.
You can't win them all. Still, at least Rosie retains a sense of style during her meals. After all, it's far easier to tackle a potentially threatening foodstuff while wearing the appropriate accessories.

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