Thursday, 1 May 2014

Chicken and dumplings

This looks horrible but honestly it was delicious

I have been asked to do a bit more on the feeding of small children and I do, as it happens, have some new things to say on this fabulously tricky subject.

So the situation is this: Sam will be one next week, (which is staggering considering he's still such a massive, fat, melon-bummed baby who can't crawl or anything), and will no longer eat puree and isn't especially terrific at feeding himself. Or so I thought.

Because I am not terribly bright, I have always thought that one day babies go from being spoon-fed puree, to sitting down and eating giant Sunday roasts totally competently, on their own, with a knife and fork.

I thought there was something wrong with Kitty when she failed to do this. In fact, I now see that there is a torturous in-between stage where you have to put aside your bourgeoise expectations of keeping your children and their terrifying barbarism at arm's length and get your hands dirty.

It has always struck me as bizarre that although as a species we live entirely unnatural lives - we fly in airplanes, have central heating, electric lights - when it comes to babies people go wild about everything being natural. You must co-sleep because it is natural, you must breastfeed exclusively because it is natural, you must chew up your kids' food and spit it out of your mouth into theirs because it is natural. I'll tell you what else is natural - dying of diphtheria, headlice and being murdered by Vikings.

But in this instance, I concede that if Sam is going to eat, I have to drop the fucking attitude.

So feeding Sam is now a three-pronged attack. I give him something large to hang on to and gnaw at, like a corner of bread, a triangle of hamburger, a ball of sausage; other small pieces of stuff are placed on his highchair tray, a bit of potato, pinches of chicken, pre-chewed (hurp) bits of serious meat like stewed beef or spare rib or whatever. Then from a bowl of meat, veg and carb I pinch together little combinations of food and feed him by hand.

For example, at lunchtime today I bought a chicken and avocado sandwich from Pret and gave him that; I tossed away the salady leaves, gave him some of the bread to chew on, pinched tiny bits of chicken up and put them on his tray and then mashed up marble-sized combinations of chicken, avocado and bread to post into his gob with my fingers.

It's a very slow, rather messy process but the fact that he's eating it, (and with the sandwich meaning I haven't had to bloody cook anything), outweighs everything.

I also find that most mealtimes have a sort of arc of speed that you have to respect and have patience with. It takes Sam a while to get going and warm up - he spat out the avocado a few times and turned his head away from the offered chicken for a few minutes - then he decides he's hungry and things descend into a sort of orgy of gobbling, finger sucking, licking, gaping mouths, trembling tongues. He wants to feed me, jamming things into my mouth and going "maaaah", (just to check, I suspect, that I am not trying to poison him).

yes the bib is from Ikea. yes I know you have the exact same one

Then he slows down and starts launching things off his tray onto the floor, hanging his head over to see where it has gone. I usually take this as an indication that the savoury part of lunch is over. Today he got for his pudding half a slice of Pret banana cake (no icing), which he poked down with a speed and alacrity I haven't seen since his father left for America. Then a yoghurt, then a 5oz bottle, then bed.

All this might seem obvious to everyone else, but I would never have believed you when Kitty was Sam's age that I could have bought a sandwich and fed that to her for lunch. It would have halved my blood pressure. Or she might have refused to eat that, too.

A great success last night was a meal of chicken and dumplings, inspired by the song She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain ("Oh, we'll all have chicken and dumplings when she coooooomes…") Sam liked it a lot. He likes especially to hold on to a chicken bone like Bam-Bam and chew on it. Kitty was more reluctant about the dumplings, but she ate the chicken and I provided on the side some chopped cucumber and carrots for her to have with it.

Chicken and dumplings with gravy

6 chicken wings or 3 chicken thighs
85g self raising flour
40g beef suet
parsley if you have it
about 150ml chicken stock
1 tsp plain flour

1 Roast the chicken pieces at 180 for 40min in a small tin that can also go on the hob.

2 Meanwhile make the dumplings - mix together the flour and suet with a large pinch of salt (if you want) and a sprinkling of parsley - then add some dribbles of water and bring this dough together until you get a soft consistency, not too dry. Shape them into four or six balls.

3 Steam these in a steamer or in a sieve over a pan of boiling water for about 20 minutes. They can sit in the steamer to keep warm until you're ready for them (just turn the heat down).

4 Take the chicken out of the oven and put the pieces aside to cool. Sprinkle a teaspoon of plain flour over any juice or grease in the tin (there won't be much, don't worry about this) and mash it about until there is sort of a paste. Then pour over a splash of the chicken stock and mix this in. The pour over the rest of the stock and whisk over a medium heat until you get a gravy. You can add a dash of soy to this for a bit of extra flavour.

If you are thinking that this seems to be an awful lot of hassle for kids tea then you are right, it is. But once you've done it once, it will seem less of a hassle the next time - and the dumpling dough can be made in advance.

Try not to worry, if you too are at this stage of weaning, about waste. It's just one of those things with kids, it's impossible to get amounts exactly right. It's also difficult to cook very tiny amounts of things, so compost and use leftovers where you can but beyond that, just put it in the bin and forget about it and make a donation to Oxfam to assuage your guilt.

