This is Coco’s (2 years) typical menu over the week:
Mon: Biscuits (B); Whatever Is Served In School (L); macaroni (D)
Sat: Ditto (except that school lunch is replaced with macaroni)
*no milk this week because she’s on a milk strike
And this is Claire’s (9 months):
Mon: Milk, cereal, milk, cereal, milk, cereal, milk
Sure, we add some fresh fruit, raisins, bread and yoghurt into the mix but that pretty much is what they get by on, day after day.
Because that’s all that they want to eat.
I guess it’s no surprise then that Coco is a featherweight at 10 kg and measures in at the 10th percentile for growth. The sweet PD attributed her petite stature to the fact that “mummy and grandma aren’t very tall either.” Nice.
The PD reassured us that as long as Coco’s consistently growing, albeit at the 10 percentile, we have nothing to worry about.
As for Claire, it’s amazing how she has blossomed from a scrawny 10th percentile foetus into a chubby 8.5 kg infant who happily shares her older sister’s clothes (which the latter, obviously, is not too pleased about.)
But with only 2 milk teeth just pushing through her lower gums, Claire is content to have milk and a variety of cereal as her staple, and shows no sign of wanting to progress to a wider variety of tastes. In fact, we tried to introduce her to porridge, only to have her spit it out in disgust.
Reading the well-intentioned advice of healthy-eating advocates on parenting websites and newsletters makes me feel bad that my children are not eating balanced meals, much less organic food and healthy snacks. When reading parenting magazines, I guiltily fast-forward through glossy page-spreads of creative, stylishly-arranged concoctions toted as being “quick and fuss-free to prepare” and yet promise to meet my children’s every nutritional need. Cherry tomatoes? Cous-cous? Tuna? Pumpkin? I can’t quite imagine Coco being happy to be offered any of these.
Sometimes I wonder whether their pickiness in food stems from my lack of initiative in exposing them to a wider variety of food and my weak resolve in encouraging them to repeatedly try each new taste until they grow to like it. More often, dinner times – fraught with annoying whining – end with, “Dowan DONE! Don’t wake me up and cry for milk if you’re hungry tonight!”
Or could it be due to my lack of effort in making meals more fun and enjoyable for them? Should I stay up after they have gone to bed to create pretty sandwiches shaped like animals for breakfast? Should I attempt to build a garden scene out of a plate of rice?
And is it okay to let Coco snack on rainbow-hued M&Ms and Haribo gummy bears, Percy Pigs and, God forbid, potato chips? Should I throw out the sugary party packs received from pre-school birthday celebrations in favour of wholemeal fruit bars and organic rice cakes?
Then, I try to rise above the clouds of self-doubt and think back to my favourite childhood meals.
A single egg – fried sunny-side-up and drizzled with light soya sauce, atop a molehill of white rice.
Plain white rice, drenched in brown gravy cooked from chicken stock.
No vegetables whatsoever. Not. A. Scrap. Of. Green.
Bread and kaya.
Colourful sugar biscuits.
Apples, oranges, apples, oranges, apples, oranges. The occasional mango.
Plain yellow noodles in soup.
My meals were far from being wholesome and balanced.
I must have put my own mother through the same mental torture, trying to figure out how to make her picky daughter eat more healthily. She probably gave up on me, not before threatening to let me go hungry through the night.
Yet, I was happy, strong and healthy.
And I’m certain that my daughters are too.