This is a picture of my youngest 5 years ago. One of those smug mummy pics that so many of us are guilty of posting on social media. I must apologise for this now! She was 9 months old, in an Indian restaurant, chomping away on a poppadum. How proud I was and how sure that my baby led weaning had been the right decision. Here we were, in a restaurant and everyone was eating the food we had ordered, no complaints! I saw the years stretching in front of me of relaxed family mealtimes full of smiles and squeals of delight as curries, tagines, pulses, complex flavours were paraded in front of us and I only had to cook one meal for the whole family because they would all be happy to tuck in.
What a difference 5 years make, the benefit of hindsight, the realisation that there is no prescribed way to do things with your children that will get the desired result. When number 3 was on the way, I pretty much knew that for the foreseeable future, I would not be returning to work. The oldest was at school, the boy would be starting nursery, and I would have 3 hours a day alone with my baby. I started to create a world in my head where I would be an earth mother and I would implement all of the baby rearing methods that I had not had a chance to indulge in before – baby led weaning being the most notable. I even read a book about it!
When my oldest was born, the big name in weaning was Annabel Karmel. My sister had handed me a puree splattered, well used copy of her book with advice about the best recipes, having religiously mushed and pureed good, healthy meals for her babies. It had worked well by all accounts. My friends in my NCT group were all following her meal plans. It was a rewarding if time consuming business. My oldest loved her nosh and it was rewarding to shovel in the spoons of multi-coloured semi solid mush. The boy loved it too. Never had any trouble with them eating. And yet, and yet… I seemed to think in my baby number 3 fug that I should change a tried and tested formula.
So there I was, 6 years on from baby number 1 and there was a new buzz amongst the mummys of suburbia – namely, the mind blowing realisation that you could feed your baby the food you were eating without liquidizing it to an unrecognisable, unappetising beige sludge. Looking back I’m a bit embarrassed. I was guilty of buying into a craze, a new way, because someone wrote a book saying it was ok, and not a terrible, irresponsible or dangerous thing to let your 6 month old put a piece of food in her mouth that hadn’t been pre chewed. I was up for it. My daughter was going to get the best dietary start and would be ‘that’ child who would eat whatever we threw at her!
I know that possibly millions of people have derived nothing but success and pure joy from baby led weaning. I salute them and their very well fed children. I realise that I am definitely substandard and for this I do apologise. But, in my considered opinion, baby led weaning has about as much chance of success as England winning the Euros.
Yes, we had a honeymoon period of my gorgeous, hilarious child smearing chick pea stew all over her high chair, face and floor – some might have gone in. She ate all sorts of vegetables, meat and fish and she gorged on fruit – yes, I learned not to fear the gag reflex and I was fascinated to witness my precious load gagging and then launching a chunk of carrot half way across the kitchen. I learned that babies and small children have absolutely miniscule stomachs and that the portion sizes I gave my other kids were far too big. I learned that my baby would eat until she was full and then she would stop. All good things, all good things.
But then I also learned that for a toddler, choice is BAD! I did not have the wherewithal or the energy to be honest, to create inventive and healthy selections every day and, as a result her main diet turned into what I hope most people will admit to – fishfingers, pasta, the odd pie, chicken korma etc and oh yes, fucking chips. Over the months and the years, her repertoire dwindled quite alarmingly. The beans on toast, boiled egg, pasta pesto options that I guess were acceptable suddenly turned into pasta with nothing and the odd baked bean.
She turned into Sally from ‘When Harry met Sally’ requiring everything ‘on the side’ – spaghetti with bolognese ‘on the side’, baked potato with beans ‘on the side’, empty plate with crumb of food ‘on the fucking side’. We are now in a situation where my brilliant, energetic daughter survives on a diet of oranges, raspberries, wheetos, mini cheddars, the odd mouthful of protein, the odd forced broccoli floret and cheese. I am bemused.
I also read in a book (which clearly means it’s kosher and 100% true) that toddlers are often grazers and THAT’S OK. They might not follow the traditional 3 meals a day rule, but instead enjoy healthy ‘snacks’ throughout the day, chomping on a carrot stick and some cheese and salami whilst playing with their wooden blocks and lego. Fine I thought, my youngest just likes to graze. The problem is, as the toddler years turned into pre-school years, the ‘snacks’ and the ‘grazing’ turned into frubes, mini cheddars, mini biscuits, fruit…. Mea culpa! This is not healthy grazing.
I don’t think I’m a terrible mother. I attempt to cook from scratch most days. The other 2 children eat a varied and mainly healthy diet. But I have to admit that I cannot bear the moment when the 5 year old comes to the table, makes a face like I have put a pile of steaming pooh on the table and declares she doesn’t like it before she even knows what it is. My resolve has gone. I don’t know what to do! I am hoping that one magical day she will wake up with new taste buds, feeling hungry and will devour that chicken pie, the lasagne, the roast dinner. Please, let me dream as I prepare yet another plate of toast with beans ‘on the side’ with as little bean juice as possible!