Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

May 3, 2010

My 'Big Issue'

I think every parent has one; a 'Big Issue'. Your parenting nemesis. The one thing you seem to have got fantastically wrong. The one thing that is guaranteed to have you wishing you could go and do something else. Anything else. As long as you don't have to deal with 'This' any more. For some it is sleep. For some potty training. For others, biting or hitting. For me, it is mealtimes.

Oh. My. God.
I don't know if there are enough words in the English language to sufficiently describe how I feel about mealtimes with the children. Despair, exasperation, injustice, futility....

I sit at the kitchen table, four-year-old to my right, two-year-old to my left and feel like I'm about to emerge from the trenches and face a hail of enemy fire. It occasionally starts out quite promisingly. Everyone comes running to the table in anticipation of the latest gastronomic delight and yet within a matter of minutes there is a cacophony of complaining and whingeing and refusing to eat and I want to poke my eyes out with a rusty stick and run for the hills.

I coax. I cajole. I pep talk. I play trains. I am every Thomas character that has ever been invented going into a tunnel mouth. Twenty minutes pass and we're still working our way through the meal. Then more complaining. Disinterest. Messing with drinks. Anything to distract from the business of eating. The two-year-old I can forgive. He's two for goodness sake but my eldest seems to be completely disinterested in his meals.

Thirty, forty minutes may go by as mouthful by painful mouthful we make a little bit of progress. And then I realise I have a fork in each hand, feeding two mouths either side of me and it all seems so ridiculous. I promised myself last week that this would be the last time I physically fed them both. I promised myself the same thing the week before, and the week before that and so on and so on.

I've always tried so hard to provide healthy, homemade food. I was pureeing every colour of vegetable imaginable from the moment I started weaning and always prided myself on my children's varied diet.
So to be in this situation feels so unfair, so infuriating, soul destroying. It's my 'Big Issue'. The one that just won't go away.

"It's just a phase," my friends tell me and I want to believe they are right. But how long is a phase technically a phase and at what point is it acceptable to throw your hands in the air and the dinners on the floor? (I would not recommend this approach by the way as this just means you have to clean the floor as well as feel crap).

So there you have it. I struggle with mealtimes. Really struggle. Breakfast, dinner and tea. Three times a day I face this battle (unless it's cheese sandwiches, which usually go down no problem, but cheese sandwiches 24/7 does not really meet the 5-a-day rule does it?).

So tomorrow I will, again, approach the dinner table with a heavy heart and a forced smile; I will 'big-up' the meal as the most delicious thing known to mankind, offer promises of wonderful things to come if everything is eaten up nicely and hope, hope, hope that I emerge on the other side relatively unscathed.

I hope.

So, what's your 'Big Issue?'



  1. No child has ever suffered because they wouldn't eat "normal" food combinations for a while.

    It is hard and you do have to keep trying, but if there is something wrong there will be help for you and if it turns out to be a phase then worrying like you are will just help you burn a few extra calories.

    Oh and Top Ender went through a phase like this, and I managed to get her to six years old so you know, if I can do it you can do it. ;)

  2. Worry not, HCM. I went through all of this with my daughter. She is six now and is finally starting to eat normally at mealtimes. I just kept going with it and tried not to stress too much. It can be a very long phase but it does pass. xx

  3. Am fortunate enough not to have eating issues with any of my three. They know the golden rule in our house is that you have to try something (anything) before you are allowed to say you do not like it. And they are pretty adventurous with their taste buds.

    My 'big issue'? Crumbs. Especially on the floor. Drive me bonkers and make me come across as paranoid mother. Which I probably am.

    LCM x

  4. I'm sure we have all been there at some point - I think all four of mine have gone through a fussy phase with food.
    I know it's easy to say but please don't worry - it will pass as all things do. In the meantime, you just have to keep at it and just try not to stress about it. I think sometimes it can become such a battle that the child can actually pick up on this and further prolong the issue.
    Hang in there HCM! : ) x

  5. oh how i sympathise with this one! it is also one of my biggest issues. My son eats nothing except tomato pasta and fish fingers. I swing between wanting to throttle him, and wanting to throttle myself. i am in constant awe of how he manages to stay alive. Makes me wonder if all this 5 veg a day lark is actually a myth!
    wrote a similarly frustrated post on the subject here.

  6. Hi Hazel,

    Love the post. I think you've probably covered most mothers' worst nightmare - the dreaded mealtime. Just like you, I struggle with my 6 year old. The others are a little older and are pretty good but the 6 year old is hard work. It's sometimes difficult to know when to stop forcing him to eat his veg. Do I sit with him until he finishes every mouthful, watching him gagging and retching during the process? Do I walk away and tell him he won't get anything else if he doesn't eat what's in front of him? If I do the latter, I know I'll eventually give in later when he's doing his fainting trick and telling me he's absolutely STARVING!!!

