Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fussy eating

"Basically, I've gone from Annabel Karmel to Captain Birdseye in under a year and it doesn't feel great."

As I sit here feeling slightly nauseous having stress-eaten five mini-melton mowbray pork pies on the way home from Aldi (it would have been six had I not dropped one) I try to think of strategies and approaches to deal with my current problem and reason for the increasing tightness in my chest and looming headache; my son's nutritional intake.

So (deep breath), here it goes, the inevitable post about 'fussy eating'. And, before I start, yes I know it's probably just a phase. Secondly, I humbly concur that fussy eating is very much a first world problem and if my son was actually starving he would indeed eat whatever was put in front of him. But, as I sit here trying to remember if it has been six or actually nine or twelve months since my son has knowingly eaten a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable I'm finding it hard to be pragmatic.

There was a time when my other half and I were worried that my son ate too many kiwi fruits having read an article about the negative effect of eating too many - I can't even remember what it was about now. Ah, how we laugh now (or not as the case may be) that we worried about him eating too much of anything back then ... in the heady days of kiwi, pear, blueberry, pea and pasta consumption.

He was never that great with veg but he would eat sweet potato, carrots and the odd pea. Fruit by the handful too, although never a great fan of apples or grapes. Sultanas were a godsend although finding a runaway raisin in his belly button at a nappy change once did give me a bit of a fright.

Gradually over a month or two fruit was rejected. I held on to the fact that he was still eating those Ella's Kitchen fruit pouch things and the odd banana. Vegetables well hidden in bolognaise sauces or handy Hipp Organic toddler meals were also a crafty vehicles to get some nutrients into my son ... but soon these too were rejected.

Gradually even favourites like fromage frais and yogurts were flatly refused. Cheesy omelettes with hidden peas were soon greeted with a loud 'NO!' and cast from the high chair table with disgust. Home made fruit smoothies were declared 'Yucky'. Frozen smoothie lollies didn't work at all. The fussy eating bells should have started ringing when our son started refusing fruit pouches with brown caps and would only eat one's with the green ones - and only Ella's, not any other brands or packaging.

With my son's increasing vocabulary (after dropping all words at 15 months - I presume to concentrate on walking - his voice came back rapidly and with aplomb learning new words and sentences quickly) came the fussy eating as now he was able to express what he wanted, mostly 'Biscuits' and 'Moot' (milk) and tell me quite clearly what he didn't want; declaring food offerings 'Too hot/cold/yucky/spikey/mushy'.

Offering an unacceptable meal now results in a flat refusal or a full blown tantrum. Yes, maybe I should sometimes be stricter but when dealing with a particularly stubborn, strong willed and loudly articulate toddler it's often easier to be flexible ... (ok to give in).

I have asked for, and been given lots of advice. 'Hide veg in pasta sauces' ... yep great but he won't eat pasta or sauce any more. 'Home made smoothies' ... tried it, won't drink them. 'Food bribing?' ... tried that too ... 'Please try one tiny bite of this meatball (which I have carefully with a napkin removed any bit of offending sauce from) and you can have a pudding afterwards' resulted in the tantrum of all tantrums where all my son fixated on was the word 'pudding', refused the meatball and screamed the word 'pudding' with the full force of toddler injustice through the streets of my home town whilst I hung my head in shame and defeat.

Pizza making .... yes tried this and he enjoys making the pizza, but still doesn't want to eat it afterwards. Making food into shapes, faces, robots ... tick, tick, tick. Short of hiding a blended carrot in a plate of chocolate pudding or syringing some into a box of chocolates ... I'm actually considering this as I type ... I'm at a loss.

With his refusal of foods has come an increased desire for milk, most notably formula milk. We've managed to replace his much loved bottles with toddler milk formula cartons with a straw over the last few months which has worked well. The only thing is instead of now standing demanding a bottle he now stands at the pantry screaming ''Carton please! A CARTON ... I WANT A CARTON! A CARTON", it can go on for hours.

After the obligatory and mostly pointless 2 year check up and a chat with the 'helpful' health visitor I vowed to do better. As she pointed out I was giving him too many snacks between meals. I told her about his refusal of certain foods to which she replied "It's your job to give him three healthy meals a day. If he refuses them then he doesn't get anything else. And he's CLEARLY not wasting away." I bit my tongue and resisted the urge to reply that SHE was clearly not wasting away either, but took a deep breath and agreed with what she was saying, in principal.