Don't not try out new things because your heart sinks at the idea of waste (as mine did with Kitty, which is why her meal repertoire is a bit thin). Children obviously have things that they'd rather eat than not and no child should be expected to eat everything - or, some days, to eat anything - but at the same time they will just eventually eat things if they come across them often enough.

For example Kitty and Sam eat toast with quite bitter marmalade because that's what we eat; Kitty will drain the dregs of your espresso if you look the other way for a millisecond, because that's what there is lying about the house. She will even, one time in three that it is offered, eat an entire floret of broccoli. I've always put it in front of her and not said a word about whether she eats it or not. Not like I'm so fucking brilliant, but it does work. Sometimes she'll fancy it and nosh it down, other times not. I'm the same really.

Other things:

- To save time I will quite often cook a batch of rice up at either breakfast or during Sam's lunchtime naps, which can then later be quickly fried off in a pan with some butter and frozen peas.

- New potatoes will cook in 20 min in an oven at top whack, and they can then be roughly mashed with butter and you don't have to bugger about boiling anything. NO SAUCEPAN TO WASH UP.

- I hammered a nail in to the wall next to my sink and hang on it a special j-cloth, to be kept chemical-free, to wipe small faces and hands so that we don't go through 40,000 wet wipes every mealtime.

- I always keep handy for Sam a lot of yoghurt, Ella's fruity pouches and rusks in case dinner is a total disaster and he needs to eat something else just for my own neurotic peace of mind.  I personally don't think that a child under about 18 months will be canny enough to reject food because they "know" that you will give them something else. It is hard with your first child to understand that, but they are terribly dim - if they can't see it, they don't know it's there. Or rather, they can't be sure enough to hold out for it.

- Now Sam isn't eating mainly pureed veg and is drinking cow's milk, I give him Abidec vitamin drops every day. Kitty has chewable vitamins, like a fortified Haribo. The "sweetie fairy" leaves it for her on her Trip Trapp every morning and she gobbles it down. Sucker.

-I read to my children at teatime. Pretty much the only thing Kitty is not allowed to do is eat her lunch or tea in front of the telly. If I let her she would sit and eat everything on her plate, but I just can't do it. Everyone's got a line they don't cross and that's mine. So instead we read and it means that she will keep eating after she has satisfied her basic hunger, rather than running off, and also she will distractedly stuff things in her gob that she might otherwise be suspicious of.

On an entirely separate point, it's my birthday today. I know how you all like to keep up to date with important events in the Rifle Calendar.

Since you didn't ask, I am 34. I don't feel at all old. The oldest I've ever felt was when I was 25 and although at times it hasn't felt like it, life has improved every year since.


  1. Oh yes - the feeding first child v feeding second child thing - that was me. Isn't it such a relief.

  2. Happy Birthday and hooray for sandwiches!

  3. Happy Birthday! Great post, had me giggling/put off children all at once :)

    Rosie xx

  4. Happy Birthday! Totally agree with the feeding first child thing, never got round to having a second so didn't have the joy of how easier it is the second time round!

  5. Happy birthday! It's my birthday today too :-)

  6. Happy Birthday! What a lovely post, chatty & full of useful tips. Wishing you a relaxing day free of childcare and many delicious (child-friendly) meals!

    Your children are so very lucky to have you labouring over their meals - but what do you eat? Do you make more, and have the same healthy, nutritious, and balanced meals, or do you eat an entire packet of biscuits after shopping prepping cleaning and slaving at the hob (as I do)? I try where possible to cook seasonal/organic/local, we have a fantastic butcher and excellent weekend markets round the corner, so my kids eat well (i think) - but I always find myself foraging from the fridge and/or eating rubbish. Why?!

    1. I eat absolute rubbish, especially at the moment with Giles away. It's tragic.

  7. LOL, I am so uncivilised. I thought all babies were weaned by sitting them on your lap while you eat and hand feeding them bits from your plate while they try to hand feed you, and that toddlers eat by wandering around the table from person to person reaching out their hand for bits of what people have got, and that kids don't actually sit in a chair for any length of time and eat from a plate until they're, like, 3. I just figured they're more instinctive and animaly than adults, and all that civilized behaviour stuff comes with rational thought. So for me I'd be tempted to just put a plastic sheet on the floor and let the baby have a picnic on the floor. But then I might be a savage, I don't know. Or just a lazy slob :).

    1. No what you are is not neurotic and probably not married/shackled to an equally neurotic neat-freak. Your approach sounds commendable. Carry on.

  8. This is being bookmarked. My first child ate anything, so naturally I felt very smug about my relaxed attitude to feeding my child and how that was just somehow conveyed to him effortlessly, meaning no problems with fussiness. My second has been less of a glutton but I wasn't worried. Until I weighed him and realised he's dropped from the 50th to 12th centile and is actually not very easy to feed & is showing signs of being fussy (he's six months old, but it's taken me a while to figure this out, I just thought he was easygoing/not hungry/probably eating enough). I now suspect he's 'failing to thrive' and I am desperately trying to fatten him up before the next visit to the child health nurse.
    Happy birthday!

