| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Living with a fussy eater

Louise Emma Clarke shares the stress of meal times with young kids

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As the clock ticks closer to 5pm every afternoon, I start to feel nervous. My heart beats a little faster and I concentrate on deep breathing as I move reluctantly to the kitchen. The toddler’s dinner time is approaching and I wish I could run from the apartment and sit in a nearby café until the drama is over – or better still, the husband might make an unexpected early experience and take over, as I retire to the bedroom to have a lie down and recover my senses.

Can you tell mealtimes are stressful in our house? It wasn’t always this way… I was pretty smug about my son’s eating habits when we first weaned him at 5 months. From the very first day we introduced purees, he gobbled them down in a fit of excitement, requesting more through enthusiastic hand gestures and full-mouthed grunts. As we progressed to finger foods, I used to boast about how adventurous his diet was – everything from slices of gherkin, to fingers of mature cheddar, to medleys of vegetables, which I carried around in tubs to amuse him as I cradled a mug of coffee in various cafes around town. While friends spoke about the hell of mealtimes, I used them as time to relax – while confined to his highchair with his favourite activity (eating), there was really nothing in the world to worry about.

Looking back, I hate myself as much as my friends must’ve done at the time… And it didn’t last. As the baby turned into a toddler, he became more independent and started refusing my lovingly cooked meat/fish and vegetable concoctions. Plates flew across the kitchen, leaving peas, tuna and broccoli in places I had no desire to crawl into with an antiseptic wipe.

There were some things he still ate willingly and I clung to these in desperation. “Oh look darling, it’s pasta in tomato sauce again!’ I chirped enthusiastically, praying he didn’t notice the teeny-tiny pieces of carrot I had snuck into the sauce. On the third day in a row of being handed it, the plate was thrown against the fridge, spoiling a piece of proudly displayed artwork with a thick smudge of orange-speckled tomato sauce. I kept it there for several months as a reminder of the repercussions of getting too lazy in the kitchen.

Over the past few months, some of his biggest foes have included: potatoes (in any form, unless they are fried into chips and served with a dollop of ketchup), rice (impossible to feed himself, but way too independent to allow me to help), jam (loves sweet things, adores fruit, but hates jam – go figure), forks (spoons will always do the job - until they won’t do the job and are thrown on the floor in a fit of frustration, along with their contents), high chairs (once my best friend, now the toddler’s arch enemy – of course he should be allowed to wander around the apartment with a plate full of baked beans and sausages, how unreasonable I am to forbid it!) The list goes on – and to keep things fresh and exciting, new items are added daily.

There is one solution – and I totally blame the mother-in-law for giving me an escape route. On a recent visit, she suggested we moved him in front of the TV to eat his dinner, hoping that it would enable us to shovel food into his mouth as he entered a Barney-induced trance. It worked a treat and for the rest of her stay, my son couldn’t believe his luck as he got this extra chunk of TV at mealtimes. I couldn’t believe my luck either – no thrown plates, no fork-induced anger, and no rejection of the highchair… Life was transformed. But after she had flown home and I had lost my ally at mealtimes, I started to feel very, very guilty about this new activity and I switched the TV off again. I could see us hurtling down the route of lazy parenting and decided to reverse at top speed and make life more difficult again for the sake of the future good.

You can imagine my son’s confusion as he was faced with a plate of unwanted food, without the addition of a purple dinosaur to make it taste any better. I won’t even go into the drama that ensued, through fear of pushing my blood pressure to dangerous levels – but it involved a plate of cauliflower cheese, a very angry toddler, an ‘unbreakable’ drinking cup on the floor in three pieces, and a pool of water that the angry toddler later slipped in and banged his head. And the moral of the story? Never listen to your mother-in-law.

But we knew that already didn’t we…

By Louise Emma Clarke
Time Out Dubai,

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