Kids, food and the art of not losing your sanity

Here we go. The subject that can keep mothers ranting/stressing/ arguing/ pleading with their beloved children ad nauseam which of course will not aid the process of getting them to eat what you want them to eat.

My Mother who was in the US trying to order breakfast in a diner about a decade ago spent so long deliberating over what to choose due to the overwhelming choice/time of day/unfamiliarity of options that she felt the need to apologise. The waitress cheerfully quipped,  ‘we just want you to have what you want to have’ (you will have to imagine the appropriate accent) and this has stuck with us all as a bit of a joke, but rarely do you ever really get a free choice with food, constricted by time, money, sometimes season, whom else you are cooking/preparing for or what you have left in the fridge.

Kids seem not to have received the memo in this respect and definitely exercise the right to express how they feel if they don’t get their choice and the upshot can be lengthy domestic traumas as mothers attempt to broaden the range of foods consumed. Just to make us all feel better I hardly know anyone who doesn’t have trouble with this in one way shape or form. The pendulum swings from the ‘allergies’ people who are, to a man, cheerful despite not being able to eat all manner of delicious stuff, and are deeply grateful if you attempt to make a something-free cake just for them (I do appreciate choice is not the issue here), to the soooo fussy ones that they might just have to pop home for their own brand of tomato ketchup because you only have Sainsburys Own or only eat particular types of sausages ‘I only like Gloucester Old Spot’ !!!! O.M.G.

It really does make for some testing times at tea.

I don’t think I have any particular pearls of wisdom here although I am starting to wonder if there are a few Golden Rules :

  • Be seen eating the controversial stuff yourself, practice what you preach.
  • Try and eat together as much as you can or stand.
  • Try not to create an air of anticipation if you have ‘hidden’ something in the food. Think Poker Face.
  • Keep it plain, particularly with little kids who genuinely don’t seem to like anything too strong and spicy. (Even strong cheddar can trip you up! It did with us. Grrrr!!!!) Tastes do mature with age it seems.
  • Don’t attempt to pass off something that looks like a dish they like if it isn’t exactly what they like, this almost never works.
  • Don’t worry about individual battles, just concentrate on winning the war.

Some just aren’t into food and this can make bribing and bargaining tricky. In our house we have a nod to my Mother’s mantra ‘eat what’s put in front of you’ for public consumption but we have also attempted to ‘just keep trying’ with unpopular stuff bearing in mind the golden rules and ours can be swayed with the promise of something they like if they eat something they don’t (or pretend they don’t). One friend told me she could have some sweets/chocolate/a biscuit if she had eaten 3 pieces of fruit as a child. This was very clever. Presumably there would be no room left for a treat after 3 pieces of fruit!

Are either of you Gloucester Old Spots?

The ‘just keep trying’ I know sounds a bit pathetic but there is method in the madness – we have been known to hide the offending offering amongst other more beloved stuff. Not in the ‘passing off something as something else’ as above, but genuinely hiding it in casseroles, spaghetti bolognese, crumbles, that sort of thing. Eventually you reveal they have been eating kidneys or celeriac for ages in a casserole and so, in the case of celeriac, you move on to trying it mashed with potato. Or, more realistically, grate carrots into spaghetti bolognese and then move onto visible diced pieces and then once they’ve spotted that, try carrots for real. They don’t take kindly to being hoodwinked but sometimes there’s also relief that they have been eating yucky carrots and they weren’t that bad after all.

There are some very sophisticated hidden vegetable ideas and in fact a blog and book are the product. (I’m now awaiting a comment from someone who knows who she is, who’s going to give us the details). Beetroot in Chocolate cake would be one of mine, and for those desperate to get veg into kids this would definitely be the place to start. Eventually though I suspect one has to attempt to actually expand the repertoire of actual-veg-looking-like-veg eaten and then the gradual increase in visibility of it in a dish is a good tactic to take.

If anyone would like to comment with additional Golden Rules I’d really love to hear them. I’m considering setting up a page about this with the results of any discussion. Perhaps we’ll have a poll!

I won’t post a recipe today as where to pitch it is a bit of a challenge. I’ll add some recipes we have had some recent success with soon, but for some adaptable old favourites try Barely got your hat off Chicken Noodle Soup and Garlicky Breadcrumbs with Spaghetti.

And what did my Mother finally order in that diner all those years ago? Eggs, tea and toast, yummy!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Olivia
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 20:43:18

    I am one of those parents who has ranted and stressed and argued and pleaded. It got me no where. Then I read ‘The Great Big Veg Challenge’ by Charlotte Hume. (I am the ‘some one who knows who she is.’) It is full of recipes to encourage children to try different vegetables from artichokes on pizza to zucchini in burgers . This book set us on a great journey and now my sons will try new foods much more willingly.
    I am also a great believer in hidden veg. We eat the spag bol first and then guess the hidden vegetables – my record is eleven in one portion.
    For puddings I use custard a lot. It can be put with a crumble that has an unusual fruit in or a cake with a hidden veg such as beetroot or sweet potato.
    I have had many successes but still struggling with broccoli.


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