  9. I use a J-cloth for the kids, too. Top tip: don't bin it as soon as it gets manky (which they do, very quickly). Stick it in the washing machine every time you do a wash, and you can re-use until it starts falling apart.

  10. Happy Birthday Esther! Loving your posts, as always, even though I don't have kids. I just love YOU. (Which I mean in a non-weird way, you understand).

  11. Happy Birthday Esther. I love your blog and remember how stressed I got with all aspects of childcare when my daughter was small - especially feeding. I would have found your writing very reassuring if I had small children now.

  12. Happy birthday Esther!

    Here in the American South (ugh), chicken & dumplings means a lump of biscuit dough has been dumped indiscriminately into some perfectly good chicken soup and allowed to boil into a slimy abomination, ruining the soup completely. Your version sounds much more appetizing. :)

    I work in child care, and have done for about ten years (AHH! OLD!), and it seems to me that parents, especially moms, are under far too much pressure these days to follow a strict feeding regimen. I've had new-ish moms come to me in tears because their baby only drank 2 oz. that morning instead of four, and her doctor says they MUST HAVE 4 oz. EVERY 3 HOURS or…or what? They will get rickets? I honestly don't know, but it makes me want to hug every mom and then shake her a little bit. Moms, don't let people bully you about your kids' eating habits. And chin up, I bet you are all doing a great job! :)

    1. omg is that really what chicken and dumplings is??? I am so disappointed

  13. What a coincidence, I'm 32 tomorrow...I have neither children or a husband and feel quite underachieving reading your blog, but I still enjoy it :)

  14. Susannah Makram1 May 2014 at 22:07

    happy birthday!

  15. Happy birthday Esther! Many happy returns (and many more blog posts too) x

  16. I watched my just-turned-1 year old eat a whole plate of baked beans one by one this evening. Her 'I've Finished' sign has moved on from throwing the plate on the floor and waving goodbye to it, to just picking the plate up and rubbing it in her hair. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I did the same. Fab blog, saying the things I only think, thanks Esther.

  17. Happy birthday!!

    Thank for you the very helpful post. My son also loves marmalade because we always have that in the house. And so true about kids under 18months not being smart enough to reject one with because they think u will give them another. That used to cause me so much stress but will relax with my second one!!!! Will be stealing the reading during mealtime idea.

    Hope you had a very lovely day.

    Veronica xxx

  18. The other day I slaved over a delicious chicken satay recipe for my 18 month old and 3 year old. The kitchen was full of aromatic, free range, locally grown organic goodness. It was unbelievable delicious.

    I served it to my darling progeny and expectantly waited for enthusiastic mewling noises to fill the air as they scoffed it down. Instead they both looked at me in horror.

    Yuk said my 3 year old.

    My 18 month old (also a Kitty) looked at me with what can only be described as befuddlement.

    'Poos?' she asked questioningly.

    And just in case I didn't get where she was going with that, she helpfully lifted her bottom up from the high chair, pointed at it and declared more authoritatively

    I always find that if you make something especially delicious for your children, or that you have put a far bit of effort into don't give it to them that night. Give it to them the next evening. Then the loving labour is but a memory and the inevitable rejection is that much dulled.

    Happy birthday.

    1. A very useful and instructive tip, thank you. E x

  19. Happy birthday. Mess is a given during the acquisition of the art of eating. Oh, and everyone eat the same meal. It saves tremendously on cooking.

  20. I dig where you're coming from, re kids eating whatever they come across every day. This would be why my 6 year old is quite content with a dill pickle and bowl of olives to munch on. Makes her Eurotrash-mama proud.

    Hope you had a fab b'day.

  21. That last sentence really made me smile - Happy (belated) Birthday!

  22. Nice! My seven month old devoured this. My 2.5 year old announced "don't like it" before he even had a mouthful (but he now says that about sodding everything). I thought it was most delicious - I had some with the kids and then finished my son's off after he went to bed (my husband is out tonight). Hope you had a nice birthday.

  23. It seems really not easy to take care babies or children, but guess you are enjoying. I am not married yet, no children at home, so guess I have to wait till the day comes, then I can know how difficult it is to feed small babies and children. It seems that this is a baby or kids' food, but who cares, as long as it is delicious, I will cook it for myself and enjoy. :)

  24. Great post as always, I love hearing about your life as it is quite similar to mine (similar age, similar age children, living in North London) - thanks for sharing so honestly and amusingly! We did baby led weaning both times and my saving grace on the mess front is a good old fashioned dish cloth for the table/chair/floor and reuse able wipes (brand name Cheeky Wipes) for hands and faces - really fab and also have a separate set for bottoms. Sounds gross but really they aren't I promise!

  25. Hi Esther, I just re-read this post as my 10 month old is being a right pain with his food this week and I knew it would make me feel better about things. My heart just sinks when I've cooked up gourmet baby meals from Annabel Karmel or whatever and he just flatly rejects them and screams. Then I give in and let him have philidelphia sandwiches or rice pudding because I'm terrified he'll wake up hungry in the night - which ridiculous because he still guzzles three big bottles of milk a day...

    Anyway, thanks for blogging!