This week’s post is about our family battle with food. Our internal battles, our external battles and my battle with myself. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic because I find it to be one of the most stressful aspects of parenting. Please do this on Facebook, Twitter (@makinglittleppl) or the comments box below. Let’s talk! Oh and I owe you a thank you. Earlier this week I asked you to like and share my post in a bid to drive up page likes and many of you kindly did. If you can do the same again, I will be eternally grateful! Big love to you all, Mrs Hergerburger xx
Eating’s cheating used to be one of my favourite expressions. Choosing drinking over eating, what’s not to like?! It typically meant I would go out on a Friday night and drink, most often until I was sick. Cheating my body? Nope. My hangover? Definitely not. My waistline? No way, no how. So I’m not sure eating is cheating. Sadly however, I think my toddler has adopted my juvenile mantra. Not to do with alcohol, though you would be forgiven for thinking she was drunk if you heard her rendition of Postman Pat, but with food. I find the eating thing incredibly stressful. I shouldn’t, as it’s so base, but between the mess, the habits and the crap-dodging, it can really monopolise the mind.
Once you’re over the breast/bottle saga that dominates the first six weeks of your baby’s life, the next stress is when to start giving them real food. We had heard and read so much conflicting advice – friends giving porridge at 6 months, cousins giving curry at 5 months, mums giving egg at 4 months and Nana giving apples at 3 months. Where do you even begin?! We decided we wanted to understand the science and make an informed decision. We looked like neurotic first time parents when we admitted that we attended an NCT ‘Introducing Solids’ workshop, but I’m OK with that. I always use the analogy that I wouldn’t go and see a doctor that hadn’t practised for 20 years, so blindly following the advice of family elders, without understanding the latest science, doesn’t make sense either. Listen, but follow your own path and all that. The workshop was a well-spent couple of hours. As well as learning the actual signs that your baby is ready to wean (sitting up, loss of tongue-thrust reflex and ability to pick up food) the biggest takeaway was the maturity of the digestive system. My (probably dreadful) interpretation of this is that a babies’ gut is open for the first 6 months, to allow antibodies and proteins from breastmilk to pass straight through to the bloodstream. One of the advantages of breast milk is that it lines the gut and helps protect against anything bad. At 6 months, the gut closes so the baby’s body is able to stop harmful things passing through on its own. This became one of my milestones for breast feeding, I felt better about my decision to stop once 6 months had passed. This article on KellyMom, an absolute favourite website of mine, explains it much better than I do. The other thing we learnt was that nothing will fill your baby up like calorie-dense breast milk or formula. So if your baby is waking up hungry, give them more milk, don’t think that a barely mangled bit of banana is going to fix the problem. It made sense to us. Husband and I walked out of the standard slightly-damp-smelling-rough-carpeted venue much better informed than we went in. I’ll certainly never buy a box of Farley’s Rusks (shock horror to anyone over 30!) due to the shocking amount of sugar and salt in them. And actually, even many of the baby jars and snacks are bad habits waiting to happen. I’m surprised it’s not legislated more heavily. We started feeding Girly no1 at 6 months as per the advice from NCT, the World Health Organisation, NHS, UNICEF and EOAB (Every Other Acronym Body – totally a real thing) and will do the same for Girly no2 in a couple of weeks time. But this time around I’m going to charge a pound for every person that looks at me like I’m a child beater when I tell them we’re waiting until 6 months. I might be able to afford a new sofa!
After the ‘when’ to feed, we tackled the ‘what’. From day one we combined baby-led weaning with spoon feeding. We started Girly no1 on pieces of fruit and steamed veg, never bothering with baby porridge and I didn’t purée anything myself. There were times, I admit – shaking my head in shame – that we used pre-prepared meals. Ella’s Kitchen and later HIPP Organic meals were great and have little-to-no additives, and I eventually shook off the guilt of using these when I saw the variety of flavours, and frankly how much easier they made my life. We came to think of Ella as our family chef. Once Girly no1 was older and better with lumps, we made big batches of spag bol, sausage casserole or shepherds pie, all crammed with veg. But all that was back when she ate anything I gave her. When I worried about her being a Waitrose kid asking for salmon with asparagus spears, or beef bourgignon with a side of lightly peppered butternut squash. Six months ago everything changed as she discovered a new superpower. The ‘yellow food group’ power, designed to make Mummy twitch and growl. Girly no1, at two and a half, randomly decided she would only eat yellow foods – cheese, brioche, yoghurt, banana and cereal. It was, and is, incredibly frustrating. The Heath Visitor told me not to worry. She said to think about food over the week rather than the day. I did this….yep, still yellow. There is one exception, she will always eat spaghetti bolognese. Fish fingers have recently been added to this list, though arguably these belong in the yellow food group. I don’t know whether this is me doing something wrong or it’s just a phase. It had become a power struggle and, quite literally, wasn’t healthy for any of us. I read an article that suggested presenting the whole meal (including any dessert) on the table at the same time and letting your child pick what they want. It said to stop thinking about our concepts of sweet and savoury as they just aren’t embedded in children of that age. The idea is that the child can choose what they eat and this freedom of choice leads to them eating more (buffet mentality!). I thought this would mean that she would turn into a Petit Filous, but surprisingly, she hasn’t. She has started eating peas again, and is gradually trying new things. The other day at a friend’s house she ate raw carrot, hummus and cucumber. I choked on my own raw carrot, cucumber and hummus. At our house she would shake and shudder at the very mention. It isn’t always practical to serve lots of dishes, particularly as we eat at different times, but I try and make sure that we eat as a family a couple of times a week and she is offered everything on the table. When she eats on her own, I give her a plate with everything on it – fish fingers, peas, fruit and yoghurt. Power struggle averted.
