Thursday, 29 November 2012

Toddler lunch

Kitty will eat perhaps a third of this

I have recently noticed an unusually high number of women confiding in me that their toddler hardly eats anything. "He's only eaten two of those Organix carrot stick thingies today," said one on Twitter. "And I bet he won't eat anything else for the rest of the day." Others fret about fruit and vegetables. "How," they whisper, "do you get Kitty to eat vegetables?"

Answer: I DON'T. I read, earlier this year, a book that changed my attitude towards Kitty's diet and therefore my whole life, as I was so neurotic and anxious about what she ate. The book was called My Child Won't Eat! by a Spanish nutritionist called Carlos Gonzalez and it is the most brilliant book on childcare I have ever read. And as you can imagine, I've read a lot.

He basically says this:

1 It doesn't matter how much your child eats. Your child is not small and spindly because it doesn't eat, it doesn't eat because it is a small and spindly child. You cannot, he says, turn a chihuahua into an Alsatian by making it eat a lot.

2 Your child will naturally, as long as he is given a range of food to choose from, balance his own diet. It might seem like the child eats no fruit or veg, but even a little lick of broccoli here, a nibbled end of carrot there, a tiny bit of apple somewhere else, will fulfill his nutritional needs. The important thing is that fruit and veg are offered, not that they are always finished.

Small children, says Gonzalez, have tiny tummies so they go for very calorific, high energy foods - cake, sweeties, chips, toast, crisps etc; fruit and veg are all very well but they are mostly water and fibre, useless is large quantities to the small stomach.

Children in deprived areas of the developing world will become malnourished faster than adults because they cannot physically fit enough of the sort of food that is available (vegetation, berries) in their tummies in order to draw out the relevant nutrients and calories.

3 You are very unlikely to be able to cajole, bribe or force your child to eat more than it wants to, to the extent that you will alter the child's food intake in any significant way.

So, he says, don't bother. You will only upset yourself and the child.

Put the food in front of the child, let the child/children get on with it for a reasonable amount of time and say nothing about uneaten food. Never try to get more food in than they want. No "here comes the airplane" or "you have to eat this or no pudding" or anything.

"Hurrah!" I screamed, after finishing the book. I threw it over my shoulder, rubbed my hands together and vowed from that day forth not to give a shit about how much Kitty eats.

She gets food, three times a day, with snacks. She gets carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables. But I do not care - DO NOT CARE - how much she eats. I cannot begin to tell you what a release it has been.

And, further, I have now banned any cooking at lunchtimes. She gets a cold lunch every day and she loves it. She has

1 carbohydrate - crackers, bread and butter
1 sort of cheese - chedder, Jarg, Dairylea, mini baby bell, whatever's floating about
1 veg - carrot sticks, cucumber, baby tomatoes or a bit of sweet pepper
1 dollop of hummous if we've got some
1 protein - some leftover chicken, or ham, or a mini pork pie

Then she has some fruit and a biscuit.

And I can't tell you how great it is not to have to cook or fucking wash up pots and pans at lunchtime as well as dinner time. And there isn't a big hot lunch stink about the house AND if she's not in the mood to eat much, you can usually put back the uneaten stuff rather than throw an entire fish-pie-and-rice concoction in the bin.

I feel like women must have felt when they first started doling out the Pill - liberated. I feel, in fact, as relieved as when I confessed to Kitty's paediatrician Dr Mike, (when Kitty had a fever of 104 for three days), that I was worried that she would get brain damage and he said: "When was the last time you heard of someone getting brain damage from a fever?" And I said "Err," and he said "Unless you put her, with her temperature of 104, in a sauna, she isn't going to get brain damage." And I said "Ok," and have ceased to worry about fevers, too.

One can wind oneself up terribly about the strangest things, when there are so many better things to get your knickers in a twist over. Like steaming!! I have had the most terrific feedback on my miracle cure and have already this morning dispensed two separate specific steaming instruction miracle cures.

I can die happy.


  1. Fascinating and eminently sensible. But don't die yet.

  2. Steaming - I never bothered with running the shower / bath for all that time (got horrified at the water wastage) but found that a wallpaper steam stripper did absolutely brilliantly as an alternative ... after all it is basically a big kettle.
    Of course, you do need to keep the hot end miles away from the child, but the steam was great!

  3. Gonzalez is great. Glad you liked the book. He's even more sensible in real life. Part of the reason he's like that is because he was brought up to never throw away food and when he had children, he bought babyfood, found it so disgusting but couldn't throw it away so ate it himself rather than feed it to his children.

    I'm a big fan of steaming too. It cures all ills, almost. I throughly recommend an electric steamer as you get more steam at the right temperature and well, I do love a gadget. It was a godsend when I was pregnant and had really bad sinuses.

    (, although you can't get the Vicks one anymore in this country, there's another one now Beurer or something).

  4. Halle-fekin-luiah!! So when my Son wants porridge instead of whatever meal we have cooked that night, that's ok too, yes?!

