When Sandy was a baby and we started him on solid foods it was a great experience. Not only did it begin to allow my bottle refuser to spend more than two hours away from me, it witnessed him try and enjoy everything. Everyone commented on what a good eater he was and how nice it was to see him wolfing full portions of food. I made him my own purees and the meals. It was all very healthy and enjoyable.
Pureed Squash, delicious…apparently
I remember distinctly thinking before I had children that I would never let them dictate an unhealthy menu. It was one of oh-so-many arrogant musings of the childless adult who has severe disdain for the masses of parents who must just be dense because they are doing it all wrong. It couldn’t possibly be that they were letting their children eat just chips at meals because that’s all the child would eat, no, they were obviously just awful parents. Ha ha ha. Oh how I laugh at my former self and my wrinkled nose at the thought of chicken nuggets.
Anyway, Sandy ate everything in that glorious 6-12 month phase. I mean, I even remember him happily scoffing boiled and pureed red cabbage, for goodness sake! (For what it’s worth, if you mix that with baby rice it goes blue and makes for delightful messy face baby photos)
Then his birthday came. He sank his face into that cake and we laughed and laughed without realising that it was practically the last time he would eat something happily and without a battle or deep suspicion for, well, another year and a half. For 18 months our boy barely ate. Well, obviously that’s not entirely true from a nutritional point of view because he was entirely healthy and, apart from a fair few low blood sugar tantrums, pretty happy in himself. But he basically survived on a diet of cow and gate my first museli, toast and strawberries for that whole time. I doubt he even ate enough protein in a month for what he should have had as a RDA in a day. Meat was non-existent in his diet and don’t even mention the V-word, because not a single legume passed his sweet little lips. Perhaps you think I exaggerate with hindsight? No, no I do not. Parent-to-be, you would not believe the tenacity of these little souls! The stubbornness that enables them to literally starve themselves and cry with hunger for hours in the face of anything you offer them, only to be ended if you give in and let them eat butter out of the tub with a spoon.
For Sandy, I’m fairly sure food because a control issue. If it hadn’t been food it would have been something else. Other children become incredibly picky about what they wear for example. Well I believe Sandy was growing up, and seeing a world in which he had literally no say, yet his own point of view, and nowhere to express it. And then Mummy starts shovelling something healthy into his mouth around his first birthday when he knows there are sweeter, better tasting things to be had and click suddenly he takes some control of his life in the only way he can and clamps that jaw shut.
For this whole period anything served in a bowl may as well have been turd-casserole in his eyes. We tried every finger food imaginably but unless it was bread or biscuits it was a no-no. He was so very suspicious of us. Anything we wanted him to eat was a guaranteed fail. So we tried the age old, “oh, YOU wouldn’t want THIS, it’s horrible” trick, whilst passing a plate with cheese and orange slices on to him. He was waaaay to wise for that, he saw right through it. Around 18 months old I got inventive. I cut bananas into the shape of little people, and apples into stars, and he looked at it and smiled. “Mummy! Star! Man!” I smiled too, “Yes! You try one! Eat the star! Eat the man!” “NO!” .
Eating nothing but bread at his second Christmas dinner
Of course there were times he did eat something vaguely healthy. At my Mums for example. Or my mother-in-laws. Or with my Dad. Or basically anywhere except at home. So he would scarf down a full portion of chicken supreme, or a Heinz jar, or three of Granda’s saugsages, and them come home filled for several days, full of energy from a proper meal, energy to be used to resist every piece of sustenance that we could provide him with. Very occasionally, hunger got the better of him and he would eat something here. He would latch onto something he found in the cupboard, or on our plate, and eat the whole thing and I would rejoice. “He ate! He ate! Quick! To Asda! Buy every single babybel they have! We’ve cracked it” Of course these items were immediately shunned and the logic of “but you loved it yesterday” scorned as more toast was rolled out. I think for this year and a half he pretty much survived by filling up at relatives houses and tided himself over on toast until the next time he could let his guard down. Oh, yeah, and he’d guzzle bottle after bottle of milk allllll night long too. That was another perk.
Out and about, eating….bread
Ok, so I paint a bleak picture. Maybe you think this is an extreme case and ok Sandy is quite a strong willed child, but as much as I got so down-heartened seeing other children his age tucking into lasagne and filled sandwiches and bloody vegetable sticks, I know that even from my circle of friends we were not alone. Fussy eating a la Sandy was common and just as extreme and I took solace in that. And suddenly all the parents joyously watching their littles tucking into plates of chips and tomato sauce in restaurants made sense, because last summer I was that same parent, instagramming a picture of sandy in ad-lib with a fist full of fries and a ketchup moustache captioning “OMG HE ACTUALLY ATE SOMETHING!!!!!”
And now for the happy turnaround. You knew it was coming, I mean, otherwise this post is just one big downer and provides no hope for anyone reading it who is going through the same. I’ve wanted to type this for so long but I’ve held off because I knew he couldn’t not eat forever, he had to improve, and he did. It was around Christmas time, when he was 28 months roughly, when he started to try a few new things. I don’t know what it was. I have suspicions that his sister’s weaning helped – seeing her trying things. I also think the constructive eating digger shaped cutlery and plates with the snowman (his obsession) on were positive. Perhaps giving him his own big boy seat at the table was useful too. But to be honest – and I know this is so not what anyone wants to hear – I think the main thing that aided it was time. Time and patience. That is to say, he came to it on his own terms, which further backs up my belief that it was a control issue. It started with those chips, and though he failed to repeat the performance the next day, he did start to try things more. He sat at the table with us – having chosen to join us, not having been placed there – and he played with the food we offered. He licked it and declined it and we said “good try” and brought his toast. And gradually – oh so gradually – he began to actually ingest it. He became attracted to certain concepts. Dipping, for example, and sauce became a regular feature of his meals. Pasta and sauce where he squirts it from the bottle himself. Square sausage in a roll, because Pa gets it at the café. His breakfast heated in the microwave, where he can press the buttons to “make the numbers dance”.
Eating his burger and chips
I now have a son who eats. Not the way I would ideally want, but I feel that will come… that adventurousness. He eats a more balanced diet and I enjoy making his little lunches to send him off to his Gran’s with. He isn’t suspicious and we accept when he declines. Last night we were at Frankie and Benny’s and I was so happy to see him eating his burger and bun and chips and marvel at the big dent he made in the meal. So we are ordering from the Kids menu right enough – much to the disdain of my former self – but it’s a good thing. I feel like an idiot for not realising all those awful parents in my past were just clinging on for bare life. There was light at the end of the tunnel and there is so much more to come for my boy. All I can advocate is time, patience, understanding and never forcing the issue, and hopefully the issue will resolve itself in the end.