feeding small children (or Part 2 of 2: Flawed)

It's hard, right?

And anyone with children under six who says

* oh my children eat absolutely everything 

* dinnertime is always such a relaxing time of day

* I satisfy my creativeness in the kitchen and my children play quietly somewhere else while I'm cooking

is a cyborg. 

Really, they are. If you know one of these people I suggest checking all electrical currents nearby. 

I know some households have share-cooking arrangement but I can only talk about the households I know where it's the women doing the thinking, shopping and cooking. (In the interest of full disclosure I should admit I have a share-cooking arrangement in my house. I shop and cook and Adam cleans. We've done it like this since way before kids which is lucky because I am the single most incompetent cleaner or dishwasher you've ever met. I hate cleaning, he hates cooking. Perfect.)

Anyway. Back to the dinner table at six o'clock at night with two tired children that just want something for dinner that they recognise. Except their mother is currently unable to face shopping for or cooking and certainly not eating any kind of meat at all. Not even tuna. So there's been a bunch of new dinners on the dinner table as I trawl through our vegetarian options and try to make sure everyone's getting enough iron and protein. 

A few nights ago I made a delicious Nigella Lawson recipe, Pumpkin and Goats cheese lasagna, recipe here. Really yummy. Henry, usually relatively compliant with anything to do with pasta and/or pumpkin, flat out refused to try it. I cajoled Tilly into at least tasting it and she spat it out. Which of course you're not allowed to do here, but I don't think she's ever done it. I wasn't actually mad, I was just dejected. Then there was the spinach and goat's cheese frittata. Also very tasty. No go. Not at all. I was out that night having dinner with girlfriends and I'd made the frittata and left it for Ad to take out of the oven. He retreated to tinned soup from the back of the pantry which they also refused on the grounds it wasn't "good soup" and they had vegemite toast. They were lucky it was Daddy, not sure I would have fronted up the third option. 

What are your tactics?

If they don't eat it, do they go to bed hungry?

I've never wanted food to become a battle. I don't make a big fiasco out of it and am relying on the fact that one day they'll understand I'm offering pretty tasty healthy food that is probably worth trying. 

I also keep forgetting that when Henry was the age Tilly is now, he pretty much ate tinned spaghetti for about six months and not much else. That was all I could get him to eat. It was a phase, he grew out of it. 

Tonight? I made broccoli, sweet potato and barley soup and Henry had two bowls and Tilly ate all hers, no argument. Weird children. 

It's just that when it's you in the kitchen, and you serve up something you know is nutritious, and there are arguments and tears and lying down on the chairs and deliberately dropping of things under the table, it's just depressing. 

So if it's ever happened to you, please know you're not alone. I'm raising my glass of water to you saying cheers, lady. 

And as soon as I finish breast feeding this baby not even born yet, I'll be raising my glass of shiraz to you which always made dinnertime refusal a bit easier to take. 

Cheers to that


15 Comments on “feeding small children (or Part 2 of 2: Flawed)

May 27, 2010 at 10:28 pm

I wish I had made my kids try more things when they were little. I was convinced they needed “kids food”, how insane is that? I don’t know how I bought that marketing ploy. I really made two separate meals for a short period in time. I had a Eureka moment, I do not work in a restaurant. Our current house rule, that is loosely enforced, everyone must try what I made, preferable without complaint. If you don’t like it you can make a sandwich or cereal.

lily boot
May 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

it is the worst part of my motherhood experience. When Abby was a baby/toddler, she ate everything with gusto. Since reaching 3 years of age, dinner has been a regular battle. She’s now 12 and its honestly not much better. Unless I cook an all time favourite – chicken schnitzel and potato dauphin, she picks through her dinner each night, eating it grain by grain and leaving at least half. Earlier this year, she announced she would no longer eat beef or pork, but nor would she eat all the vegetarian options I tried. I lost my cool a couple of weeks ago and declared that I would be cooking what I wanted to cook and that was that. Its no worse than trying to cook what she might eat and at least I enjoy cooking. I don’t offer alternatives – if she doesn’t eat it, she doesn’t eat it. I completely sympathise with the demoralisation of it all. As for those that claim “if you encourage your child to choose the menu, shop for the ingredients and help prepare it, they will enjoy eating it” Yeah right. πŸ™‚

May 27, 2010 at 11:47 pm

I totally sympathise Fiona – certainly not my favourite part of the day… one child eats that vegetable but not this, the other is the opposite… and then the grudgingly picked at dinner is closely followed by the whiney “I’m hungryyyy” – guaranteed to make my blood boil!

