Why parents should avoid stress at meal times

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STAR Women’s Editor Jo Davison had a battle with her son over being a picky eater. This is what she learned...

Dieticians from NHS Sheffield urge parents not to show how stressed they are feeling when their children play up at the tea-table.

“Avoid showing that you are worried, cross or annoyed by what your child is doing at meal times. Attention for bad behaviour can encourage it to continue,” they advise.

They suggest ignore the bad and focus on the good: “When food is eaten give plenty of praise and encouragement, even if only small amounts of food are eaten.”

Sound advice, but I know how hard it is to follow.

My son was such a faddy eater, I almost despaired.

He had been an easy baby; breast-feeding had been a breeze and so had weaning him onto solids. He would sit contentedly in his highchair and swallow whatever came his way on a spoon. But he got to the age of one, learned how to walk and never looked back towards the dinner table.

Playtime was so much more interesting than mealtime. He seemed to find nothing enjoyable in food.

It was worse whenever we ate out. Because, I presume, there was a new environment to explore.

I read books for tips and I consulted friends I would jealously watch feed their kids things surely meant for more sophisticated palates; artichokes, pesto, olives, even anchovies went down their appreciative little gourmet gullets. Those kids were like walking deli counters.

I tried foods in all sorts of colours and textures - and all manner of games to get them past his lips. Aeroplanes and choo-choo trains all failed in their missions.

I was frustrated and angry. Mainly because I was worried. He had lost all his baby chubbiness by 18 months and was getting quite thin. I thought that surely he wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed to grow healthy teeth and bones.

I’d successfully grown this child in my womb and kept him alive for the first few months of his life on breast milk and yet I couldn’t get him to feed himself.

In the end, a friend with a faddy eater of a child three years older than mine - who clearly had thrived - told me to look at what he did eat, rather than what he didn’t.

I wrote down his daily intake for a week; it consisted largely of peanut butter sandwiches, bacon, cheese, bananas, milk and broccoli, with a smattering of raw carrot, tangerines, peas and chicken.

But I could see some sort of balance; he was getting plenty of calcium and protein, plus carbs and vitamins. So I backed off and let him get on with it.

Surprise surprise, he grew. And grew. He’s now 6ft 2in with a 42-inch chest and a 35-inch inside leg.

He enjoys food, though I’d never call him an adventurous eater.

He would rather walk over hot coals than eat an anchovy and his favourite food is still peanut butter sandwiches.

Though, a year ago, he discovered a passion for olives. So there’s always hope.”