Friday, April 13, 2012

Mealtimes with Master 5

Ok, so my diet feels in check (all bar a little overeating on activated nuts and rice cakes). I feel healthy. I feel freaking fantastic really. I can control myself around temptation (Easter was an entirely different experience this year: who knew you could really enjoy just one or two eggs?).

Now I have a bigger challenge on my hands. The diet of my almost-5 year old son (in my mind I am hearing those dom dom  drums of gloom... you?)

I want you to read these and tell me honestly, am I being a neurotic mother?

Master almost-5 started off eating really well - anything we gave him really. But somewhere between 6 and 9 months (while darling husband and I were high-fiving ourselves for getting that element of parenting right), he became a fussy eater (dom dom). 

Now his diet consists of Weetbix (but if I let him have sugar laden Just Right it'd be less of a struggle), grain bread (he'd rather white), cheese on some days (I haven't worked out the formula as to which days he does and which days he doesn't), chicken nuggets, chips and fish fingers (he is almost 5 after all). He'll eat some noodles from out big stir fry cook up (but lordy help me if they are contaminated with the sauce or a shred of bok choy). He'll eat my homemade pita bread pizzas (Hawaiian only), but all the while will be asking when can we have pizzas "from the shop". 

I have managed to convince him that peas, carrots and corn will give him the superpowers of big muscles, seeing in the dark and running fast, so with a lot of help he'll eat them too (but I think given that he still can't lift or run as fast as a car, and apparently he can "see in the dark anyway", my days are numbered.)

He is a good fruit eater.

He won't eat pasta (except one that has since been taken off our weekly menu because it is  high in fat and sugar) and the only red meat I can get him to eat is in the form of a pastie from one particular local shop. So if one more person tells me to lace his spaghetti bolognese with zucchini I'm likely to strangle them with fettuccine.

I've tried all the tricks: making funny faces with the food on the plate, offering foods 15 times over, growing and involving him in our own vegie garden, had him look through recipe books to choose what he'd like, involve him in the cooking, and sending him to bed without dinner (this is our current tactic). It has all, apparently, been in vein. 

He has no problem eating unhealthy foods - packet potato chips, fish and chips-chips, lollies, biscuits and chocolate. He'll gorge on this kind of food. On two occasions he has eaten so much then ran around with typical boyish energy, then vomitted. So naturally, when he is around these type of foods I watch him like a hawk warning him to "not eat too much", "slow down", "maybe that will do...." (This is where the neurotic mother appears). 

I bet this little girl eats her dinner.
Meanest Indian
Attribution 2.0 Generic
(CC BY 2.0)

I am wondering (as I do with my parents' influence on my eating) if I am too strict with the unhealthy foods. By withholding the aforementioned unhealthy foods am I encouraging him to take a hunter-gather approach and stockpile (internally) when he gets the opportunity?  I see other parents freely handing out lollipops and processed foods to their youngsters who then seem to be able to eat half and walk away. 

I just want my son to try a variety of foods (I'd be happy for him to at least try - rather than screw his nose up the minute he sees it!). I want him to balance the good with the bad. I want him to know when he has had enough. I want to send him to bed knowing he has eaten. 

I don't want him to get to his 30's and still believe he doesn't like salmon, lamb, stir fried beef, rice, capsicum, cauliflower, pumpkin, potatoes or spinach....

Any advice (other than the bolognese suggestion?!), or should I just relax and let it happen by example?


  1. Firstly, I am not a parent, but i have worked as a nanny for a fair few years so thats where this opinion is coming from (aswell as my own upbringing).

