Sam Wilson explores the childhood dark art of non-eating, and a few nifty ways to trip up evil children.
Andreas and I are greedy folk, so imagine
our surprise when we found we had sprogged two non-eaters.
Joe and Ben are not just picky eaters, they
have gone one step beyond that… all the way to active non-eating. Their
personal energy equations are astounding: they run and jump and shriek and
bounce all day, on the energy intake which one feels would leave a small bird too
lethargic to get out of its nest. I am assuming this is some kind of karmic
balance to our parental excesses, but even with the broader cosmic energies in
mind, it still sucks.
It has always been this way. They were poor
breast feeders. They were lacklustre bottlers. As little babychair people, they
arched their eyebrows at me every time I presented yet another vibrant kiddy
bowl of lovingly homemade sweet potato, carrot or butternut. I even went so far
as to buy shelves of baby cookbooks, frantically whipping up all manner of mush
with artful names: "Fisherman’s pie” or “Mediterranean
medley”… all to no avail.
Baby cookbooks are hysterical, don’t you
think? I love them. My favourites are those highly glossy ones with photos
meant to rival those of zooty cookbooks – chockfull of highly-styled smug
spreads of, essentially, endless bowls of greyish mush, with very little other
than a title or designer spoon to differentiate them.
Toddler cookbooks go one better… all their
pics are of meals made to resemble some tempting tableau. A fish paste sandwich
snail, earnestly working its way across a carpet of watercress. A chubby French
toast butterfly, with Marmite strips and carrot feelers. Or my personal
favourite… the ubiquitous sausage, egg and baby tomato-nosed smiley face. I am
told children do eat better when confronted with friendly food of this nature…
just not MY children, it seems. No matter how many cucumber whiskers I might
days, mealtime in our house goes something like this:
“Ta-dah! Look what Mommy has made!” I’ll
trill, nervously banging down a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise.
Ben and Joe will peer at it in derision,
conjuring up images of gymnastic judges confronted with a chubby kid on the
floor work mat.
“You put something on top of the
spaghetti,” Joey will remark sadly. “We don’t like it when you put something on
top of the spaghetti.”
“But it’s lovely meat sauce!” Andreas will
chime in. “Nummy, nummy! Doesn’t it smell delicious?”
All the sons can smell at this point is our
fear. Ben is always quick to pick up on parental angst, and never fails to take
the evening to the next level.
“Joey, don’t you think it looks just like a
bowl full of worms in blood and guts?” he’ll suggest, wickedly. Joe doesn’t
waste anytime in picking up on the idea.
and guts! Worms
in blood! They are trying to kill us!”
At this point, both start using their
rather eerily accurate Gollum/Smeagol voices.
“Childrenses don’t like nasty worms and
guts, do they, my Precious? Nasty worms and guts… <gollum, gollum>” Then
they collapse in to laughter, before each pulling out a thread of spaghetti to
try and thread into their sinuses. (“It’s eating my brain! Aargh!”)
It’s all very amusing; I laugh my way
bitterly to the dog’s bowl night after night. (Okay, who am I kidding? I cook
great. The leftovers never make it to the dog’s bowl; Andreas and I simply eat
Luckily, there does seem to be a guttering
light in the family oven. We’ve started doing two things differently, both of
which are yielding, if not results, then at least limited nibbling.
First, we have started ordering organic
vegetable boxes, which arrive packed with all sorts of vegetables we have never
seen up close before. This makes for an interesting Wednesday evening, I can tell
“What’s that?” Joe will ask, holding aloft
a Jerusalem artichoke, after frootling around in the Box of Goodness.
“A very tricky thing to cook,” Andreas will
respond. “Try again.”
“I know what these are!” Ben will exclaim,
plucking some veggie from the depths. “Sweet potato! I win! Daddy bakes them in
the oven and they taste a bit like chips! Can we cook them?”
For some reason, being the first person to
identify a foodstuff makes a small child more likely to eat it. Who knew?
The second breakthrough has been allowing
the boys to cook themselves. We’ve stirred and mashed before, but now we let
them choose a meal from the shiniest cookbook they can find and take it through
step by step… and its working. Just last
week, we managed Jamie Oliver pancetta-wrapped salmon on a bed of mushy leeks
Finally, the boys are eating. Food that is
so expensive Andreas and I are having to cut back significantly, but at least
they are eating.
This article first appeared in Cape Town’s Child magazine.