Fussy eaters anonymous – Part 2

Yesterday I posted in response to a Woman’s Hour phone in on fussy eating questioning why we seem to get so little help with something which seems to be such a big problem for so many.

Today I thought it might be useful to summarise what the two experts on the show – Lucy Cooke and Bea Wilson – had to say to the mothers phoning in asking for help with their kids.

There were a few general points to their advice – one of which rung very true for us as it’s our mantra – eating together.  The more that you are able to eat with your children and actively demonstrate to them a relaxed and healthy mealtime the more likely they are to adopt your good habits (assuming of course that your habits are good).

Another made me grimace slightly although I know it’s equally useful – getting them involved in the cooking process to get them used to the look and feel and even taste of the food during the prep stage which gets them feeling more in control and comfortable with the whole thing.  I grimace because whilst this is a beautiful and wholesome idea the reality, with a four and two year old in my case, is more of a screeching carnage.  But you know, suck it up.

The advice for those really struggling with their kids actually took this a step further – one mother had had some success in taking her fussy eater to the supermarket, allowing him to choose any 3 things (sweets and chocolate aisle excluded naturally) with the proviso that he must try them when they get home.  Others suggest having a list of 3 things that they are allowed not to like but insisting that they must try everything that is not on the list that is presented to them at mealtimes.

This did get me thinking as I rarely give mine much say in what we are having with the exception of weekend lunchtimes – our dinners are planned in advance and they get what they are given but I am definitely going to try to include Max (four year old) in the planning process a bit more as he’s getting old enough to understand and contribute in a reasonably sensible way.

Another strategy is one which sees you giving them a glamorous role model to look up to in their eating.  Whether that be telling them that footballers have to eat vegetables and fruit if they want to play  for [insert relevant team] or letting them learn from an admired older child.  I have found on a couple of occasions that Max has decided he likes something when he’s seen his cousins eating it (ok, once it was pancakes but still) and I’ve also seen him have the same effect on other kids with his intense fruit marathons.

For the children where the issue is something deeper there were a couple of strategies mentioned that sound worth some exploration if this is something you’re currently experiencing.

The first was Lucy Cooke’s own “tiny tastes” which is essentially offering tiny morsels of unloved foods, crucially away from the mealtime situation to reduce the pressure, on a regular basis to slowly build up tolerance to different tastes and textures.  Children are allowed to lick it and spit it out but they must try the food in their mouths.  The idea is to give them some feeling of control over the situation whilst expanding their taste horizons.

The second was a new technique, pioneered by Keith Williams and called Plate A, Plate B.  The method involves having one plate with, again, minuscule bits of food that the child doesn’t like to eat and another with safe foods.  The child must then alternate bites from Plate A and Plate B so that they have a feeling of safety with one plate but are being encouraged to push their boundaries with the other.  Apparently this method has had some amazing results including with some kids on the autism spectrum.

Ultimately what I took from this phone in was what a very emotive subject this is for so many parents and, again, one with which so many  of us struggle.

I hold my hands up here and admit that it’s one also that’s pretty close to my heart because I was a very fussy eater as a child and I still remember that sense of fear when going to a friend’s house about whether or not I would be served something I could eat and this is something that I really don’t want for my kids (also, the extra cooking, no thanks).  I’m really keen to break that cycle so whilst I’m still terrible with fruit it’s something I’ve kept determinedly hidden from them so they currently have no idea that mummy doesn’t like the 27 apples they eat a day.

Perhaps the next step is a fruits tiny tastes for me!



Fussy eaters anonymous

I’ve been a bit late to the party on the whole podcast front – I read about Serial for about a year before I finally found out what all the fuss was about – but recently they have become a constant companion particularly as I’ve upped my exercise over the last few weeks and joined a gym for the first time in about 7 years.

Because I’m getting a bit old one of my favourite podcasts is Woman’s Hour – or maybe it’s not that I’m getting old, maybe I’m just getting smarter (I can hope).

And yesterday’s Woman’s Hour podcast really got me thinking about the subject of weaning and in fact teaching our kids to eat. The theme of the podcast was actually a fussy eaters phone in – a chance to ask a couple of experts questions about not just your kids but your husbands it turned out because, yes, some fussy eaters don’t grow out of it but actually turn into fussy 59 year olds. Scary thought.