On the vegie front I find my kids like what I call the hippy food – not sophisticated or contemporary vegetarian but soups, casseroles etc with things like lentils, chick peas, tofu etc and it makes food combining easy – pulses with rice etc. I’ve got some old favourite recipes you’re welcome to try if you’re interested.

Alex Nolan
May 28, 2010 at 1:02 am

Oh my dear. You have hit a nerve. I hate feeding the children. By that I mean, I actually hate it. I come up in hives at the prospect of feeding them all. There is not a meal that they will all eat without complaint. Oh, perhaps poached eggs on toast.

It started with the weaning Of James, and it has gone downhill from there. My wonderful friends coax me gently through weaning now, and make all sorts of yummy stuff, that the kids would otherwise not have, and sometimes they even have turned up at feeding time (at the zoo, as I refer to it).

Now, I provide a meal, and if they don’t eat it, they go to bed hungry. It’s that simple. I cannot be fussed with this offering other options malarkey. No way, Jose.

Anyway, I really cannot wait for them to all be old enough to feed themselves. I want to cook what I want to cook, and for whom I like, and will appreciate it.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I live in the Land of the Great Ungrateful. Bring on the rioja I say, and I did not wait until after finished breastfeeding- another bad mother thing of mine.

Good luck for next time! xxx

May 28, 2010 at 9:37 am

i say, as long as their helth doesnt get affected, yes, they go to bed hungry.

your children are old enough now to start to appriciate the wonderful ‘cooking mother’ they have. to learn to enjoy the variety and goodness of your hard work in the kitchen.

if my fussy boy doesnt eat something then i try a few other things which “I” am happy for him to eat. if he doesnt eat all my options then he goes hungry. by then he is usually happy to but maybe that is because he is only 1 and a half. i would assume it is different for an older kid…?

i actually do most of the cooking and shopping in our household…. i dont know how it happens, but i do.
i cook large batches of easy stuff and we eat it over the next 3 days (bar a few meals here and there).

i wish i/my mother/my wife was half as motivated/prepared/adventurous as you are in the kitchen.
keep at them fi, one day they will understand πŸ˜‰

Sarah B
May 28, 2010 at 10:31 am

There is a lot of sympathy out there in the world! Firstly, I am with Alex, don’t wait until you finish breastfeeding to have a small glass, when you haven’t had it in so long, just a centimetre or two of wine can really make you feel like a bit of your former self (and ease the stress of dinner time)! I have 4 under 10, and a pile of things I cook that different ones like more or less of. We say we have one child from Italy (likes pizza, any pasta, loves pesto), a 2 year old from Southern and central Asia (bizarrely, loves all curries, stir fries, noodles, wontons etc), another from Northern America and Mexico (hamburgers, burritos, nachos) and one who is really a ‘modern Australian’ (good on him, really eats a bit of everything, although having said that there are still things he doesn’t love). In our house you have to eat some of the dinner, and they always seem to, sometimes begrudgingly, and I just say that when you can cook yourself, then you can have more say in what we eat…..
But I must admit, I admired your attempt at meat free May, my kids just wouldn’t make it. We eat meat or chicken about 3 nights a week, but I would really struggle without those options, because the kids are unlikely to get dinner two nights in a row that they really don’t like. So, I guess just hang out for next Tuesday, when June begins!
One day they will be very greatful to have a Mum who cooks so well, I LOVE how well my Mum cooks, going to stay with Mum and Dad gives me a real holiday, as it is a break from cooking but is lovely food too.

May 28, 2010 at 11:24 am

We tend to have a philosophy like it or lump it, if you don’t like what’s in front of you feel free to make a vegemite sandwich. I try to limit the amount of new dinners per week so I know they are getting something from old favourites, and I try to point out all the reasons/foods they will like in it. But it is definitely very frustrating. Master almost 8 is now becoming a little more adventurous in at least trying something new.
Although I am always amazed at how children are always willing to try a new dessert/lolly/junk food but not something I’ve whipped up in the kitchen!

May 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I have flashbacks to my father’s mantra: “You will eat it, and what’s more you will like it.” Somehow that worked. We ate it. We didn’t always like it (I mean you, nutmeat meatloaf!) but I think we knew that we would go to bed hungry otherwise. (I don’t remember that ever actually happening though.)

