So this is the blog post I’ve been meaning to write for years the one that’s going to answer all of your questions and the most common question I get asked “how DO you get your children to eat absolutley EVERYTHING????” Well I’ll tell you a little secret….my children don’t eat absolutely EVERYTHING but they are over all wonderful eaters with a great attitude to food which leaves me in a place where I am happy with what they eat and we don’t have ‘food issues’.
Step back 23 years and to life with my first child, food was an ongoing battle and a nightmare. It was a source of constant stress, we forced food into him, we worried about his weight, we got blood tests done, days out involved looking at menu after menu trying to find somewhere that served what he would eat. Ordering out meant we had to specify no vegetables of any kind. He didn’t like gravy, he didn’t like his food touching other food. He ate chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, coco pops and nutella….sound familiar???
Coco pops and Nutella have been barred from my house with his younger brothers as I saw the battle they caused me to have with him and how they affected his palate and food preferences. I’m not saying the younger children are deprived of them but coco pops are for a treat when we go on holidays or at Christmas and nutella is something they have on crepes when we eat out. We have set boundaries, they eat a balanced diet and get treats, they are happy with that and I firmly believe in building a childs palate.
It had all changed for me when my second son was born 4 and half years after his brother. I was determined he was not going to be a fussy eater and I took a very specific approach. I was also a little older and my own passion for food had started to come to the fore. I was still only 23, my first son was born when I was a mere 19 years old and had little life experience but I had enough experience of a fussy eater to know I couldn’t cope with another.
I had worked 5 days a week from 9am to 6pm with my oldest but when my second was born I went down to 3 days a week. Food had become important to me and important to how I was rearing my family so I used the days when I was off to shop well and cook for the days I was working.
Most importantly with my second came a new confidence to not doubt myself and I made weaning him fun. I have a lovely memory of him sitting in his high chair after a trip to the market, I had bought olives, goats cheese and sundried tomatoes. I gave him an olive, he pushed it around his mouth and then suddenly his face lit up as he swallowed it. The sundried tomato was a success too and finally when he tried the goats cheese I watched with pleasure as he scrunched up his nose and shook his head and spat every single last bit of it out with disgust.
I thought it was the funniest thing ever and I loved his cute reactions. Even though he spat it out I was o.k with that as he had experienced new textures and new tastes some of which he still loves to this day.
He started to take a huge interest in food and food became fun with him, he once chased my mother around the garden when he was barely walking because she was carrying a jar of olives. We used to take trips to the market and I got him to continually taste and try new food. He never not tried, he always tasted new things and even if he didn’t like it he still swallowed it and would pass the next time. He had a healthy attitude to food.
The biggest change came years later when we unexpectedly had twins (I’m still getting my head around that one!!!) Suddenly I had 6 of us to feed. This really meant I had to take a no crap approach, it was one dinner for all and if you didn’t like it….there was plenty bread and butter!!!
From when the twins were little, as busy and all and as hectic as things were I cooked every day. With a bigger family cooking became even more imprtant to me and as my older boys were now 14 and 9 I was even more aware of the importance of feeding my family a healthy well balanced home cooked diet.
I continued to enjoy food with the twins, they were regulars at the weekly farmers market and I remember the ‘olive man’ desperatley trying to hold onto his stall while they equally as desperatley tried to climb out of the twin buggy onto it! We were a constant source of amusement for the tourists (it kind of comes with the territory when you have twins) and one day I remember an American lady remark “oh how cute! they’re looking for lollies”, she meant Lollipops but to my two when they were screaming for ‘ollies’ at the market they were infact odering me to the olive man for olives!
They used to snack on Samosas and Dolmades and Butterbean salad. We’d come home and have a ‘picnic’ lunch with our purchases. They never had sandwiches until they went to school, lunch was always a plate with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, meat, pickles, boiled eggs etc. They really loved this and it’s a great way to give the child choice and put them in control, they choose what goes into their mouth next.
Food is such an integral part of our family and who we are. My oldest son is now as obsessed with food as I am. There are things he still won’t eat but he’s gone from being a fussy eater to someone who embraces food and has a passion nearly as strong as mine.
He spent a year in Unversity in Shanghai, this defined him and openend him to a whole new food experience. He is the one who cooked for himself all through College, he did his shopping in The English Market in Cork and he loves cooking for his friends.
If you are struggling with a fussy eater now try not to worry too much, he is my example of how it can all turn out well. In my experience their palate changes in their teens and they start to enjoy experimenting…..and then when they hit College they discover hunger and will eat everything in sight!
That’s our story! These are just my personal experiences and I hope you find some of what you read here helpful. Remeber I’m not a chef or a child psychologist I am a homecook and a mother/parent like you. I was doing all of this with them from a very early age in my life long before I became a Food Blogger. Small steps can lead to big changes. Kenmare Foodie is dedicated to changing how people eat and to get more people back connecting with the joy of home cooking and eating real honest food.
