Friday, 18 July 2014

How To Make Your Children Eat

Warning: Smug post ahead. (Ah, who am I trying to kid... they're all smug!)

It is unusual for me to write a Proper Parenting Post. Not least because I am anything but a Proper Parent... as proved on multiple occasions by the archives of this blog, which my children will no doubt be using as evidence against me in later years. However. Over the past few months I've been asked on an oddly frequent basis the following question. How Do You Make Your Children Eat? Or, perhaps more accurately, How Do You Make Your Children Eat Such Bloody Weird Things. And so I thought I'd devote an entire blog post to the one part of parenting I think I might currently be getting right.*

Now, this could be luck, it could be design, it could just be that my children happen to treat every meal as though it is their last. I have no idea what it is which makes them happy to consume just about everything, with their favourite foods being as diverse as olives (I am 32. I have only just made myself like olives), smoked salmon, quinoa, broad beans and that all time Best Food Ever... Brussels sprouts. (Which I have only just learnt has a pluralised 'Brussels'. Every day's a school day.) However, in answer to the questions, and in the hope that it might help someone else... this is what we did:

1) Baby Led Weaning. I could lie and say that we did this because we thought it would encourage our children to eat a wide range of foods. The reality is that we did this because we are lazy. (Sorry Neil. I am lazy!) Having said that, I think it was good for getting them used to lots of different flavours and textures very early on. Nine times out of ten they'd just eat whatever we were eating (laziness strikes again), so there has never been a distinction between 'child' and 'adult' food in our house. Which I think is important. No child wants to think there's something good you're eating that they're missing out on. Hence the smoked salmon obsession.

2) Nursery. Peer pressure from a very early age. It's incredible how often children will eat something when they're sat in a room of other children, all eating the same thing...

3) Choice. But - and this is important - controlled choice. It's unusual for me to just plonk a plate of food in front of my children and expect them to eat them. They will usually get a choice. The choice will be something like: 'Mushroom and quinoa risotto, or Spanish omelette with salad'. (I love how I'm pretending I am a cooking guru. That is a choice, but only on a day when I'm finishing work early. Most of the time it's more like 'EGGS ON TOAST OR BEANS ON TOAST, DECIDE NOOOOOOOOOOOOOW.') And then they get to decide. If they can't decide mutually, then I get to overrule them and make the decision for them. Am trying to encourage their development of strategic team building skills (as opposed to just hitting each other) at an early age. Similarly, they always get a choice of drinks. That choice being: 'Milk, or water?' Both of which they therefore drink in vast quantities. (Until they get distracted by a display of Angry Birds Fruit Shoots in Waitrose. Bloody marketing ploys.)

4) Open Discussion On The Health Benefits Of Food. Some of you will disagree with me on this, but we have an open dialogue in our house on the importance of eating certain foods in order to stay healthy. They know we should be trying to eat a minimum of 5 different types of fruit and vegetables a day. They know drinks with sugar in might make your teeth fall out. They know you need lots of protein to help you grow and make your bones strong. They know if you eat too much sugar (we worry less about fat, because of course there are so many 'good' fats) then your body won't work as well and you won't be as healthy. They are however children, not saints. They both still love to eat sweets and cake and puddings, however they both appear to currently have the ability to self regulate, particularly when it comes to sweets - I regularly get half full packets handed back to me. I am not naive enough to think this will last, but at the moments it feels like they're getting a sensible message and listening to it.

5) Minimal Snacks. This will be a bit controversial, but it's very unusual for me to give my kids a snack between meals. Past the age of about 2, when they need lots of smaller meals rather than 3 big meals, I don't believe any child (or adult, for that matter), really needs to eat between meals. It often means that by the time they come to sit down for their meal, they're not actually that hungry, which is where some of the problems start...

6) Zero Tolerance. IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE, DO THIS. Contrary to popular belief, I do not force my children to sit down and eat all of their meals. They can eat as much or as little as they want of what is on their plates. BUT... and it's a big BUT... if they don't finish what I've given them to eat, there is NOTHING ELSE. No pudding, no fruit, no crisps, no sweets, no snacks... NOTHING. (The exception to this is where they're eating somewhere other than home and have got too large a portion... but then we pre-agree what they need to eat if they want to have something else.) They don't then get anything else to eat until their next meal, or, if it's dinner, until the next morning. They might whinge a bit about still being hungry, but you know what: they're not going to starve. And I reckon it's this, more than anything else, which has had the biggest impact on their eating habits.

I hope this answers some of the questions I regularly get asked. We do not get it all right. And I'm sure in the next few years they'll go through phases of faddy eating, and you can laugh in my face about this post. But, based on Mr Jamie's caviar tantrum alone... they're not doing a bad job.

*Feel free to remind me of this smug proclamation in 6 months' time when they're refusing to eat anything but Cheerios and jam.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Sad times

This is not going to translate well into a blog AT ALL.

But it was funny enough that I shall try and make it work anyway.

One of the many annoying phrases which I use on an irritatingly frequent basis is that of 'sad times'. Usually used when the kids are telling me about something which really isn't that sad at all, but which they are treating with more melodrama than is necessary. For example:

'Mummy, today there weren't any apples left at snack time so I had to have A PEAR.'

