Once a week, usually on a Sunday, sometimes on a Saturday (we don’t like to be too predictable) we encourage our kids to eat something different.
We’re not talking swordfish or venison, asparagus, or even broccoli. We’re talking about a few slices of carrot, a couple of green beans, a veggie lasagne or a mild chicken curry. We put the food on their plates, give them a bit of encouragement, maybe nag them a bit, and watch them struggle.
Because our kids are fussy eaters. It’s very easy to accept fussy eaters and just continue to feed them pizza fingers and potato waffles at every meal. But it’s not good for their health and it’s not good for them socially. But getting them to eat something different isn’t easy. Which is why we only push the boundaries once a week.
Research shows something stupid like kids have to have something on their plate seven times before they will try it and 12 times before they actually start to like it. So it’s a slow process. And a painful one. Because they fight us every step of the way and will use every diversion technique in the book to get away from trying the food – humour, arguments, getting up from the table and claiming to be ‘not hungry’, claiming to not want pudding (because they think that the only reason for eating a meal is to be allowed pudding).
It means that mealtimes aren’t particularly enjoyable and it’s tempting to just say ‘Sod it! Let’s just go to Pizza Hut!’ but persistence is the only way forward. So we sit and watch as they pull faces, move their food around their plates, gulp down loads of drink and attempt to bury the offending objects under other food.
But we have made a little bit of progress. Take carrots. A year ago, none of them would eat carrots. Now number 2 son (the one who isn’t fussy) will just eat them. We used to have to cut the carrots into tiny pieces for my daughter and mix them with sweetcorn and Yorkshire pudding and feed them to her. Now she cuts them up herself and mixes them with the sweetcorn and eats them without any fuss. Only my eldest, who is nearly 11, continues to fuss about carrots. He makes it harder for himself by ‘saving the worst till last’, so not only is it cold, but he is also full and doesn’t need to eat it. And he cuts it into the tiniest pieces, prolonging the agony. It’s hard to watch. My mum can’t bear watching him struggling with food. I’m sure she thinks we’re cruel, but he can’t live the rest of his life on pasta, potatoes and pizza. So he eats those carrots. And we endure all his nonsense.
Lasagne will be pulled apart and the choice bits (the pasta and the cheese) will be eaten. Chicken curry will have the sauce wiped off and will be eaten with a frown. Although my eldest, who is vegetarian/ pescetarian/ fishcake-arian, wouldn’t touch it full stop. Even with Quorn chicken. Green beans will be eaten by number 2 son, while the other two will make a big fuss and usually end up without pudding.
We are still battling with my eldest and peas. He went off them at the age of 2 and hasn’t eaten them since, until my husband noticed that I gave them to the other two and not him. So he has them put on his plate now and we all have to put up with his dramatics as he tries to swallow this poisonous substance.
But we have had some success. Through this process (although not at Sunday dinner), we got my wheat-addicted eldest off Weetabix and on to Oatibix. At first he hated the Oatibix then he didn’t mind them. After about four weeks, he preferred them. With persistence we also got him to eat grapes, only red ones at first, and eventually green ones too.
We’ve got a long way to go until they have sociable eating habits and we can confidently send them out into the world and know that they will be able to eat whatever is given to them without fuss.
And until then the testing times will continue. Carrot, anyone?