Fussy Eating & Cooking A Sunday Roast
I should probably preface this post by saying that I can't cook. Or is it won't cook?
I often joke that I don't know where the kitchen is and that I only actually have a kitchen at all because our house came with one! Well, a fridge is essential for the best chocolate (debate?) but that's about all I know.
Luckily, this weekend, I followed those Sunday aromas and discovered Amanda cooking a roast dinner. I'm very lucky because she does know how to cook and enjoys it... you know you've found a good 'un when they can rival your mum's Sunday lunches! Not only that but Amanda was teaching Rizz how to make stuffing balls. Bonus.
We've been trying to think about ways to support a positive attitude towards food and decided it would be good to involve her more in meal preparation. Of course, this means that I have to get more involved in some way too, you know, to be a good role model... Taking the photos counts, doesn’t it?
We did all the 'before' and 'after' routines, including washing our hands and loading the dishwasher. After all, it's not all about the actual food, it's also all about personal hygiene and contributing to the family.
During the meal, Amanda decided that instead of the usual way in which she serves everything up on our plates on our behalf, that she'd put each element out in separate dishes on the table. This meant we could all choose what we'd like and have control over our own portion size.
It has always grated on me to hear, "You must finish all your dinner or you'll go hungry."
As adults, we have full control of our own bellies and sometimes, for a whole host of reasons, we don't manage an entire portion ourselves, which has often been determined by someone else anyway. I agree that we should be cautious about wasting food but in my opinion, it's about being more considered in what we buy and dish up in the first place. So self-service is a strategy that might help us to balance waste vs. portion size, avoid confrontations and nurture a positive relationship with food. If children can be guided and encouraged to make personal, educated decisions about food, this can only be a good thing, right?
Something else we've recently introduced for our fussy little lady is 'The Tastebud Challenge'. This is where we, well, Amanda, serves up a taster of a new food. In an egg-cup. Just for the funs. Usually, this tasty morsal is a little of something we are having but which we don't want to force Rizz to eat an entire plate of on the first helping. We think it's a great way of introducing new foods without intimidating her.
She's even designed a chart for the fridge with a heart and a 'yuk' face with which to record the new foods she has tried. Previously, we'd found that Rizz had become more reluctant to try new foods. I wondered whether this was because she's 6 and that's normal or whether for her it was simpler to stick with a meal she knew she'd like rather than risk being faced with a whole plateful of something she didn't want to eat.
Am I just a new-age, airy-fairy mum with too few traditional mealtime values?
I don't believe so. I think we're living in different times with different circumstances (such as both parents working, less emphasis on 'home' education in schools, etc.) which create a new set of challenges when it comes to mealtimes.
I've seen extremes in food practices, from completely child-led experiences through to military management of mealtimes and who's to say that either is right or wrong? We’re all trying our best and it’s about finding what works most positively for your family and making sure everyone is on the same page. I'm sure there is a happy medium to aspire to in there somewhere. If your child is thriving then the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
Still, you can't help feeling you’re to blame when your child starts to wander into 'fussy eater' land, can you?
It's like a label of shame and yet another reason to feel that 'mum guilt'. However, I feel proud in just as many ways as I feel to blame. We are fortunate in that we are able to eat all together at the table every day for at least one meal and we, ahem, Amanda, does have time to cook. We love the social aspect of eating together and limit interruptions from technology so we can be fully present. In this way, we can savour what we're eating and spend time talking to each other.
But look, what we sometimes lose sight of is that it's not actually a competition.
So what’s the real aim here? For most of us, it's simply that our children grow up with some table manners, a balanced diet and positive attitude towards food.
It’s about feeing we've equipped them to make sensible choices and enjoy food as part of a healthy lifestyle. Is it about accruing the most comprehensive palette or being able to guarantee they’ll eat anything and everything anywhere you go? For me, that's not so high on my priorities and that's ok.
And if Rizz’s strengths turn out not to be in cooking, then that's perfectly fine too and I just hope she gets lucky with whomever she shares her life with in the future. I did! Thanks Amanda!
Making mealtimes about more than just food can be a great way to encourage everyone to look forward to it rather than dreading it as a chore.
For some time now, I've enjoyed using plates which cater to children's sense of fun. In particular, we have a plastic moulded plate which uses a game board idea to section a meal into small bite-size chunks, eventually leading to a hidden treat at the end.
We've used it to section different elements of the meal or just divide them into small, more manageable mouthfuls. The 'finish' section at the end is covered by a lid so you can decide on a little surprise your child would enjoy! You might try chocolate or fruit. Alternatively, you could try a non-food item, taking care, of course, to ensure your child doesn't eat anything inedible... but you know that, right?!
Does this 'treat-if-you-eat' method count as bribery or risk negative connetations? Possibly, but if you use it sparingly and try to vary what they find at the finish line, then I think it's just a fun tool to have up your sleeve. There are always going to be days when you could use a little extra help!
For a variation on this, we sometimes engage Rizz in a table quiz. As a super slow eater, she often needs some encouragement and motivation to make progress before the meal gets cold! After each mouthful, she absolutely loves to answer a question. Think: dinosaur names, planets, or whatever your child is interested in. It's great for eliciting conversation too! It can, ironically, make the process a bit longer. Nevertheless, it does focus her mind on the task at hand and keeps us all from getting bored at the table!
Much like when we socialise over dinner as adults, mealtimes can be reframed as a way of spending quality time together rather than just 'dinnertime'.
Our other favourite, pictured above well used, is a ceramic food art plate. Firstly, it's practical because it's heavy enough not to slide around as your child eats from it. It has a face design which allows for you or your child to create art with their meal. Basically this entices them to find mealtimes more entertaining and food more attractive. I know, I can hear you now, "Don't play with your food!" but at times, you're just desperate for them to eat something and if it encourages mealtimes to be enjoyable and leads to some eating, then why not give it a try?
Something we do struggle with is using a knife and fork (Rizz, not us!). We're looking out for ideas as to how to make it easier. Or at least just a little less like an octopus is trying to cut up their food. Please leave me a comment to share your ideas! I'd be grateful to hear what's worked for your children.
Scroll down to see a few of our family lifestyle photos from this weekend’s Sunday lunchtime. At the end you'll see that, at least for Rizz, cooking might not yet be all that rewarding...
So, in summary, we're continuing with some old ideas and trying out some new ones for mealtimes:
- There will be some element of choice for your meal.
- Choose your own portion size (within reason and with guidance to make sensible choices).
- We eat together at the table as much as possible and with no tech present.
- Treat desserts are reserved for finishing your dinner (again within reason), but;
- Fruit, raw vegetables and yoghurt are always available.
- Small, bite-sized trials of new foods.
- Everyone must wash their hands before dinner.
- Everyone must help tidy away.
- Mummy will always require chocolate at around 9pm.
Of course, I'm a photographer, not a psychologist or dietician. Please use your own judgement to manage mealtimes in your home, ok? However, I hope there are a few useful ideas here to try with your own little fussy eater. Good luck! For some legit advice, try the NHS' advice for fussy eating.
Other topics can be found on my blog.
“Hi, I’m Kate, a family photographer in Kent. In my unique studio near Sittingbourne, styled like the modern Instagram home you dream of, you’ll love the natural, fresh, light photos in your family gallery, captured whilst you relax and enjoy just being together. Fancy an outdoor family photoshoot on the beach or in the woods? Let’s create that timeless collection of images for your family before anyone grows any older! I’d love to meet you and capture the memories you’re making along the way…”
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