'Sad times.'

You get the idea.

And so it was, last night, that Mr Jamie and his friend Reuben were in the car coming back from school. They got onto discussing 'purple level books' (at some point I really must find out what all these damn levels mean), which they'd both been reading. Reuben started to elaborate on a particularly tragic tale regarding Floppy the dog:

'And then the evil genii made the big bird come down, and he swooped down onto the desert island, and Floppy was there, and he picked him up in his talons, and then he flew off with him, and meanwhile the children had to go back home because the key was glowing, and they didn't think they would see Floppy EVER AGAIN.'

At which point Reuben, sitting back having delivered the denouement of his thrilling tale, waiting for an appropriate and dramatic reaction, was greeted with this, from Mr Jamie:

'Sad times.'

FROM MR JAMIE.

I swear, I laughed so much I nearly had to pull over. (Don't panic Vic, if you're reading this. I promise your child was totally safe and hopefully not too scarred from Jamie's utterly understated response.)

He's flipping marvellous, isn't he?


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

It seems it's not only the children...

If I ever wondered where they got it from... I need wonder no longer.

On Saturday, Neil and I found ourselves with some blissful child-free time in central London. As it was pouring with rain, we decided to go and see a film in Leicester Square.

'Let's go and see The Grand Budapest Hotel', said Neil.

'Oh fab, yes, I've always wanted to see that', said I.

And so we bought our tickets and sat down to watch it.

Now.

The first thing you should be aware of... is that I thought Budapest was in India.

Which explains why I found the constant references to Eastern Europe extremely confusing.

This misconception wasn't helped by the fact that, at the start of the film, there was a statue of a man.

An extremely familiar looking man.

I know who that is, I thought to myself. That's GANDHI.

Fortunately, I kept this thought to myself. (Or, perhaps, unfortunately, given it might have highlighted the 'India-not-India' issue rather earlier in the day.)

There was a second problem.

When I'd said I'd wanted to see The Grand Budapest Hotel... what I'd actually meant was that I wanted to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Which was, ergo, the film I thought I was watching. I was somewhat surprised by the lack of an appearance by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith... but I assumed they'd burst in half way through, full of old lady charm and entertainment.

It was not until we were approximately 90 minutes through a 100 minute film... that it occurred to me that I might be watching the WRONG Film With The Word Hotel In The Title.

It was a very, very confusing two hours of my life.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Family planning

(Apologies for absence - selfishly my children haven't been quite as funny as they usually are over the past few days. Thankfully Beth saved the blog from falling into utter demise with this moment of genius from the car journey home today. Enjoy.)

'Mummy, I want a baby.'

'I'm afraid it's not quite that simple. They're not the sort of things you can just pick up in supermarket.'

'I want another baby to grow in your tummy.'

'I can assure you that hell will freeze over before that happens. Sorry.'

'But I WANT a baby.'

'And I want world peace and an Audi TT... sometimes we can't always have what we want.'

'I'm going to have my own baby.'

'Could you wait until you're 16, at least?'

'I'm going to have a baby in my tummy.'

'Goodness. Well, I'm pleased to say that you need two people to have a baby.'

'What?'

'Don't worry about the details, just know that you can't have a baby by yourself. There has to be someone else involved.'

'I have a baby with Kiera.'

'Um... no. You can't.'

'BUT KIERA'S MY BEST FRIEND.'

'She may well be, but she's also a girl. You can't have a baby with two girls. Promise.'

'Fine.' She thought for some time, then I saw her face light up in the rear view mirror. 'I know Mummy. I have a baby with JAMIE!'

'Oh good grief. No, no, no, you absolutely cannot have a baby with Jamie.'

'But Jamie's a boy.'

'Yes, yes he is. And he's also your brother.'

'Jamie loves babies. JAMIE! I HAVING A BABY WITH YOU.'

Normal service is very clearly resumed.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Three Musketeers

It's a film. Anyone seen it?

ANYONE SEEN IT AS MANY TIMES AS MR JAMIE?

The answer to the second question is almost undoubtedly: no. Mr Jamie spent the weekend rather unwell with a raging temperature, and consequently parked himself on the sofa directly in front of the television and watched The Three Musketeers. Back to back. Continually. FOR TWO SODDING DAYS.

I will admit to not interfering with his routine too much. Given even Calpol wasn't bringing his temperature down I thought the fact he was able to sit and focus on something for an extended period of time was probably a good sign. And, while I haven't seen the film itself, the fact it was a 12 rating means I didn't give it too much thought. 12 probably means lots and lots of fighting, aka Mr Jamie nirvana. It was all going swimmingly.

And then.

And then.

Yesterday lunchtime, over the torturous Meal I Thought Would Never End as Mr Jamie played with his food for almost an hour. Having entirely lost the will to live, I was paused in my rhythmic slamming of my head into the table by the minor matter of a question, piped up by the (now recovering) invalid.

'Mummy, what does consum... consumm... consummated mean?'