You can read my ‘Top 9 Tips For Raising Happy Eaters’ below.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO LET YOU CHILDREN TRY DIFFERENT FOODS:
With my boys it was all about experimenting and developing a palate. This they will get by trying different flavours, textures and colours. Texture is a big thing for little ones so introduce as many textures as you can. Colour is good too, get them used to having different coloured food from very early on. My oldest hated anything green but we all know that lots of good foods are green. My youngest two used to eat cherry tomatoes like sweets and love veg. Also what worked for me was letting them try differet things off our plate, especially when we were eating out or on holidays. Most importantly don’t be afraid of them not liking something….it is ok!
LET THEM FEEL THEY ARE IN CONTROL:
If I put a massive plate of food in front of you and told you that you had to eat it ALL you would probably heave! Why should your little person feel any different? When we have dinner I put everything in bowls in the centre of the table and everyone helps themsleves. It makes for a more relaxed social experience and the children feel they are in control of what they eat.
REINFORCE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE TO FOOD (THEY LEARN FROM YOU):
If you have an open and positive approach to food this will pass down to your children. From a very young age they read the tiniest expression on our faces so if you show displeasure or distain they will pick up on it. Get them involved in food. I don’t just mean by cooking but talk to them about food, let them know where food comes from. Take them to the market and encourgae them to try different things. We love to forage, that doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as picking Blackberries or Wild Strawberries which are easy to identify. A positive approach from you will pay dividends.
DON’T FORCE THEM TO EAT EVERYTHING:
Children are all different sizes and have different appetites. For example with the twins, one is a full head taller then the other so naturally has a bigger appetite. We set a target for what we are happy with, I feed them off smaller size plates than ours and as long as we are happy that they’ve eaten enough of everything then it’s ok to leave a small bit behind.
LIMIT THE SNACKS ESPECIALLY THE SWEET AND SUGARY ONES:
Lets face it, we live in an age when we are under huge pressure from marketing companies AND OUR CHILDREN who are so savvy! In the younger years I tended to offer savoury snacks like the olives and dolmades above as I wanted to develop a savoury palate so I kept them clear of sugary sweet things. Always remember it is ok to say NO, you are the parent which makes YOU the boss!
If you give them a huge feed when they come in from school then they aren’t going to be hungry for dinner. My boys get a small snack after school so I’m sure they are well hungry by dinner time. In fact the youngest two accuse me of trying to starve them half the time but I know it’s ok as dinner goes down so well and they have survived 9 years of me!
VARY YOUR MEALS:
Variety is the spice of life and the internet is your best friend for inspiration when it comes to recipes. If you are stuck in a rut of offering the same thing all of the time there is a chance they will get bored of it and dinner will become a chore. I’m not suggesting you become Nigella Lawson but there are lots us here to help and inspire you without it being overly complicated or a huge chore. I cook my family meals daily on Snapchat if you cant to follow me there for inspiration by clicking on the link here https://www.snapchat.com/add/kenmarefoodie
ALWAYS EAT AT THE TABLE:
This is THE golden rule in our house! Dinner for us is more than the physical act of eating, it’s about sitting together as a family and taking time out to share and enjoy what I have put time and effort into cooking. As they get older it is the one time when we sit and talk too. It’s by no means Nirvana, we have accidental spills, sausages that can’t be cut and all that jazz but we are together and sharing in the food experience together. Even when the twins were in their high chairs all 6 of us sat and ate together. There were times when I though I was sinking as trying to feed twins at the same time as yourself with all the mayhen that two in highchairs brought but we did it, I’d feed myself and one and Mr C the other. We persevered through the sometimes tears and it worked.
SET A GOOD FOUNDATION EVERY DAY
For me the top one is that I make them breakfast every morning. I don’t buy cereal. Giving them sugar laden, chocolate proceesed crap at the start of the day is really no better than sending off on a Mars Bar or a packet Taytos! It also doesn’t do good for thier palate. It can be as simple as a boiled egg and brown bread or scrambled eggs on toast but it is the best start possible to the day.
Mine eat a good wholesome lunch at school too so having two good meals in them eases the pressure on the evening meal. 99% of the time they’ll gobble it anyway but if there is a problem the fact that the other two meals were good means I worry less. Now can you imagine if breakfast was Coco Pops and lunch was a Nutella sandwich how much pressure would be on at dinner time to get good food into them? Oh and I have been there…..remember I started by talking about my stress?
TRY TO RELAX AND DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP:
They will pick up on your stress and sometimes it can be an attention thing for them. Remember negative attention is still attention and they will go to any lenghts sometimes to get yours. Try not to meet a childs tantrum with your own. Stay calm and remeber, hunger is a great source and within reason they will eat when they are hungry.
It will all work out at the end of the day, it did with my fussy eater ;D