I’ve been trying so hard not to worry about Scrip’s eating habits, and feigning nonchalance every time I scrape a carefully prepared meal into the bin, that I hadn’t realised how much of an issue it had actually become.
She’s certainly not a fussy eater by many peoples’ standards – particularly my mum’s (I know I was terrible and have memories of only enjoying plain chicken sandwiches on white bread. And then I became vegetarian. So she should know). But all it takes is a few refused mouthfuls, bouts of crying at the dinner table and pushing plates of food that used to be favourites away to start you worrying.
Comparisons are never helpful and particularly not when talking about children’s mealtimes. Apparently, my husband ‘ate everything that was put in front of him’ when he was little, and some friends’ children are more concerned about volume than what they’re eating, hoovering up everything in sight. Scrip also seemed to enjoy everything when we first introduced food – and we followed all the stages religiously – rice, pulped veg, pulped fruit, cereal, macaroni cheese etc. etc. All went according to plan – until now.
So I felt like it was time to get inspiration – and not in the form of Annabel Karmel (although her veggie muffins have gone down a treat in the past). I’d read French children don’t throw food as my first book post-baby (it took me a few months to get through it in between feeding and sleeping, as you can imagine) and I found the continental approach really interesting. So when my sister gave me another one that sounded pretty similar but was all about food – French kids eat everything – I thought it was a good time to have a read.
I’m only part way through, but it’s been a revelation – half to reaffirm what I was already trying to do, and half to make some simple changes to our routine and eating habits to encourage Scrip along. I’ve realised she really isn’t fussy but equally she’s not necessarily being given positive encouragement along the way. Karen Le Billon has a set of excellent rules in her book and a really good commentary and rationale which is definitely worth reading in detail. But here are three quick interpretations I’ve started to implement that seem to be taking us in the right direction:
Eat together and eat the same things – during the week, with the nannyshare, Scrip has a natural lunch and dinner buddy and eats really well. Breakfast is also quite sociable and there’s usually one of us eating alongside her. But, without realising it, we’ve fallen into the habit of weekends meaning separate meals for Scrip, eaten alone at the table (or sometimes with relatives hovering over her). Not a great way to enjoy your meals. So this last weekend I prepared food for all of us – it took a bit of planning ahead but it was worth it. And my husband and I sat down with her for lunch and dinner and ate small portions of what she was having. We chatted normally and left her to eat while we did. And she ate.
Encourage her to try foods but don’t force her to eat – it’s about keeping it light and encouraging but not getting stressed or forcing. Equally, if she hasn’t liked something, I haven’t given her crackers instead or filled her up on fruit and yoghurt (much as she’s been asking for them). I’ll just try again another day.
No snacking – Scrip doesn’t have juice, sweets or lots of biscuits. But she has had raisins or breadsticks to ‘tide her over’. She might have needed small meals in the past, but she doesn’t any more. There are lots of reasons the French don’t let their children have snacks, but the main one that attracted me was that it makes their children hungrier for their main meals. And it certainly works for Scrip. Yesterday she ate a whole bowl of pilaf with vegetables and some cold chicken (first time ever – unlike her mummy at her age).
So far, so good. I’ll keep reading and trying. Like everything, it’s a work in progress.