It was a topic that seemed to really hit home for a lot of different people at different stages in their lives – a mother with a one year old who won’t use a spoon (nothing too unusual there), another with an eight year old who will only eat bread and a woman with a boyfriend with a penchant for pot noodles and not a lot else.

One of the experts on hand to dish out advice was Bee Wilson, author of the book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat which covers the subject of entrenched eating habits and how we can reverse them even into adulthood.

What struck me most about the debate was the sheer number of women out there struggling with this problem for the loved ones in their lives, not just those that called into the show but the very many mothers that have raised the topic with me and on social media to share their frustration about having cooked yet another meal which got a massive thumbs down. It’s such a very common problem and we all suffer with it to some degree at the different stages of our children’s lives. Sometimes it’s short lived and meaningless (although maddening) and sometimes it’s something a bit more serious.

And yet, what support do we really get with the weaning process which, it seems, could be a quite vital blueprint for the rest of our child’s life?

Well if your experience was anything like mine, almost none. I attended a weaning workshop six months after I had Max (my first) of which my abiding memory is that I was desperate to get someone to tell me how to get him to take a bottle as the return to work loomed but I was told just to stick to the breast and offer him a sippy cup. Yes, that worked like a dream – not.

Our group was told that we should exclusively follow the baby led weaning method but hardly anyone I know followed that advice and we all knew of mothers in different parts of the country that were getting a completely different message.

In the end we all just muddled along and tried to figure it out for ourselves. Some of us with a love of cooking and great appreciation of food to support our efforts and some of us who cook barely cook beans and to whom the task seemed a terrifying one.

So given this almost universal stress and the even greater obesity problem that is facing our country today should this vital time in a child’s life, literally the time when they learn to eat and learn what they like to eat, should be a better informed time? Should we be better supported by the healthcare professionals that are very keen to help us with breastfeeding to move our children onto the next stage as successfully as we can? And if the answer is yes, what does that support look like?

Many of the women that were calling into the show seeking advice were doing so because they hadn’t been offered anything constructive by the healthcare system, even in cases where there was a medical issue at the root of the problem. They were calling desperate for strategies that they could employ to stop their child becoming a 32 year old eating pot noodles and suffering with kidney stones.

So it seems for those struggling, unless your child is becoming seriously malnourished, there really isn’t much help available to you.

But day after day, scrolling through instagram when I should be working, I see many many mothers who could be a massive support to these people if that support was available in the right way at the right time. Mothers with lots of experience to share of baby led weaning, good and bad, and mothers with recipe ideas to tempt the fussiest of eaters.

To me it feels like the right kind of advice is out there but it’s not the kind of advice that’s being harnessed in any way by the powers that be and so therefore it’s not the kind of advice that’s getting to those who need it most. Something that needs to change methinks.


p.s I will do a follow up post summarising the experts advice soon!

Meal Planner

Week starting 15th February

I’m a bit late on the meal planning front this week – I’d like to blame the romantic evening I spent yesterday but in reality I passed out at about 9.30pm as per usual.


This is this week’s meal planner up on our very messy blackboard. We started the week with a most exciting dinner of fish fingers and wedges. Every now and again you just need some fish fingers.

Tomorrow is a new recipe on me – a Jamie Oliver recipe of winter pesto with penne. This is a bit of a solution to the problem of using basil to make our favourite meal when it’s not really basil weather (I wish). This recipe substitutes kale and is slightly more of a faff as you have to blanch the kale first but worth a shot I feel. It also substitutes pine nuts for almonds but, having found the cupboard almond bare I had to stick with pine nuts. Fingers crossed the kids don’t notice – here it is knocked up ready for tomorrow.


Wednesday does exactly what it says on the tin, a tray baked cod recipe which involves baking cod, in a tray. It’s another Jamie recipe (can you tell I subscribed to his app last week?) and actually sounds pretty tasty but looks very simple. The cod is baked along with some potatoes, pancetta and vine tomatoes and we’ll have it with some veg since we also signed up to an Abel & Cole veg box last week and we’ve got lots to use up!

On Thursday we’re going to have vegetable jalfrezi. I’m using a jalfrezi paste so it’s actually pretty straightforward but a bit different from most of the curries we’ve been eating recently so interested to see how it goes down (for interested read scared).

