When my daughter turned 6 months I prepared her first solid meal. I laid out the Twister mat on the kitchen floor, stripped her down to her nappy and presented her with a bowl of porridge. It doesn’t require too much imagination to visualise what followed. We had a lot of fun, I hosed her down and fed her some milk and she settled down to sleep. I sunk into the sofa. Then I sat up again, with a jolt and a sudden realisation: this wasn’t a diverting one-off activity. I had to do this again. And again, every day, for a really long time.
Nearly two years later I mostly manage to feed my daughter regular meals, which she will sometimes eat. Broccoli is one of her favourite foods and she can almost pronounce ‘quinoa’. She will also go and plant herself on the knee of anyone within a 5-mile radius with a plate of chips. I have the same impulse when I see someone with a bottle of vintage Krug; some things are just instinctive.
But her weekly menu is a dull rotation, involving a lot of pesto and eggs. It’s tough to get inspired sometimes, and I have observed that the more time I spend on meal preparation, the less likely it is that any food will be consumed and the more likely it is that I will have to mop.
We sometimes resort to pulling out an organic food pouch, which is always met with delight. These pouches always make me feel inadequate as a mother though, and I notice that I am not alone in feeling the need to justify their use when in out in public.
‘They are handy when you’re out and about, aren’t they?’ I say in playgrounds, as if I have just discovered them and it’s all a bit foreign compared to our usual fare of homemade soup and freshly baked bread.
‘She seems to quite like them,’ I add, as the toddler inhales the entire thing in one.
Kids’ tastes evolve continually, and keeping up and introducing new things is a challenge. I work with a family food brand, and should be good at this stuff, but some days I can’t see beyond fish fingers. Clearing up the remains of one uneaten meal, whilst struggling to plan the next can be disheartening. But, lately, I’ve begun to focus on the wins rather than the frustrations, and have learnt to roll with what works:
– Sometimes I give tasters directly from the pan before serving it into a bowl. This seems to make the meal more exciting.
– If my daughter ‘helps’ in any way (opening the fridge, a quick stir with a big wooden spoon), she then thinks she’s cooked. My husband shares the same belief. They are then more inclined to appreciate the fruit of their labours.
– Sometimes we eat in front of the TV, whilst I look down disapprovingly on myself and tut.
– I continue to offer veggies with every meal and give myself a gold star when any of them are consumed (actually, we ran out of stars a while ago so I have been using glasses of Pinot Noir instead, which seem to work equally well).
– We share food often. Food always tastes better from someone else’s plate.
– We talk about food. All the time. I involve my daughter as much as possible in food shopping, and chat about what we’re going to cook later.
– I don’t worry if we have a veg-less, chip-fest sort of a day. Most nutritionists agree that it’s better to look at what kids eat across the week, rather than just in a single day. Pass the ketchup.
And, challenges aside, we do manage a little meal time frivolity and the successes are all the sweeter for their rarity. Any nutritionally beneficial intake or successful new flavour introductions are causes for celebration, and I don’t beat myself up if we occasionally all have Weetabix for dinner.
Here’s to the small wins. Did I mention she can nearly say ‘quinoa’?