Tonight was definitely a case of role reversal.
A1 has always been my fussy eater. At one stage many years ago when I, like many parents, didn’t know what to do with this determined force who had decided he didn’t like anything. We got down to peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. He had previously liked anything and everything served in front of him and I thought if I didn’t make food a big deal he would eventually start liking variety again. When it got to peanut butter sandwiches I knew things were not going to change on their own. So we completely changed direction and tried the “this is dinner, if you don’t like it, tough, breakfast is your next meal” approach. While he did begin to eat a little bit of dinner it was not a pleasant experience for anyone and it didn’t help him to like food any more than before.
This is how I came to believe in the Ellyn Satter model of feeding. I choose what is served and when and A1 chooses what to eat (from that served) and how much. This means that the food is served into the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves. Care is taken to provide variety but also that there are foods that each child likes – not separate meals but separate items that are a part of that meal. There is no pressure to eat any particular food.This has worked really well and meal times are so much more relaxed. A1 tries new foods when he wants to and has a wider range of likes. There are still plenty of things he still won’t touch but he knows he doesn’t have to eat them and there are no more arguments at the table. There is still the odd time when his displeasure is expressed as it was tonight.
After not liking the answer to "what's for dinner?" A1 stomped off with a loud "I don't want any!" We had a little chat which went something like: “You don't have to like what I cook, I will usually make sure there is something you like, but you do have to appreciate the time and effort that goes into cooking. You are welcome to offer suggestions of things you would like to eat.”
This turned into A1 deciding to cook. Luckily I hadn't started cooking. After deciding that fruit alone may not be enough for dinner, A1 decided on sausages, pasta and fruit sauce. I let him have free reign. I was a little apprehensive to say the least.
Sitting down to eat I had the sudden realisation that this is how he feels approaching many meals. I could have quite easily made an excuse not to eat dinner. Cold pasta coated in pureed apple and banana served with slightly blackened sausages is not my idea of a yummy dinner. But it was for A1. He was very proud and was really looking forward to eating. I was not. I had a sick feeling in my stomach and to be honest, didn't even want to try it. And it wasn't even that weird. It was all foods that I am very familiar with, just in a combination that I had never considered before.
So I sat at the table and served myself a small portion of pasta and sausages. A1 was eating with gusto while I tentatively took my first mouthful of fruity pasta. It wasn't as bad as I thought, I could eat this. Cold and strange but edible. I felt my stomach muscles loosen a little as I relaxed into the meal. It was still an effort to eat as it wasn't a flavour combination I was enjoying. But I could eat it to support A1. As I was sitting there eating I was contemplating how to handle this. Should I tell A1 that it was delicious or should I be honest? I decided on gentle honesty and so I told him he had done a good job preparing the meal and that I really enjoyed that he had cooked for us but it wasn't to my taste. That just like there are times when I really like a meal and he doesn’t, this time he likes it and I don’t. He was ok with that.
Tonight’s meal gave me a new appreciation of what it might be like to be a fussy eater faced with a plate of food that is not to their taste. I have had meals before that I haven’t liked but this was in my own home, served by someone who may end up cooking lots more for me (hopefully). It just seemed different. How would it feel to be served food on a continuous basis that makes you feel tense and slightly sick having to eat it? And this is me as an adult with the ability to reason with myself that it isn’t that bad.
For many children feeling apprehensive about food is a real problem. I believe that encouraging our children to feel comfortable with food is the best way to help them widen their food choices.