How I got my baby to eat pretty much anything

As Sam approached a year and didn’t want to suck down purees any more but was too incompetent to feed himself, there was about a six-week period where things were a bit rocky. What to feed him now – what, what??

And, selfishly, what could I feed him that I could potentially also feed Kitty so that we weren’t doing that ghastly thing where I was making two separate dinners? I ended up doing a thing where I would chew Sam’s food for him and feed him by hand.

 I ended up doing a thing where I would chew Sam’s food for him and feed him by hand.

He could manage rice and mashed potato, so that’s what we had with everything. And if I was giving Kitty sausage or a burger, or a chicken pie or fish fingers, she sat and ate hers and Sam’s got chewed.

It was a strange feeling, doing this. I never chewed Kitty’s food for her, because I thought that she ought to be eating it herself. No-one ever told me that pre-chewing your child’s food at this particular stage was a possibility. It didn’t seem to chime with my other rather uptight parenting methods – no co-sleeping, no breastfeeding, sitting at the table for meals at prescribed times. But then you do this rather prehistoric hippy thing of chewing your child’s food up.

But in fact it made perfect sense, and it meant that Sam ate pretty much anything you danced in front of his nose. He wanted me to eat it, too, jamming things in my mouth and going ‘Mmaaaahhh’.

I read somewhere, once – I now forget where – an explanation of the reason that babies are more open to new tastes and textures than infants and toddlers.

Babies cannot stray far from home, so they were okay to eat pretty much whatever they came across. Past a year old, two things happen. First, they stop growing quite so fast and so don’t need to eat as much and, second, they are likely to start crawling and walking.

They might come across a bush with strange berries on it, or something else dangerous to eat, and so it makes sense to give infants and toddlers a suspicion of things they haven’t seen or eaten before. That’s why those who believe that a wide-ranging diet is essential (not just medically but socially), are fanatical about introducing as many different foods before the hostile toddler years take hold.

Pretty much all small children are picky, fussy eaters – either consistently, stubbornly, or in bursts, but if they have a larger group of foodstuffs from which to choose some familiar things to eat, then you won’t get trapped in that slightly hellish pasta-pesto trap.

Don’t get me wrong – if your kid eats nothing but pasta-pesto for years on end, I doubt anything bad will happen, but it’s flipping boring for all concerned.

Having said that, children will eventually just eat whatever they come across most often.

Having said that, children will eventually just eat whatever they come across most often. Both my children eat toast with quite bitter marmalade because that’s what we eat, and if you look the other way for a few seconds, Kitty will drain your coffee. Because coffee is what is lying about the house, that’s what she drinks.

Giles used to make Kitty a beef stew when she was old enough to chew. He would cook batches of it on the weekend and freeze it in little pots. He stopped cooking it for her when she was about eighteen months old – I can’t remember why – and she hadn’t had it for a good year or so when I presented it to her again at dinner time.

She sat down and ate it without saying ‘What’s this?’ or poking it about, as she would with most new things. She knew what it was, remembering it somehow with a deep and animalistic part of her brain, and knew it was okay to eat.

  • This extract is taken from Esther Walker’s new book Bad Mother. We’re going to be serialising it over the next few weeks but if you can’t wait for the next instalment, buy and download the whole book here

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