Real food, dude

foodOr: Food to rave about. (RAVE, like… dance. Like, he’s DANCING above… Oh, forget it.)

The real news is: the cupboard is bare. The box that was once stuffed full of apple rice cakes, fruit strips, organic snack bars, little sweaty cheeses in nasty fiddly plastic sheathes (yeah, I used the S word, that’s how much I’d grown to hate them) is now… EMPTY.

boxAnd the real food experiment begins.

If you haven’t seen The Rules, the idea is simple. A weekly menu plan involving three, nutritious meals a day that the whole family can enjoy. No special meals for the kid. He eats what I eat for breakfast, lunch and supper.

So yeah, the idea is simple. The reality? Not so much. This is a kid who routinely refuses entire meals. He loved fish fingers yesterday? Well today they are poison and “HELP HELP!” (really – he shouts this from the table as if to alert a passing Samaritan outside that there’s a conspiracy to murder being cooked up by his mother and the evil Captain Birdseye).

The thing is, I don’t think this endless stream of potential snacks and alternatives is helping. Like all arch-nemeses, he knows my weaknesses better than I know them myself. While there’s a box alternative foods just waiting to be peeled open in the kitchen, he can be confident that I’ll cave. Out with the carrots in with the crap.

juiceGetting rid of all the crap this week has actually felt oddly liberating. Like I finally mean it. It’s my way now or the highway, kiddo. And being freed from the expense of them relieves the pressure too.

No extra budget has been set aside for this meal that I set before you (FYI: I don’t actually talk to my kid like a High court judge, not sure where this tone came from). If you don’t eat it, I’m not seeing five pound notes flutter down the drain like some naff Channel 4 News package on the recession. Since it’s real, human food, I’ll tuppawaring the lot up, stick it in the fridge and eat myself later.

If he skips most of a meal… meh. He can have an apple or a banana in an hour or so. I’m not going to cajole or bribe. I’m not going to spoon a single fork-full into his mouth for the whole year. This kid can drum the gorilla solo from the Diary Milk ad with his cutlery. Dexterity isn’t his problem.

In fact, he doesn’t really have any problems at all. I do.

I had this nightmare, when he was smaller, that I was stuck on a bus and he was screaming. Not just any screaming. Red faced, full throttle screaming and a bus full of be-suited commuters – capable people who could manage their lives without losing the house keys and their minds and control of their children – were staring, uncomprehending and repulsed, at me. The traffic wasn’t moving. I could see the bus stop, but I couldn’t get off.

Actually, it wasn’t a nightmare. It happened twice. So I kept a stock of baby snacks, ready at all times, to be whipped out at the first ripple of a frown across his forehead. And then, later, feeding was about sleep. He wouldn’t sleep. Other babies slept. Why wouldn’t he sleep? Go the fuck to sleep. I needed to fill him up to get him through the night.

And so the battle began.

It sounds unhinged. And I guess it was. But tell me you haven’t had similar moments and I say 1) you have never been the parent of a colicky baby and 2) you’ve yet to be kidnapped and tortured. Life experiences, both, but not to be pushed to the top of your bucket list.

Well, no more. Mama ain’t raising no fussy fool.

Ellyn Satter, the American dietician, and The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook have become my gurus over the last few days, as I pace the house muttering their wisdom like manic-Mama-mantras:

It is the parent’s job to decide the what, when and where of feeding, I entone while scrubbing the last crumbs from the empty ‘baby snack’ box and putting it at the back of the cupboard. The child’s job is to decide the whether and how much.

 In the 1930s, an American doctor studied babies’ ability to self-select their own meals from a broad selection of unprocessed wholefoods, I lecture myself as I draw up our menu plan. While each child consumed a different diet, all were exceptionally healthy.

You must limit his sedentary activities and give him opportunities to be active… I say as I set out to the supermarket. You must do your part in feeding by reliably and lovingly providing him with appropriate food. Once you’ve done all of that, you must trust the outcome.

There are many things I trust in. My son’s willfullness is one. Organix oaty bars. Babybell. Those toddler smoothies that come in a cheery squeezy packet. My cooking skills, continuing level-headedness and perseverance in the face of food throwing?

We will see.