We now have problems with unknown or unrecognisable ingredients. Many things fall into that category and you couldn’t avoid them all – if you raise a picky eater, how will they travel, for e.g.?

I do hear our white lies: “No, they’re not mushrooms, they’re porcini!” and feel a bit bad about it…but then when the porcini risotto is wolfed down and the little person is saying, “Cause I don’t like mushrooms, mushrooms taste bad,” well – I feel better!

Mum’s standard response to the question, “What’s for dinner?” was always a cheery “Poison!”

May 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm


May 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Oh I dread meal time. I have always loved cooking but my 2 have succeeded in wearing me down. My kids are dreadfully fussy. My daugther is nearly 6 & she has improved but she is still pretty bad. My 2 year old is a complete nightmare. Will only eat spag bol (on occassion) and pesto pasta – which is so bad for his gut that I try not to give it to him. The other night they both looked at the dinner that I served them and said ‘yuck’. Nothing infuriates me more than that. I asked them how they would like it if they spent ages doing a drawing for me and I turned around and said ‘Oh yuck’. They just kind of looked at me vaguely and shrugged. I have tried every approach imagineable and nothing works so I have to say I have given up. If they don’t eat their dinner they go to bed on an empty stomach. I then go and pour myself a glass of wine to calm myself down!

May 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm

my kids are pretty good eaters these days ( sorry Fi!!) but we have our own little battles

mr 11 talks and talks and talks during dinner and can take ( i timed it once) 45 minutes to eat a small amount of spag bol. he is simply a ridiculously slow eater

mr 5 is a lazy eater and snacker. he will graze constantly frm the minute he comes home until dinner time ( cheese, fruit and raw veg and sometimes crackers) and then refuses to eat his dinner until i feed it to him.

i can heartily recommend the chick pea curry for fussy eaters.

and yes, definitely one new meal a week, no more.

what about vegie burgers?

May 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I feel your pain!

I try really REALLY hard for food not be stressful or worse, a battle ground. I really badly want my children to have a positive attitude to food. I want them to be able to make good food choices without emotional baggage more than I want them to eat things I cook them… and I try hard to remember that.

But sometimes…. when you’re tired and you’ve cooked something you think everyone will eat and then someone turns up their nose without so much as a taste… sometimes it is SO hard to remember that you want food not to be a battle.

Our stance on food goes something like this. I attempt to make meals that I think everyone will like. I try to take into account known likes and dislikes if I can and won’t knowingly serve up something to someone if I know they don’t like it. If that means one of mine eats only oven roasted potatoes and broccoli for dinner on nights when we have sausages and pumpkin as well then that’s ok. That said I DO NOT prepare 6 separate meal options, if it is pies for dinner it is pies for dinner. I ask them to try it (if it I don’t already know they don’t like it) and I attempt to talk to them about what they like and don’t like about certain meals and what we could change etc. I don’t force anyone to eat anything. If they eat nothing at all there is always fruit available afterwards.

Sorry for the ramble… I know it can feel so dejecting to have meals rejected without a second glance πŸ™‚

May 28, 2010 at 4:36 pm

All of you are so full of good advice and encouragement. You rock. This is why I blog. Thank you.

May 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Yeah – I’ve got a slow eater and a picky eater, and you know what, I really don’t give a fig. I cook what I cook, they eat it or they don’t. if I really think they haven’t had enough food that day I might (very rarely) give them some porridge (raw oats, milk and sultanas.) Because, really, they might be tired and cranky, but it’s nothing compared to me when I’m dealing with them being tired and cranky! And so I cut the whole potential whinge-fest very, very short.

Having said that – I HIGHLY recommend that cookbook Apples for Jam by Tessa Kirros. Every recipe I’ve tried has been liked by all members of my family – adults too. And it’s so beautiful – the kids like to sit down and look at the pictures!! That woman is a genius.

June 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm

THis is all before us.

Currently though at 11 months, there is still pickiness. O happily wolfs down one day something he refuses to even sniff at the next. Change bowls, and you might be onto a winner. Or not.

We’re going with the ‘just put in on the highchair’ and see approach. I try not to get frustrated, and since we have a shared cooking household too, it’s not always me copping the rejection…

BTW . Recipe for the pumpkin, broccoli and barley soup??? Please!


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