Mealtimes are such a trap.
I’ve been thinking a lot about fussy eating lately and the way I put my messages across to people about mealtimes. I am a huge believer in family mealtimes. Eating one meal together can really help you connect and communicate with an otherwise rowdy pack of petulant children. There is no doubt that we love the very bones of our quirky and interesting little children, but their unruly actions and apparent lack of regard for impulse control can make it very difficult to like their behaviour. So, on one hand sitting down together each day can be a fab way to bond, share jokes, create and solidify shared family values, but it can also be a huge source of anguish and frustration when the mealtime is simply an extra opportunity for conflict.
As a food blogger who specialises in fussy eating, I try really hard never to idealise our mealtimes. I could inadvertently make it sound like butterflies deliver gourmet food to our perfectly laid table whilst unicorns fan the fires in our ovens and pixies do the washing up. The reality is, we do have meltdowns, we do have refusals, sometimes our younger children refuse to sit down. I find it hard to share all that photographically, as I want to protect my children’s privacy, but believe me, it totally happens, it’s often epic and it sometimes sparks conversation between us about whether we dealt with it the best way we could.
Dealing with challenging behaviour is difficult, and it can really take its toll on relationships. But in a ‘boiler room’ situation of a mealtime, the drama can be so intensified that it will rip holes in even the most steady of partnerships. AND when it happens in front of the children, you simply end up adding fuel to the fire of fussy eating.
Disagreements not only occur between couples. Grandparents are a major concern for lots of my clients. Many of us rely on family for help with childcare or live in close quarters with them, and the choice of how to manage the fussy eaters seems to come up for discussion. I’m pretty sure that if I ever become a grandparent one day, I’ll have some things to say about feeding the kids (those poor unsuspecting potentials!). But what happens if a grandparent disagrees with your way of handling it? Is it something to fall out over? Will it affect your childcare arrangements if you can’t agree? In a marriage or long-term partnership, having kids does tend to test the strength of your bond, but would you expect that to also happen with your own parents when it’s your turn to have a family? One member of my Facebook Group told me that she no longer goes for celebration lunches with her family because her children’s mealtime behaviour becomes a source of disagreement between the adults. Surely it’s only her business how she handles her children? Or is it?
So, why is it such an emotive topic?
Well, any form of disagreement over parenting cuts straight to the bone. We all may have our hang-ups and insecurities about how the world views our lifestyle, work, finances, health, etc, but the way we parent is the very fabric of who we are and the values we hold dear. I find that, as a stay at home mum, I’m always measuring the respect I get from the people around me. I hope that doesn’t sound egotistical, as that’s not what I mean, but I know that many people (thankfully not my husband) would find me too unimportant to afford me the respect I deserve when I cleverly formulate my own strategy towards family mealtimes. I often find myself dismissed by people because I don’t do anything important enough. Although to be fair, that’s my interpretation of the way they treat me, it’s still a common consequence of being the lead caregiver – elevated to chief bum wiper but demoted to someone too unimportant to have an opinion. This is becoming a rant for me and my feminist gripes! But seriously, I wonder if parents of fussy eaters feel that they’re being ignored by their partners and family members and therefore miss out on opportunities to tackle fussy eating with the strength and confidence required?
So, what can you do about it?
Firstly, get yourself clued up about how to tackle fussy eating.** Here are links to my two favourite books. There’s information below about an event I’m co-hosting and we will be publishing a handy set of Mealtime Mantra cards in the next few weeks. Get on the interest list here.
Secondly, sit down and have an open conversation with your combattors. If you have a plan on how to handle fussy eating, you can speak to them clearly about the aspects you either need their help with or you need them to back off on.
Often, you may find it easier to get your new strategy and routines in place at home before you venture out. It may mean turning down a few invitations, but this will demonstrate to the outside world that you’re committed to dealing with your fussy eating issues and have a strong and clear strategy in place. You may even wish to host more – being the boss in the house and the room can help you establish your rules more firmly with the children and guests alike.
And in terms of your partnership with your life-lobster? You’ve got to ensure that you work as a team and have the best interests of everybody at heart, especially when dealing with fussy eating. Disagreements between you can sometimes be indicative of other elements of the relationship being a little off-kilter. Try to prioritise some time together to discuss how you’re feeling about things in general and make a plan together about how you’re going to handle fussy eating. Sometimes situations come along to test you, as you may think your partner didn’t handle something in the way that you agreed you would, but open discussion afterwards (never during) and without blame is the best way to resolve potential conflict.
Blimey, am I turning into a marriage counsellor? I’m definitely not up for that!
So, go forth into the world. Gather knowledge about Fussy Eating** and gather respect from your family members!
You can do it!
** If you’d like to learn more about Fussy Eating, I am hosting a Fussy Eaters S.O.S. event in Tunbridge Wells this Friday 9th November at 7.30pm. Book your tickets now!
What you will learn:
1. How to set food expectations for your child depending on their age and developmental stage
2. The difference between extreme picky eaters (ARFID) and fussy eating.
3. A guide through sensory processing of food and drinks.
4. An overview of child development and what drives them to choose to eat or not eat.
5. The Division of Responsibility for the development of healthy food relationships.
6. Our top strategies for managing fussy eaters now so you can go home and implement straight away.