It’s not often that Moira Stewart makes me shout at the radio. I mean, come on, it’s Moira Stewart, coolest newsreader ever and verging on National Treasure. However, on Friday morning I was raging just by her reading out her headline and talking back to the radio by the time the full story was reported.
“Picky Eaters may not be the parents fault!”
“Scientists have found that picky eaters may be more due to genetics than bad parenting”
So, thank you very much scientists and Moira for letting us dreadful parents know that we are not perhaps as ‘bad’ and at fault as we may have thought. For the rest of the day I was brooding over once again over the fact that we need scientists to assuage some of the parent bashing that we seem to have to face every day in the media, in the local cafe, on the bus or even in our own homes.
I shall leave to one side how unhelpful I think the term ‘picky eater’ is anyway and focus on the actual issue. I never imagined for one moment that toddlers who are unadventurous in their eating habits were so because their parents were bad and I’m shocked that anyone else does either. Nobody looks at their nearly six month old baby and thinks “I’m just going to feed them brown food and possibly only 1 or 2 different meals.” We all start with the best intentions. Giving our children the experience of different tastes, whether they are puréed or given as finger food, but something we all learn very quickly, is that you cannot force a person to eat and nor should we, however young we are.
I have experienced many different levels of enthusiasm for food from all my children at various times of their lives. I’ve never described them as picky eaters, but I’ve spent many years trying to make sure they get a healthy and balance diet and it has been a battle with them being 7, 5 and 2, one I am still fighting.
Mini Mck started as what the experts would probably define as a ‘picky eater’. We did everything ‘right’. We ate together, we offered a range of foods for him to try, we persevered if he didn’t like them straight away, but for quite some time his diet consisted mostly of pasta, cheese omelette and bananas. Now he eats a reasonable range of food, but it’s still hit or miss whether he will decide he doesn’t like something he liked last week.
Nano was completely different. Suddenly I saw how easy weaning could be. He ate everything we offered and for the first couple of years he was the most adventurous eater. I was one of those annoying Mums who would post pictures of him tucking into olives, flatbreads and hummus. Slowly though, he also became more cautious and is now similar to his brother. He eats a pretty good and varied diet, but getting a vegetable in him is a struggle and of course, the things that he loves are opposite to his brother and the things he hates, his brother loves.
Lady Mck is fairly non-commital all about food. It doesn’t particularly interest her. If you asked me to name her favourite meal I would struggle to think of anything she loves, every time we serve it.
And so it is in most households, I would imagine. We eat together. We model good habits around food. I make most of our meals and snacks from scratch. We don’t do any of this because we feel that if we didn’t we would be bad parents. We do it because we love food. We love cooking it, sharing it with loved ones and eating something delicious. None of that has made feeding our children any less of a battle.
Our western society has made parenting an industry, something that we need to ‘work’ at and ‘solve’. Something that requires us to read the latest research or the latest parenting book. We now subscribe to parenting styles, rather than simply raising and enjoying our family life and this seems to bring with it heaps and heaps of judgement. If our children don’t eat well, it has been believed to be our fault and we need some research to put things straight. If our children don’t sleep, we have made a rod for our own back, somewhere along the line. If our children are ‘clingy’ (another word I hate by the way) we have coddled them too much and given into their requests for hugs.
We roll our eyes and describe ourselves as bad parents or lazy parents if we give them sweets or let them have too much screen time or feed them out of the freezer and we need to stop doing that. We have Moira and the rest of the world to do that for us, so how about we give ourselves and each other a break, huh?