    Like you, I've tried vegetables under various guises but nothing seems to work. However, yesterday I had a revelation. We booked a table in a Chinese restaurant for all six of us and I braced myself for 6 year old refusing to eat anything but a plateful of prawn crackers! How wrong was I! He tucked into smoked chicken with veg, barbeque ribs and... wait for it... noodles with vegetables! He practically licked the plate full of mushrooms, carrots, aubergenes, corn, peas - and all because of the delicious chinese sauce! So this morning Mommy is off out to get a chinese cookbook. I may have found my solution.

    Anyway, sorry for babbling. I've just realised this is not my blog! You just happend upon something that I struggle with every day so I thought I'd share my thoughts. As every, I enjoyed your piece.

    Maria x

  7. Oh man I feel your pain. Not sure if I agree that cheese sandwiches don't count to their 5 a day though? I bet if we looked it up pickle would count as a vegetable.

  8. I am the child of a Mummy who used food as power and control (and I ended up a fatty lard arse) so food is my big issue too.

    I have three kids (6, 5 and 4) and I am neurotic that I will pass on the "food is love, if you don't eat I will not love you" message my mum stamped upon me.

    So I have read up on it all, A LOT.

    I probably go the other way now. I cook, I dish up, they eat or they don't eat, I do not care. If they don't eat, the dog gets fat. If they do eat, great, but I am reticent to praise them much for it.

    They are all in amazingly robust health for eating pretty much whatever they want..........

    (I have to tell you though, it is SO SO HARD. I sometimes have to go peg laundry out to avoid getting shitty when I have cooked and all I hear is "yuk. thas 'gusting" from my 4 year old.)

  9. My four boys have all been very fussy eaters. It seemed a very personal attack, their rejection of something that I had lovingly created, and in times past I have lost my temper - my kitchen curtains were covered in yogurt as witness to that. I stopped caring at some point, and made a rule that nobody had to eat everything on their plate, but that a second course wouldn't appear for anybody whose plate wasn't finished.
    My eldest two are now at university - the eldest's eating has greatly improved, largely due to the slop that many Cambridge colleges serve up - an unexpected bonus from a top university. (That they are both at the best universities proves that the lack of nutrition didn't do them much harm!)

  10. This is a timely post. Mr3 landed unceremoniously in bed an hour early tonight as we finally made good on the 'if you don't eat your dinner, you'll go to bed'. Let's just say his screaming didn't make for a restful evening.

  11. I hear you.
    I can't really comment on this issue so much, because my son is overall a pretty great eater who even if he skimps at mealtimes will supplement by asking for snacks of fruits throughout the day.

    But the wastage of food and the playing with food drives me completely spare, so I tend to be strict and harsh more to preserve whatever mental faculties I have left than because I think it is the best strategy. I will use pleading and wheedling and trains and helicopters to get him to try something new or healthy or something he is not sure about, but generally

    1) Do you want a scoop of ice cream after dinner? Then make a decent go of eating your meal.

    2) Playing with food, or being rowdy or making a mess? Get off the table and if you still feel hungry then think more about your actions next time.

    I'm lucky in that I have no starvation fears - I know he's going to be fine, and yes, I know that a certain amount of not eating nicely is normal in a two year old - I'm just harsh about it because I, having prepared the bloody things, wnat to enjoy my mealtimes too.

    On the other hand, growing up half my family and one of my best friends could not abide food, and that phase of eating barely at all lasted until they were 12 - BUT they all grew up into strapping and healthy people, the majority of whom absolutely love food now.

  12. It is a phase. I just hope it doesn't last as long as the food phase in my household! My advice grin and make the cheese sandwiches!

  13. I hear you, every single painful word. My eldest is a complete food nightmare. It is one of the most stressful things I have ever had to deal with and drives me absolutely beserk.

    I actually started up a BMB group for parents with fussy eaters, sort of way to get a bit of support, look for ideas and help from people who have had fussy eaters (and proper fussy at that). I'm thinking about what to do with it next, any ideas welcome!

  14. Oh I hear you. I hear you and I hear your screams! Actually one of mine is great and licks her plate every night (oddly the young one) but Daisy actually breaks my heart on a daily basis. It's not like she's actually picky - she'll (eventually) eat almost everything. She just has zero interest. Will dance, play, sing, hang off the table rather than actually eat. She is nearly five and I have to spoon feed her regularly. I decided to stop being irritated by that - I'd rather spoon feed her and get it into her than not and shout for half an hour. Also, I recently started the star chart on her and it has really helped - Top Tip - go to toy store - buy best thing you can imagine your son wants - then put it on top of the dresser in full view of the dinner table but out of reach. Now tell him he has to earn 20 stars to get it - one star per eaten meal within time frame (I use kitchen timer - she has 20 minutes). D ate 15 out of the next 20 meals in a row without ANY encouragement. Once it becomes a habit for them, it becomes easier. Just a thought. I know it's blatant bribery but who cares - 20 euro to save another grey hair? Anytime. Hope this helps!

