Both of my children happily took to solid food from the age 4 months. They loved my food. My daughter ate anything I cooked and mashed for her. She just loved to eat. I could use all the possible healthy and nutrient ingredients I wanted. Until, that is, she went to day care. Since then everything has changed. Both of my children began to be selective and picky, and the only things they were interested in were potato, pasta, rice and tomato sauce. Two years of a culinary journey disappeared into thin air!
I wonder why I don#t much like canteen food.
Believe me, there were fights and many different strategies to try to get them back on the right track, and we still have long way to go. But now I can share some of my trick that worked!
First I had to understand that they liked the food they ate at daycare, because it tastes sweeter and smoother for them. Most of these canteens work with food seasonings, which almost always has that same “tomato sauce” or ketchup flavour. The other thing is they don’t wonder what they get. It is predictable - a chicken nugget is always a chicken nugget.
At home we tend to cook for our own pleasure, so we create sophisticated flavours and textures. Some of us try to be so healthy that we use strange ingredients. If your child hasn't been introduced to them properly don’t expect them to eat them properly. If something looks strange to a child, they will not touch it. So my first piece of advice is:
Get the child close to the ingredients. Let them play with them, touch them, wash them, cut them. Make them like the ingredients before they go on the plate. My daughter can use couscous to have fun. For my 13 year old son the cooking couscous is an experiment.
Involve the child in the cooking. I always have one of them next to me when I'm cooking, helping out or just chatting. We talk about the food I'm cooking and they help me prepare it.
Let the child taste the food during the cooking process. Let your child tell you their opinion about the seasoning. You don't have to do exactly what they say, but pretend you will. They will eat the food, because they think they cooked it.
Make the child proud of the food he or she cooked. Do this even if they're so small that they can only stir a bit. Just remember to recognise it.
If you sit at the table and the child still refuses to eat, just ask them to only have a little taste. Often once the child tastes the food, they find they actually like it and then they will eat it. Just do it step by step. Have the rule that they must have a taste.
Now comes the tough part. When the child refuses to eat and you know that they have no allergy, but rather they're just playing the game of not wanting to eat. It's time to say: "That's fine if you're not hungry but we don't throw food away so we'll keep it on the table until you eat it. If it's until breakfast tomorrow, then so be it. Then ask the child to leave the table as you would like to enjoy your dinner or lunch.
There are a couple of rules you need to follow:
- Do not give different food to your child if he or she refuses what you cooked.
- Do not promise them dessert if they will eat what you cooked. Rather tell them: "We will talk about this later".
- Be consistent and strong. They are testing you and their will.
- Do not use different rules for different children just because they are different sex or age.
- Do not give them very spicy food. Keep the flavours simple and natural.
And yes, grandparents don’t change. You need to forgive them, as they will ignore your rules and you'll need to start everything from scratch when your kids come back from holiday. But that is life. :)