On Friday I’m doing another tray bake that I happened upon in the BBC Good Food magazine. It’s actually called creamy kale and chicken tray bake (yet more kale) and the chicken is stuffed with a kale and mascarpone filling before being wrapped in bacon and roasted with some veg.

Saturday is a day off to get drunk and eat kebabs (those were the days) and on Sunday I’m finishing the week with another firm favourite, toad in the hole. If I’ve got any bacon left I may even do pigs in blankets in the hole just to push the boat out.

Have a great week all.


Meal Planner

Week starting 8th February

Last week was a bit of a disaster on a sticking to the meal plan basis – poorly kids, a birthday, busy work, everything conspired to make life difficult and plans flew out of the window. But with any luck this week we’ll get back on track with the help of Nigella whose new book Simply Nigella I have just picked up.

The basics remain the same, our mantra is eating real food together and we try to have 2 meat, 2 fish and 2 veggie meals a week and one day off to eat takeaway to our heart’s content.

This week I’m starting with a Nigella pasta recipe – pasta all Bruno (named for her son). It’s a pretty simple one with a basic mix of pasta, bacon, baby tomatoes and cheese, so easy for a busy Monday.

On Tuesday it’s pancake day. I have hopes of recreating this beauty from our summer holiday in Biarritz but the reality will probably be pancakes on the floor and a mostly nutella-focused diet.


Wednesday is another Nigella recipe and a healthy day after all of the indulgence, sweet potato, ginger and orange soup which I’ll serve with some garlic bread (actually for them it’s more like some soup with their garlic bread).

On Thursday we’ll be using up some mackerel that we bought from some random dodgy guy who came to our door (don’t ask) and on Friday another Nigella recipe – merguez meatballs served with rice and greens (which mostly means kale at the moment because Max is loving it).

A day off on Saturday to go out and drink followed by lentil shepherd’s pie to end the week. I’m already slightly dreading it because I know they’ll complain but I’m really trying to do more with lentils and you’ve really got to persevere if you want them to eat less kid-friendly stuff so persevere I will.

Have a great week all.


Meal Planner

Week starting 1st February

As you may know if you read our last post, this week has been all about cooking from the Jamie Oliver “Everyday Superfood” book. This week I thought I’d continue the theme of cooking from one book and reviewing and so I’m choosing Tana Ramsay’s “Family Kitchen” because it’s one of a small number of books I think is really great for real families – i.e. cooking with limited time, with small people snapping at your heels anxiously praying they’re going to eat it.

Tomorrow we’re starting, however, with a non-Tana recipe, just a plain and simple veggie stir fry for which I use a sauce from Tana’s husband’s “Healthy Appetite” book which always goes down well.

Tuesday and Wednesday I’m also keeping it simple, pasta with homemade pesto on Tuesday which is such a banker I make it when they’ve been ill to try and encourage them to eat, and fish fingers on Wednesday when I’m going to be late back from London.

On Thursday it’s a Tana recipe – butter bean and chorizo stew which I’ll serve up with some baked potatoes. I’ve actually made this quite a lot of times after falling in love with this book whilst on maternity leave. The kids love chorizo and pretend that they can’t see the butter beans but all in all it’s a good family recipe and the pickled onions are an inspired addition!

On Friday I’m going to make a new Tana one (well new for me) – chicken breast with red lentil sauce. I’ve been trying to cook more and more with lentils and get the kids used to them again – we somehow used to be able to eat dahl with no fuss but as we all know things change quick… I’m going to serve it with some spring greens and pretend that the weather is warming up.

Saturday is another Tana recipe, I’m going to cook the king prawn and monkfish curry which I’ve made before and which is a bit more of a complex recipe than my usual midweek curry recipe and worth the effort. I’ll see whether I feel flush enough at the fishmongers on Saturday for monkfish and prawns or if we’ll just stick with one or the other!

I’m also going to try to make her Danish pastry pizzas at the weekend which is another one I haven’t tried but looks like it might be good for a weekend lunch.

Sunday is a big one – Edie turns 2 on Friday and we’re having a joint party for her and Henry who turns 4 in a couple of weeks. I had an idea of an afternoon tea party but the brief also calls for an element of Paw Patrol so that’s getting thrown in too. I’ll post about all of the lovely things we’re going to make and share the pictures next weekend.

Have a happy week everyone.