And it worked to some extent. Cutting out baby-crisp-puff things, cereal bars and fruit-wriggles between meals has made him eat more at meal times, and encouraging him to sit down to eat (his refusal to sit in a high-chair any longer had resulted in eating on the move and way too many crumbs and cheese globules on the carpet and car seat) but it has not solved the problem.

He will still only eat certain foods. Cheese sandwiches are a staple and I was overjoyed to get him to try a fish-finger a few months ago. I'm ashamed to say that I've even introduced potato waffles into the mix in a desperate attempt to get my son to eat something vaguely resembling savoury food. Basically, I've gone from Annabel Karmel to Captain Birdseye in under a year and it doesn't feel great.

Sometimes I still allow the odd snack,  YoYo's and Fruit Wriggles provide some solace to me as they are fruit of sorts ... and it's pretty near impossible to stop my son eating biscuits when we attend the local playgroups and friends houses. The health visitor suggested I phone ahead to all my friends and places we were going and ask them only to provide healthy snacks when we come to visit. I grimaced. I'm sure the playgroup (who also provide healthy snacks which my son ignores) would be happy to get rid of the biscuit tin at the coffee counter as tired, sleep deprived parents shuffle up to chug some hot caffeine and inhale a few energy giving sweet treats.

Friends too would be delighted I'm sure if I phoned ahead and asked for a fruit display (which my son would not eat) instead of a cheeky Hob-Nob. The thing is I don't object to my son having the odd treat, the odd chocolate button or piece of cake - but the more he has the more he wants these and nothing else and obsesses about these treat items. A friend of mine's little girl has a penchant for full-fat grown up crisps and now baby-puffs or Pom-Bear simply will not do. However, the same little girl will happily sit and much through a Tupperware container of olives and cucumber sticks - a sight that would make my heart sing for joy if it were my son. It's all about balance, but we just don't have it right now.

My friends with children in full time-nursery insist that their offspring eat better because they eat with other children. This may well be true but in my experience eating with other children, or at the healthy snack table at playgroups we attend, does little to encourage my son to experiment - usually choosing to hoover up the cheese biscuits and make a quick dash for the parents coffee counter where he begs for biscuits.

Having lunch out with my parents once a week in a pub situation helps a little but he still only eats some chicken and a couple of chips ... before asking "Pudding now please?" Bananas are my one glimmer of hope, after cutting out snacks he returned to eating the little yellow life-savers but even these must be just right ... not too hard or mushy or they'll be refused and then bananas will be off the list for a week.

Yes, I'm sure it's a phase. I know he get's nutrients from his formula milk but I would rather cut this out and him get nutrients from actual food. I keep with the formula because it's fortified with vitamins and minerals and while he's not eating properly he needs this. While he's still having milk he probably will eat less. It's a catch 22 I'm well aware of.

As my mum frequently tells me I was late to the table ... or rather the toilet in the potty training department preferring to stay in nappies until I was almost 4 years old and announcing stubbornly "I will be clean and dry at Christmas" and sticking to my word, never once having an accident after that point. Before this my mum was racked with worry.

She said that one day my dad turned round and said to her "Look have you ever seen a bride walking down the aisle wearing a nappy?" Although this analogy is peppered with holes ... how would one know what she was wearing underneath her meringue dress anyway ... but my mum saw his point.

Similarly my other half said to me a few weeks back "Have you ever seen a grown man sitting at lunch eating a packet of fruit wriggles and drinking a carton of baby milk?" And of course he's right but I do know that what we feed our kids now sets them up for the future and I'd like to give our little one a good start.

As I fleck the pork-pie crumbs off my lap I recognise the irony; we all have our food issues, our likes and our dislikes and sometimes it's just a matter of time and knowledge. I would probably rather eat crap all day too if I didn't know it wouldn't make me overweight, lethargic and unhealthy. As my son get's older maybe he'll start to realise this too.

I know some of his food issues are sensory; the refusal of wet, sticky foods is something new that I'm sure he will grow out of and maybe some foods he simply will never like ... now or when he's a grown man. It took me years to come round to avocados and I'm still not a great fan of the slimy little critters.

Until then I thank heaven for bananas, fortified toddler milk, cold chicken and cheese sandwiches and hope that the organic carrot and courgette cakes served up at the lovely cafe in my local park somehow count as one of his five a day. I'm sure in a years time it will all be fine and I'll have a whole new set of problems to worry about. And on that note ... I guess I need to think about potty training again ... but that's for another post.

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