Christian Travelers Guide + TIME

Fussy Eating equals Lazy Parenting?

A couple of days ago I read this article on Parent Dish by the marvellous More Than Just A Mother which has been niggling at me ever since. In it, MTJAM says that she doesn't think she should cater for fussy eaters when they come round to her house. I couldn't agree more. If a child comes round for supper and chooses not to eat the food that is put in front of them, well that is that. I would never expect someone to do special catering for my children, and neither would they.

But it is the subtext of the article that has really got me snarky. The assumption that a fussy eater is somehow a result of lazy parenting or at least an inability of the parents to stand up to their little fusspot.

I have a fussy eater. He started out well enough, but aged 9 months he caught a particularly nasty little vomiting virus and overnight he went from sampling whatever was put in front of him to trying nothing. By 18 months he really hadn't improved much but I couldn't get him to eat any vegetables and the only fruit he would eat was bananas. Every night I would serve up a healthy dish and pretty much every night he would refuse to eat it. I didn't offer him fish fingers/biscuits or cakes as an alternative and he got pretty thin. By the time he was 3 I had expanded his range of foods a little to include sausages and baked beans* but we then moved to Bosnia and in an instant lost the one meal I knew that he would eat without causing the most enormous fuss. It was the thing I worried about the most in our emigration out there.

I tried everything. I cooked with him. We made elaborate things. He enjoyed the cooking but wouldn't eat the result. We made mini pizzas together using muffins (that he would eat), tomato ketchup (that he would eat) and cheese (that he would eat) but he wouldn't touch the final outcome. We didn't let him snack, I needed him properly hungry at meal times but he would still refuse food. They say that a child needs to be presented with a new food 10 times before they will try it. Only 10? Yeah, right. Clearly my son hadn't read that page of the eating manual. I've been offering some of the standard vegetables, peas, carrots, broccoli and the like, for 5 years now. Every meal will include vegetables of some description. I didn't offer him an alternative but he was allowed to have a bit of banana and some yogurt at the end of the meal as long as he had tried some of the main course. Some of these meals lasted for over 2 hours and involved a lot of tears, from all involved.

Having a fussy eater has been the most stressful thing I have ever had to deal with (and I once had a high flying city job). There was no meal he would eat without a struggle so without exception every night became a battle ground. There was no let up at all, ever. I have had many moments where I've had to leave the dinner table and go to the next room for some deep, calming breaths, furious tears and temper tantrums of my own. I once threw a pan of macaroni cheese across the room in such a fury; my lovingly crafted meal was being rejected without even a molecule passing his lips and this had happened every night for longer than I could remember.

I have not backed away from trying to deal with having a fussy eater. I have thrown everything I have at trying to improve his eating. Now, aged 6 we are making some progress, but it has been a long and difficult journey. He's still thin, very thin but will now (eventually) eat most things that I put in front of him. But dinner times can still be long and stressful events. I continue to put new foods in front of him, but I need to gird myself for the occasion. Cooking is becoming again a pleasurable activity, but for so long it has been a dreaded chore and I have lost confidence in my ability to cook. It is difficult to enjoy cooking when every single meal is rejected and fought over. I remain sensitive about my culinary skills; after 5 years of having almost every dish rejected the mental leap to thinking it must be because the food being cooked is disgusting isn't a huge one.

I'm sure that there are a load of other issues bound up with the non-eating one. I think he worked out at a very early age that this was something he could control and he enjoyed the power that it bought. I tried my very hardest not to let the non-eating become a big deal. I wanted to have children that ate healthily, but with the unerring instinct of a toddler, he picked and then focussed upon a really big pressure point of mine.

So whilst I accept that many fussy eaters are not improved by their parents, I do wish to put my hand up and say 'Don't judge me'. You may not abide fussy eaters. I didn't either, and then I got one. I rate getting him to eat a diet that now resembles a normal, more or less healthy one as one of my greatest ever achievements. Generally I prefer not to eat out with friends, which either leads to a big very public showdown or to me backing away from our house rule, being he must try some food before he can get down. I don't ask, nor would I expect people to cater differently for me or my child, but I really do appreciate any support I receive in dealing with the fussy eating. One day I hope to talk about meal times in terms that don't include the words 'battle' or 'fight'. We'll get there, eventually, it just isn't an easy road.

*OK, I know this isn't the healthiest of diets but it represented an expansion of food which meant I could at least get variety. I was getting desperate to get him to eat something, anything and believe me, getting him to eat sausages and baked beans was a massive breakthrough.

culinary, food, fussy eater, health, hope, power, pretty, and more:

Fussy Eating equals Lazy Parenting? + TIME