Because sometimes reason doesn't cut it...
I had outsmarted my infant son. The tenth time he threw his spoon to the floor – a prop spoon he waved madly, while I fed him from another – I took a length of sticky tape and wrapped it around his wrist, then the spoon handle.
The next time he tried to chuck the spoon – for reasons he never explained – he was confused to see it dangling like a puppet on a string. As the spoon bounced about and he stared at it like an idiot, there was no time to gloat – I shoved a spoonful of porridge and pawpaw into his wide-open gob.
It was a good day: another victory in the ongoing battle to feed my son. From getting a baby to take a bottle, to getting a baby off the bottle, to converting a toddler from pureed gloop to chunky food, the challenges constantly change.
The strategies my wife and I use have changed, too. In the last few years we’ve tried lies, bribes and ultimatums to get our stubborn son to eat what’s slopped up in front of him.
In the early days of solids, pawpaw was our secret weapon. You can add it to porridge, blend it with chicken or mix it with mince, and a kid will gobble up the “meal”.
But our son’s dirty nappies stunk of the fruit, which meant the fruit reminded us of dirty nappies. Dinnertime was disgusting; I still shudder when I pass pawpaw in the fruit shop.
Once the kid settled on solids, he went through weird phases as he learnt to feed himself.
Sometimes he’d mash handfuls of food in his face, and end up with more in his nostrils than his mouth.
For a while, he licked at the food like a cat; it was painful to watch. And there was a period when he insisted on looking at the underside of his bowl, and spilt most of his meal.
When he did master the simple art of spooning food to his face, a new problem emerged. At around two-years-old he turned into a critic – and we made the mistake of caring about his opinions.
Soon we were eating spaghetti bolognaise every second day, and sausages the other days. When the boy asked for Weet-Bix for dinner now and then, we caved. It was easier than arguing and I’m lazy.
We consoled ourselves with the fact that there were kids in his playgroup who were worse. A boy got by on chicken nuggets and nothing else, and a girl refused to eat anything that wasn’t white. Then we realised our kid might end up the same way.
We started to bribe him to eat his vegetables; if he didn’t finish his carrots and beans, he could forget about watching Captain Barnacles leading the Octonauts on their crazy underwater adventures.
To get him eating meat other than sausages, we called everything a sausage: a schnitty is a flat, crumbed sausage; a lamb cutlet is a sausage on a stick; a fish fillet is a swimming sausage. We’re setting him up for major embarrassment, but he only has himself to blame (or me, I guess).
We decided to let him help in the kitchen, since we read it made kids more excited about food.
Our son was dead keen to mix ingredients and stir pots, and it’s ended up how any sensible person would expect: a disaster.
Cooking takes twice as long and the mess is diabolical. Worse still, the kid always wants to get involved. He insists on crunching his own Weet-Bix, chanting, “Crush! Crush!” as he squeezes them in his tiny fists like an angry little dictator.
In the last few weeks we’ve landed on a new strategy to get our kid to eat a wide variety of foods. I call it the “tough shit technique.”
Dinner is served and if he hates it, tough shit. I don’t say that to him – I’m not a total arsehole.
There’ll a mix of carbs, veggies and meat or fish on his plate and if he doesn’t want to eat it all, that’s fine. When he pokes at a veggie and whines, “I don’t like this!” we just say, “No worries, but there’s nothing else to eat.”
Suddenly the Brussels sprouts he wants to pelt across the room are extremely edible.
I feel a little guilty, manipulating a kid to eat food that I used to hate myself. But mostly I’m glad that he has a healthy diet.
And the best thing is, it doesn’t involve arguments, bribes or compromises; it involves very little effort at all. Finally, it pays to be a lazy parent.
READ MORE FROM CHRIS RYAN:
- The unexpected joys of travelling overseas with a toddler
- Second sentence: The 5 ways our firstborn prepared me to go again
- Trying to be a good dad, but falling short