    I think being strict with bad food is a good thing. If you explain that its unhealthy and not good for you and provide lots of healthy alternatives (as it sounds like you do). Fussy kids can be so hard to deal with, sometimes its not worth the battle every meal. I think you should work on improving diet day by day, rather then a sudden change. Each week or so aim to remove one 'bad' food from his diet and try and replace it with something new and healthy. Its obviously hard. Another thing ive seen work is the parents eating something and going on about how good it is and what a treat it is and saying to the child, something like 'oh this is mummys treat, sorry' and then the next time you get it out be like 'oh i guess you could try some', kids always seem to want a) what their parents have and b) what they are told they can't.
    I wish i had more advice, but i find the way to handle these things really differs from child to child.
    Good luck!

    1. Thank you for your reply rinniez - It's comforting to hear that I'm on the right track. I think the day by day approach is a great idea ;)

  2. Hi Naomi,

    I'm Michelle. I've just found your blog and am really enjoying it! I found your link to it in the coments on Sarah Wilson's blog.

    By way of encouragement: firstly, good on you for doing so many good things to teach your kids which foods are best for them! Please do persevere. I always ate well as a child but my younger brother was a shocker - he'd gladly eat homemade muesli with yoghurt, toast, spaghetti bolognese... and that's about it. From a young age all the way into his late, late teens. My poor, health-conscious (and virtually sugar-free!) Mum felt as though she was banging her head against a wall with him, I'm sure. They had many a dinner-time standoff in which he simply refused to eat, and went to bed without food - poor Mum.


    Eventually he moved out of home, aged 19, and had to learn to cook. And lo and behold, he gravitated towards those same healthy whole-food dishes that he and Mum had battled over for all those years! He is now 30 and eats a fantastic diet, extremely healthy and varied.

    My point is, then, that even if you think you're getting nowhere with your son, chances are that the things you are offering and telling him are sinking in.

    Some things that work for my four-year-old when he is being stroppy about food:
    'Oh, great, if you don't eat it then I get to eat your yummy dinner!'
    For fruit: 'How about having it as a smoothie?' (I make it with almond milk)
    Jokingly saying 'Yeah, I thought you would be too little to eat this!' He then gets a playful glint in his eye and eats it all up! Game-player.

    Of course you've probably tried these tactics, and they won't work for all kids, but for ours they can certainly come in handy.

    (PS- Our boy doesn't really go for junk foods - he is rarely offered them - but when he does he's not particularly interested and often leaves half a chocolate or biscuit behind. I'm sure we're just lucky that he's like this, but don't feel that your strict approach is making your kids binge - I think that comes down to individual characteristics/personality more than anything else.)

  3. Michelle, I could jump through the computer screen and kiss you! I know it's not guaranteed, but this is what I want to hear. I'll battle it out for the rest of his time at home if I know that when he reaches adulthood he appreciates a good variety of healthy foods.

    This week we've tried a variety of tactics - preparing dinner in a banquet style and telling him he can chose whatever he wants (- cauliflower, brocccoli, beans, peas, carrots, pumpkin, pasta and a meat dish) He chose nothing and ate nothing.

    We've got a chart on the fridge where he gets ticks for various things - one being "eat all my tea". If he gets a tick in all the boxes he gets pocket money that he can spend at the end of the week on his beloved Footy Cards. All of this other tasks have been completed but "eat all of my tea" remains blank. No footy cards for him...

    He has been banned from the computer for 3 days because he hasn't eaten his vegetables.... Oh I sound like a horrible mum!!

    But he is as stubborn as I am driven. It seems the harder I stick my boots in, the more he resists!

    Thank you for your message, it gives me renewed hope that under the surface I am making making ground.

  4. Oh good on you Naomi! Do stick with it, it's so important that your little one knows how important good eating is. And what a wonderful example you're giving him!

    I did have one extra idea - I'm sure he's an active little lad, but can you get him running around some mroe, get himr eally really physically tired? Might work up a good appetite? I know after running around in the fresh air I'm always *starving*!

    Good on you for trying all your tactics. I'm certain you'll find something that works for you!

    Also, all these characteristics your boy is showing are sure to stand him in good stead. When he is an adult he'll probably be praised to high heaven for his determination, strength of will, persistence...