  15. It brings it back reading that. I remember when Louis was 7 or 8 months and barely sleeping, ditto neither was I, when another mum described her thing as mealtimes that sound just like your's. At the time, I was so desperate for anything more than three hours sleep a night that I confess I didn't feel very sorry for her. But I do now. As I do for you. Sleep has always been our's, but slowly, slowly - dare I jinx it? - we are getting there. I'm waiting for the day he'll stop eating broccoli but until that day comes I'm honestly very grateful that he's such a good dinner. May your phase end very soon! (Do separate mealtimes work at all for the 2yo?)

  16. Yup mealtimes are most definately a challenge. My baby now won't eat off a spoon so she needs finger food, but she hardly gets any in her tummy as it all sort of regurgitates and falls out of her mouth so she wakes at night now as she's hungry. Toddler who's 2 and a half is so bloody fussy now, unless it's ham and/or sausages with cheese then that's basically it. My issue however is screaming and crying. The toddler's, although mine comes a close second. I just can't control her at all. She just kicks off the whole time. People tell me it's a phase and by God I bloody hope so! Hope you have some luck sometime soon. Actually will probably link to you on this. Great post x

  17. I think most kids go through a fussy eating phase of some sort. My 18 month old loves eating but can be so fussy when it comes to dinner time. For example she won't eat veg unless I hide it in something. Luckily she likes potato so I can hide quite a lot in a portion on mash!
    I do stress about meal times when she is having a fussy day but she can't get enough fruit so at least I know she is getting goodness that way.
    I know it might get better but it'll probably get worse. So far my rules have been that you can't say you don't like something without trying it (like London City Mum). And my other rule is that if I've made you something that you normally like and you're not eating it then there's no way I'm making you something else.
    I've never heard of a kid starving from being a fussy eater. They'll eat when they're hungry.

  18. My 3 year old is the exact same but has been going though this "phase" for about 2 years now and no end in sight! She would go all day without eating, I'm trying not to force her but easier said than done, she wouldn't eat a piece of veg in it's natural from if you paid her and I've tried;) Soup and pasta is the only way I can get it into her.....

  19. This may be controversial, but...
    This is what I do. Cut down on the snacks so they're hungry at mealtimes. Give them their food, but don't fuss over them. Let them get on with it. If they eat, they eat, if not that's up to them, tell them so.
    I mainly give them meals I know they like. Every few days I try something new or something that was unpopular last time. I just ask that they try it, but then they can leave it. If I put veg on their plates they usually leave it (unless it's sweetcorn). I hide veg in sauces or gravy. They have plenty of fruit for pudding and as snacks. They probably don't have 5 a day. The most important thing is getting the calories in them.
    If they play with their food or throw it they have to leave the table and that mealtime is over.
    I get them to help with the cooking, they're more inclined to eat if they've had a stir.
    We eat together as a family as often as we can. Andy & I just get on with our meal and let them get on with theirs.
    Good luck! x

  20. Totally get where you're coming from, it's a nightmare, we tried everything, most things didn't work, but what did work was everyone serving themselves, i.e have your stew/casserole/bolognese etc in a big bowl, middle of table and another bowl for rice/veggies/spaghetti etc. and then it's messy but kids feel they'e in control, you just have to stop yourself screaming when they take very little of everything, the rule is they have to try to taste everything, it actually did work for us but only when we all eat together and talk about anything except food, never make an issue of your issue!!.

  21. As my husband likes to say ,"It is all about power and control" God knows I have made every mistake in the book eons ago when my kids were little. If I had it to do over I would make the meal, put in front of them and if they don't eat it, so be it. Make things that are healthy. If they get hungry enough they will eat. Don't let them eat in between meals for a while and see if that helps.My daughter was the eater from hell and she is grown and eats things now that she wouldn't touch when she was little. drives me nuts !

  22. Gosh - some really long and interesting replies here, so mine is brief and you probably don't want to hear it....cover your ears if you can't face hearing it.........mine is still like that and she is 10....sorry!

  23. My Brother only ate jam sandwiches from about 2.5 until he was 5 but he grew out of it 'cos my Mum ignored it after a while! My 'thing' is that my girl just will not stay in her own bed....she's 7 and I get up at least twice a night!!!

  24. It's so stressful isn't it? I can't wait for the day when my three year old starts to eat normally. He usually will eat spaghetti or chicken nuggets or chicken nuggets or spaghetti. He used to eat cheese on toast and applesauce, but now says those are yucky and for babies.


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