It says it in the title. We are both fussy eaters but I often wonder if James is a fussy eater because of me. Has he inherited my fussy eating? Has my fussy eating somehow subconsciously influenced his behaviour with food? I often hear comments that no wonder James is a fussy eater having me as a mother. I had dreams of cooking James all of these wonderful healthy meals, but his fussy eating soon put a stop to this and meant I just have to cook freezer food, a lot easier, but less nutritious.
I was brought up on frozen food, ready meals and the odd home cooked meal here and there. As a child I don’t think I was particularly fussy, or was it just that I was given foods that I liked? I can remember going on holiday and the only thing my sister would eat was chips for the whole holiday, where as I remember liking the food. There have always been foods that I haven’t particularly liked as a child, like eggs (unless in cake or a quiche) and salad. Growing up I remember my mum being paranoid about whether food was cooked properly, so much so I have a memory of her taking chicken from our plates and giving it an extra blast in the microwave because she thought it still looked a bit pink. Fish fingers and sausages were always served to us burnt, accompanied by mashed potato or chips, with baked beans or if we were unlucky peas. Ready meals were usually Tuna Pasta bake or Cumberland Pie served with peas. My mum wasn’t the biggest fan of cooking and often used to blame the oven for her overcooked offerings but there were some foods that she made really well and I actually miss to this day – one being tuna and cheese quiche of which I can still imagine the taste in my mouth now.
We didn’t eat as a family; my sister and I used to eat at around 4:30 – 5 PM and our parents used to eat at around 8 – 8:30 PM. My mum did sometimes attempt to get us to all eat together at around 6:30 PM but as you can imagine it was met with a lot of resistance from my sister and I complaining that we would starve having to wait that long to eat. I also seem to remember the eating together meals were more of a home cooked offering and sometimes we were just a lot happier eating sausages, beans and chips. In those days that seemed to be what most of our friends were also eating for their tea too, which does make me wonder why we expect children to have such a varied diet these days. I think eating as a family is important so I wanted to establish this early on with James and he can see us eating things too. I am not sure it actually has any impact on him whatsoever because he shows no interest in what we are eating (unless it is chocolate or a biscuit), or any desire to use cutlery himself. It also means James doesn’t eat until between 5:45 and 6PM because we have to wait for my husband to come home from work. However, as we have always done it this way he seems to cope fairly well with it and if he is hungry before hand I just give him a cracker to keep him going.
So when did I start becoming a fussy eater? Or more of a fussy eater? Since having James and wanting to try and understand his fussy eating, I often try to think why I became a fussy eater, where did things change. The biggest change in my life was my mum dying and I think that changed my relationship with food. She was ill for several years and during this time there were periods where I felt very anxious and worried. I didn’t always feel like eating much. I can remember going from eating cereal and toast for breakfast to only managing to eat a banana. Some people comfort eat when they are having a hard time, where as eating just didn’t seem important with everything that was going on. Don’t get me wrong, I did eat, but I just didn’t have the appetite that I used to have. I wasn’t really enjoying food and was just eating because I knew I had to. I started having to do a lot more cooking for myself and that meant freezer foods were easiest, and I didn’t really know how to cook anything else or have the confidence to try. Plus I had developed a fear of foods being undercooked from my mum, so always used to cook things for a few minutes longer.
I started eating less and less meat and as I turned 19 I became a vegetarian. I had never been a big meat eater, I didn’t like cooking or touching it and felt a lot more comfortable not having to deal with it. I found meat made me feel bloated and heavy and vegetable based foods were a lot more digestible, especially when feeling anxious and worried. My husband on the other hand is very much into his meat and a total foodie. When we first got together I did dabble in eating meat on a few occasions but found it just made me feel uncomfortable and I preferred not to eat it. Due to his love of food I have been slightly more open to trying new foods – he introduced me to falafel which I love and on holiday once he even took me to a Bosnian restaurant, I can’t say I loved the food but I survived the experience. His view on food is that you should try everything because it’s only food and if you don’t like it it’s not the end of the world. For me it’s deeper than that though, the thought of eating some foods actually gives me fear, such as beetroot or raw onion. I don’t think I could even force myself to eat those foods and this is where I have some sympathy with James. Although it frustrates me that he won’t try foods that I know he would probably like, I do understand that trying food isn’t as simple as just putting it in your mouth, like my husband would suggest.
Having a meat eating husband has meant that I have had to get used to cooking meat. In the early days he can remember me taking raw chicken out of its packaging in my garden with gloves on so it didn’t contaminate my kitchen. I have come a long way since then, and although I don’t like touching raw chicken I will now take it out of its packing in the kitchen, but you can guarantee my kitchen worktops get a good dettol spraying afterwards. ALthough I am a vegetarian I do sometimes eat fish, especially when I was pregnant with James. At that time I really wanted it so I presume it was my body’s way of telling me I needed something from it. I now go through phases of eating fish, because if I think that I am eating something that was once living it really puts me off. I have never had any intentions to bring James up as a vegetarian. To be honest I am grateful for anything that he does eat, so I certainly don’t want to restrict it even more and when he is older he can decide for himself.
There are loads of fussy eating articles online with things to try and recipes for fussy eaters, but for James very little works. Since we have been giving him things he likes a long with optional foods to try he had tried some new things, but never any vegetables. It does get frustrating seeing the foods other children eat while we struggle and feel bad that our child isn’t eating vegetables, but he is a healthy child and that is the main thing. I’m sure some people would say that James is a fussy eater because of my own relationship with food, or I certainly don’t help matters, but that is actually quite a hurtful thing to say to a mother. Maybe he is maybe he isn’t, it’s not something we will find out. James certainly seems to have anxiety around trying new foods and the best thing I think for him is that we continue as we are giving him food he will eat, and giving him the option to try new things. We can only hope that one day he will grow out of being so fussy, but in the meantime I think it is important that we don’t put too much pressure on him. Food can be a sensitive issue for a lot of people and I think we just need to accept that not everyone likes the same things and some people are most comfortable with foods they feel safe with. Speaking as a fussy eater, the best thing people can do to help is not make a big deal about it and just accept that not everyone likes lots of different foods. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything, and I am sure James doesn’t either.