  5. Hear hear! I just let mine eat what he wants after one too many battles during weaning, so for the last week that's been houmous sandwiches and pasta with an 'orange' sauce. We all get there in the end. Anyway, I actually came on to look at the delicious kale recipe (I am a kale fan) and got distracted.

  6. Brilliant - so glad that's in a book. I didn't work it out till child #2, but I'm so glad I did. Kitty[s lunch looks just like what I send her to school with in her packed lunch - and yes, if it comes home uneaten, I just put it back int he fridge for the next day. Hooray!

  7. I don't have children yet, but this is exactly how I plan to be with my own as it's pretty much how my parents were with me (I spent an entire month as a child eating nothing but sandwiches made with whole wheat, mayo, and alfalfa sprouts--my mom just let me.) What a fantastic and sensible approach!

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  9. I am in France, the only thing I would change to all of this is not to make them eat on their own all the time. Other toddlers, children, anyone (even parents) and the whole thing gets even less stressy. Kitty is a lucky toddler,

  10. what is it with toddlers and hummus?! my toddler would eat a whole pot with a spoon any time of the day...

  11. I must read this book! Thank you so much for the info.

  12. I'm liking the Kitty plan diet because it validates our system. I just plonk whatever we're having in front of my little boy (my husband has a horrifying digestive system that needs a carefully balanced, fairly simple diet, so I feel no guilt or fear about family-wide feeding). Anyway -- the toddler gets whatever we have, and if he's hungry, he eats it. If not, he doesn't. We discovered early on that he's a curry fiend and the only thing he won't eat is cheese (except large pieces of Parmesan).

  13. Hoorah! I am going through exactly the same situation with my toddler who will only eat crackers and Philadelphia. All the other smug mums I know say 'Tarquin eats anything, he had sprout and cauliflower stew for lunch and asked for seconds....' while my son is smearing cream cheese though his hair and licking his fingers for the third time that day. I am heading straight to amazon now to add to basket.

  14. The woman who wrote that book on baby-led weaning said something similar, and it made the whole mealtime thing so much easier. Elliot will barely eat for three days and then inhale 12 meatballs from Ikea in one sitting, or an entire bowl of broccoli, or something else that seems like it couldn't possibly fit in his stomach. He ate 4 mandarin oranges this morning in a row. It makes me a bit ill watching those mums in Starbucks bribing their kids to take one more spoonful of some mush from a pouch. It seems like such a bad idea in about five different ways.

  15. Sounds like you've read all there is to read on this so this may not be very relevant. But a couple of my friends swear by "Preventing Childhood Eating Problems: A Practical, Positive Approach to Raising Children Free of Food & Weight Conflicts" by Jane R. Hirschmann

    Might be helpful to someone here ;-)

  16. Well done you ! A very sensible GP said to me (actually via a friend) Turning mealtimes into 'an issue' or a battle of wills is simply making a rod for your own back: You effectively allow your child to turn food into a weapon to use against you, and although an anorexic teenager might starve herself to death, a toddler most certainly won't. As long as he/she is offered enough stuff to cover the food groups he/she will automatically take in what is needed. The only thing I would add is that kids grow in spurts, so a fortnight of eating (apparently) practically nothing, can be followed by wolfing down everything, followed by more nothing..... it's quite normal. And a child's sense of taste changes over about 6 months, so - provided you've not made a big deal about something (there are starving children in China who'd love this, you ungrateful wretch), try it again in 6 months time. You may be surprised to find "I don't eat anything that's green" has metamorphosed into "I quite like this broccoli" although I defy anyone to get a toddler to eat Brussel sprouts: I have an idea they are poisonous to any creature less than 18 years old.

  17. Elizabeth Medovnik30 November 2012 at 21:14

    That book sounds very interesting. Fortunately Mimi eats quite a lot, but I chop up bits of vegetables and mix it in with the mashed potato or rice so she can't really avoid them. She loves peas and sweetcorn and has fun picking them out of the food (to eat, not to discard). I always put some butter in with hot food to push up the calories. I usually give her hot leftovers for lunch but I'm going to try your Kitty menu!

  18. Elizabeth - I'm sure I've read somewhere that leafy things often taste more bitter and unpleasant to baby palates so they'd avoid eating similar looking, poisonous things - most eventually grow out of it.

  19. Good for you!! I never really worried what my babies ate but am glad they are older now (9 and 11) so they can at least make their own toast and boil eggs. I don't really know what you mean about cooking for a toddler - its either finger food or some ghastly premade thing I used to microwave as far as I can remember. Love your blog!! Join me for a Cocktail at Naptime anytime

  20. THE NORMAL CHILD by Ronald Illingworth is also utterly brilliant. Tells you how to stay sane and (hopefully) how to raise a sane child.

  21. Feeling very heartened by your post and other comments. Baby BB is currently existing on a diet comprising mostly of babybel, raisins and breadsticks and it's quite hard not to take it personally. On the plus side, we've been eating a lot of softly steamed veg.

  22. This book sounds great. Alot of bribery and negociation goes on in this house with my two year old madam. It will cease immediately!

  23. This has changed my life Esther! Lunch what for lunch? I always have asked. Now it is so straight forward.