Catherine Cameron: Food glorious food
Recently I have been thinking about food. How to camouflage vegetables in dishes. How to bake muffins that won’t end up on the floor. How to produce a variety of food groups and ensure these are digested, rather than used as paint to colour the walls.
Most importantly, how to get my toddler to eat.
Since starting solids, more food has been used as cladding on my kitchen furniture than a source of nutrition and I have discovered the everlasting hold Weetbix can have as a hair gel. The high chair has become a place where my opponent and I, eye each other in battle, as I avoid flung spoons and she avoids spinach.
Although I had a premonition that this is what feeding a toddler would look like, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of information and judgement that comes hand in hand with this.
Apparently, what you choose to feed your baby or toddler is public property.
From the very first vegetable you chose to puree, to the amount of honey you dare put in your child’s baking, you are walking on eggshells when it comes to making meal choices for your growing one. And like the topic of sleep, where opinion-makers offer cookie cutter advice (forgetting that every child is different), mothers are flooded with the same one-size fits all approach that can leave them feeling frustrated and inadequate.
I vividly remember the first time I felt a pang of guilt in making food choices for my baby. It was at a seminar on introducing solids that boldly discouraged complex carbohydrates and fruit. My naivety lapped this up, and I spent many weeks making life much harder on myself than needed. These days, everyone is a nutritionist, and, for those of us who are still trying to figure out this whole parenting thing, we will listen to anything.
Now what bugs me, is the warped perspective some food specialists present mothers. Ready-made is bad. Fruit has too much sugar. Baking should be green, and the pages of your recipe books should rival those of famous chefs.
While some toddlers will feast on an array of healthy foods, and actually prefer smoked salmon to chicken nuggets, others, will pick and choose like little birds, bringing their parents to their knees in the battle to feed them anything that has grown in the Earth. What is often overlooked, however, is that parents of the latter are not doing anything ‘wrong’. Their child is simply not a natural food lover.
Enter my fussy little bird.
My fussy little ‘I will only swallow something you have not made yourself and that comes from the supermarket’ bird. No matter how artistically I presented her meals, the only thing that would successfully go down was a ready-made vegetable pouch. As in, she would actually eat it. Houston, my child was eating! This was a breakthrough.
This was short lived however, when I soon realised that feeding my baby ready-made food saw my ‘lazy parenting’ radar on full beam.
I tried so hard to switch my radar onto ‘gourmet mummy’ mode.
Boy oh boy did I try.
But she repeatedly morphed her chubby little arms into wiper blades and flung my efforts in all directions.
And I would feel like a failure.
And she would be hungry.
For weeks I persisted.
And then one day, my sister said something to me that slapped me into reality…
“Food is food.”
And for my fussy and explorative baby, I needed to start listening to her and ignoring the tsunami of information around me. This was simply a phase, and I knew that she wouldn’t end up slurping on a baby food pouch while dancing in a club in her twenties.
It seems judgment of all forms comes hand in hand with parenting and is now a social norm.
But why then, are we not all as vocal in judging one another?
How can you judge the food my little one eats, but I can’t judge the food choices you make for yourself?
Many mothers become so fixated on the variety of health foods in their child’s lunchbox, that they prioritise this over their own food choices. I will never forget a mother looking at me sideways for giving my daughter flavoured yoghurt, while she sipped on a can of coke.
Doesn’t that seem topsy-turvy?
Since when did parenting become so comparable, that mothers are essentially measuring their self-worth and value on their parenting decisions, rather than those they make for themselves?
Now I know what you are thinking, why should I bother myself with worrying about what others think, or listen to advice I instinctively don’t agree with? Well, the fact of the matter remains. You don’t give birth to both a baby and a ‘how to parent’ thesis.
I haven’t done this before. I don’t know what I am doing. And that makes me, and all the other first time parents out there, impressionable.
So when it comes to the food choices we make for our little ones, remember that it shouldn’t be rocket science. If some days all you can get your toddler to eat is a banana for dinner, that doesn’t make you a bad parent.
And as for the onslaught of one-sided and often non-research based arguments against certain food groups, brands and ready-made companies, take care to do your own research. Listen to your toddler.
Listen to your instincts.
And please, don’t throw stones and judge another mother’s food choices for her child before you can be confident this judgement isn’t hypocritical in the choices you make for yourself.
After all, we are all simply doing our best, in the unpredictable and food stained journey that is parenthood.