My biggest food nemesis is other people (blame everyone else, why not?!). We read and heard a lot about the impact of too much sugar and salt on babies and children’s bodies and vowed to do everything we could to keep these out of their diets. Excessive salt is so harmful to babies’ kidneys and like most things, if you never get a taste for it you never crave it, heroin being a great equivalent example. My mum never added salt to any of her cooking, so I don’t either. In fact I hate salty things. As long as we do the cooking, this one is fairly easy to dodge. Sugar, however, is an entirely different matter. Both Husband and I have a ridiculously sweet tooth and eat biscuits like there is a world shortage. I crave sugar at two or three points in my day. I would be one skinny Minnie if I didn’t eat sugar as I do. I tried to give up in January – I lasted 5 days. Now I’m even worse than when I started. I didn’t, and still don’t, want my Girlies wrestling sugar cravings for the rest of their lives. And I definitely don’t want them to be another obesity statistic – sugar is an absolute and proven driver of this problem. I read that if children can avoid refined sugars for the first three years of life, they won’t have a sweet tooth. It will be sickly to them. We almost completely dodged it for the first year but the second and third year have been so much harder as every mofo wants to ply our baby with sugar. We went to a children’s gym class the other day that gave out lollipops at the end! I love a Chuppa Chups as much as the next guy but for a two year old. Really?! One of the most frequent battles is with grandparents, who seem to think their mission in life is to fill your child with biscuits, sweets and ice cream. It’s a topic that drives me nuts. I want to ask why they want to push my daughter towards a lifelong fight with her health that she could well avoid. It’s not just grandparents though. Knowing what we know now, why do any of us give our children anything sugary? If we all nipped it in the bud now then diabetes, obesity and tooth decay wouldn’t be issues in the future. We give it to them because we like it…but we don’t give them prosecco and fags, we’d be locked up for it! Before you all hit the X in the corner and accuse me of being a ranting hippy, I should state that I’m no angel. I eat biscuits in front of Girly no1 and occasionally let her have a bit. We let her have a little ice cream in the summer. And at Easter, she had a bit of a tiny Milky Bar egg. This approach, though, is not much better than giving it to her always because with this we’re making it a special treat. All the more tempting! It’s quite the conundrum, and I don’t know the right answer. I’ve told a few people that she had no chocolate at Easter and the reactions are akin to me telling them I locked her in an under-the-stairs cupboard for the weekend. I feel strongly on the topic though, like most things this is about setting them up for the future. Both of my girls are already bloody heavy and would struggle to hit the upper end of “ideal” on the BMI scale. You know those hessian sack door stops that look like they are light but you break your back picking them up? That’s me and my girls. The three of us are lead-lined. The 8 stone scale reading will whizz by at age 10. I ditched weight-watching years ago but since having babies I’ve started back on the scales. It never used to matter because I was athletic and fit. The only time it bothered me was when my Mum gasped when I told her how much I weighed. I suppose 12 stone is shocking to someone who weighed 8.5 stone and had a 22 inch waist when she got married. Now, though, I’m not fit or athletic, I’m fat and squidgy. 5 months after giving birth I weigh way more than my “slim” weight of 12 stone. Once I’m feeling myself again I’ll get my focus on the things that matter to me and that I want to matter to my Girlies – health, strength and feeling good about the woman staring back at you in the mirror.
So the whole food thing stresses me out, for me and for them. I don’t know the answer. I’m cowardly in some ways because I’m not willing to be the big bad wolf. When all the other kids are eating crap, I give it to my child too, peer pressure at its’ finest. When someone overweight feeds my child biscuits, and I want to say “why do you want her to be fat too?”, I don’t. Because I do it too. What I do know is that as we embark on the whole food journey again with Girly no2, I’ll do most things the same, but hopefully with less sugar. For everyone. Maybe as a family we’ll even go sugar free and I’ll find the confidence to say no to more. First though, I’m going to eat the rest of that Milky Bar egg…