Down & Out In A London Kitchen

Esther Walker started a food blog called Recipe Rifle in 2009 when desperate and unemployed. In 2010 she married restaurant critic Giles Coren and far, far too quickly had a baby daughter, called Kitty.

Why won't Kitty eat spaghetti like it's soup?

Posted by Esther Walker
Esther Walker
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on Tuesday, 06 March 2012

There is little more emotive an issue for parents than their child’s eating. I always thought that I would be very cool if Kitty started refusing to eat, or became a picky eater. I never had to eat anything I didn’t want to when I was little and I am grateful to my mother for never making eating an issue, or mealtimes a battle. I also have a phobia about being forced to eat more than I want and so the last thing I thought I would ever do was coax, cajole or bully Kitty into eating.

And by and large, I’ve stuck to that. Mostly because you actually can’t force a pre-verbal toddler to eat something they don’t want. They will simply spit it out, or purse their lips, or bat the spoon away.

But when Kitty is going through a phase of really not wanting to eat anything, of turning her head after a mouthful of lunch and saying “Na!”, or even frantically bum-shuffling away from a proffered square of cake, it’s pretty hard to hold your nerve. The temptation to squeeze her fat cheeks together and stuff macaroni cheese into her mouth is strong.

So thank goodness I came across a book called My Child Won’t Eat! by a Spanish nutritionist Dr Carlos Gonzalez, which is probably the most sensible book about feeding babies and toddlers I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot – I’m a sucker for self-help).

His theory is this: do not ever, ever force a child to eat anything. Not by using “here comes the airplane” or threats or bribes or anything. Don’t do it. Consider mealtimes over when the child indicates it doesn’t want anymore, no matter how much they’ve eaten.

A child, says Dr Gonzalez, is not small and spindly because they don’t eat anything – they don’t eat anything because they are going to be a small and spindly child. Dr Gonzalez used the example of a little dog like a Chihuahua and a big dog like an Alsatian; no matter how much you feel a Chihuahua, it is never going to turn into an Alsatian.

I read this and smacked my forehead – I constantly compare Kitty’s eating with my sister’s three boys’, all of whom eat a plate of spaghetti like it is soup. But my sister is 5’9’’ and her husband is 6’2’’. I am 5’6’’ and my husband is 5’10’’. What in the world makes me think that a child of mine will need as much food as a child of theirs?

There is more terrific stuff in this book and I urge you to read it – whether or not your child is a good eater. A word of warning: Dr Gonzalez is something of a maniac about breastfeeding (he loves it!!) and routine (he hates it!!) – so if you’re a pro-bottle routine freak, just do what I did and read selectively. After all, no-one is perfect.

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