'Consumed, you mean? Like eating?'

'No, like consummated.'

'Well, that's quite a grown up word. Where did you hear it?'

'It was in the film.'

'Ah. Hmmm. Okay. Can you tell me the sentence they were saying it in?' (Stupid bloody question: he'd watched it 96 times, of course he could tell me the sentence.)

'The man was angry, because in the letter they said that the marriage had been consummated. Why was he angry?'

Oh bloody, bollocking bollocks. Neil was nowhere to be seen. I had to tackle this one by myself.

'Well, you know how men and women can have a baby?'

'Yes.'

'And they have sex to make the baby?'

'Yes.' (His monosyllabic answers were unnerving me slightly.)

'Well, if you say the marriage has been consummated, that means the two people who have got married have had sex.'

'Oh. So are they going to have a baby?'

Oh god.

'Well. No. Not necessarily. Because you don't always just have sex to have a baby... sometimes you can just have sex for fun. IF YOU'RE A GROWN UP. Sorry, didn't mean to shout.'

I waited his next question with trepidation.

'Mummy, do I have to eat all of this dinner?'

Phew.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Class Mascot



I seem to recall recently reading some news articles regarding how the tradition of the 'class mascot' (once, a live hamster; now, a stuffed bear - live fleas optional, dependent on your LEA) was in serious danger of being wiped out. The rationale behind this seemed to be something along the lines of the fact that not all children would get to have a go at taking the mascot home, therefore would feel deprived and isolated, or some other such shite.

It may surprise you to know that I am in absolute accordance with the sentiments of the article. Class mascots absolutely should be banned. No, not because small children might momentarily feel the brute unfairness of the world: that simply sets them up well for life. My feelings stem directly from the last week, when Mr Jamie has been the (un)fortunate recipient of 'Dave the Minion', brought home to stay with us for an entire week. Let me elaborate...

1) The hype. Oh, the hype. In future years, when asked what he learnt in Year 1, the rudiments of the three Rs won't even get a look in. 'I got to bring Dave home.' Yes, yes you did.

2) The fights. One mascot. Two children. It's a good maths lesson I suppose: one mascot does not into two children equally go. For the past week, my house has been filled with the sounds of 'I want Dave', 'No, I want Dave', 'I WANT DAVE', 'GGRRRRRAAAAARRRGGGHHHH' (that's Beth and her trademark growl there). All of a sudden, no other toy in the house holds even the slightest bit of interest...

3) The crashing responsibility. Not only do I have to Not Lose A Toy for an entire week (this is almost unheard of in our house), I have to take Dave on a whole set of exciting adventures, in order not to lose face when it comes to Mr Jamie's completion of 'Dave's Book'. Competitive parenting at its absolute worst.

4) The filth. Don't even get me started. I'm pretty OCD about my own children's toys. A toy that has been passed around the whole class? Indescribable. Dave entered the house at arms length and went immediately into the washing machine, a sight which caused both children much distress but returned my heart rate to a near normal level. Like the cat, Dave is still not allowed up the stairs...

5) The parental humiliation. I refer you back to 'Dave's Book', in which the children are supposed to stick photos and anecdotes about their time with Dave. Perhaps predictably, Dave's most exciting moment with us was arguably his trip around the washing machine, not helped by the fact I have been working in another country for most of the week. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Which is why Mr Jamie's rendition of his time with Dave will be accompanied by a solitary photograph... of him looking like a head case in goggles, and his mother looking like the most responsible parent ever to have walked this planet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Dave in Hot Tub/Getting Drunk Shocker.


Ban the whole bloody lot of 'em, that's what I say.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Healthy living

I hope you're all appreciating that this is now two blog posts in two days. If ever there was a sign that you should be careful what you wish for...

Personality wise, my two children are very different. This is never more apparent than when it comes to eating. Mr Jamie has always demonstrated an impressive level of eating control. Eats when he's hungry. Doesn't eat when he's not hungry. Is a huge fruit and vegetable fan (let's not forget that his favourite food is brussel sprouts... I know; inexplicable). Likes cake, but in moderation.

Beth, on the other hand... let's just say that if she has an off switch, it's permanently set in 'override' mode. Beth loves eating. Even to the point of sacrificing her own comfort - such as the other day when she came over to me, mouth full of cake:

'My tummy hurts.'

'Well stop eating then.'

'I like cake.'

Can't argue with that, really.

It's left therefore to Mr Jamie to instill some kind of sense of responsibility when it comes to healthy eating in his sister. She does listen: her favourite food is apparently also brussel sprouts. (With a side helping of cake.) He takes his responsibility very seriously, and was discussing a healthy lifestyle with me as we walked through Tesco the other day.

'Mummy, it's good to eat healthy things, isn't it?'

'Yes, absolutely, that's what helps our bodies to grow big [maybe I should have put less emphasis on the 'big' part] and strong.'

'When I grow up I'm going to eat and drink healthy things all the time.'

'That sounds like a very sensible plan to me.'

'Yes, I'm going to only have water, and milk and...' - as his eye was caught by an attractive looking display - 'ooh, Kitkats! Can we buy some?'

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