Saturday, 8 September 2012

At The Toddler Cafe

Flashback : Summer 2009. Pip was very small, possibly a month old. I was breastfeeding him in Carluccio’s whilst enjoying a creamy coffee and a panini. As he suckled contentedly in my arms, I indulged myself in a spot of people watching (always a favourite past time).  The mother on the table next to me was ordering lunch for herself and her two small children.  I eavesdropped casually on the conversation, expecting nothing unusual in the day to day ordinariness of ordering a meal. Yet, I found myself surprised. After ordering her own gastronomic delights, the waiter was instructed to bring "Two bowls of plain pasta for the children." "Two bowls of pasta no sauce, madam?" "Yes, that's right."

I was amazed. Plain pasta? Just the boiled stuff? That hardly seemed worth coming to a restaurant for. Where was the nutritional value in that meal, I wondered?  Judgemental - Me? Of course. I was the most clever mother in the world, I’d just given birth to a gorgeous baby boy, I was idealistic, rose tinted and full of wonderfully good intentions.  I’ll never let my son just eat plain pasta, I thought. 

Oh... how the mighty are fallen.

Fast forward: December 2011.  Despite my best intentions from six months onwards to work my way through Annabel Karmel’s toddler meal planner, by the time Pip was two and a half, I was despairing about his eating habits.  From weaning we had successfully introduced a number of foods, but around the age of two,  he decided to take a jumbo crayon to my menu - swathing crude lines through whole sections of the tasty repertoire I had on offer.  To say he became a tad picky was an understatement; meat (with the exception of pork derived products and finely ground mince) was chewed briefly before being spat out.  A sprig of broccoli? Treated with the utter derision that only a two year old can muster for a humble vegetable.   I became the queen of the ‘hidden veg’, masquerading food as something it wasn’t in an attempt to get him to eat his five a day (actually, even one was considered a success).  But, tricky customer that he was, he seemed to be able to sniff out a speck of carrot a mile off.

I consoled myself that at least he still enjoyed a bowl of wholesome porridge each morning, and that fruit was still deemed worthy of consumption.  Lunchtimes and teatimes however, became torturous.  He would wail if I put something in front of him he didn’t like.  The only thing he wanted to eat was pasta.   When he started to ask for pasta for breakfast, I pooh poohed his requests firmly and continued to plough on, despite protestations,  serving my gruel perfectly prepared porridge. I was convinced that with a Ready Brek halo to protect him, everything would eventually be OK.  ‘We’ll get back on track', I reassured myself.  And then the fateful day came,  the day when I heard those words, his small voice shouting an order into the kitchen at teatime as if I were some Commis chef.

“Mummy, I would like Pasta..NO SAUCE.”


My worst nightmare realised. My comeuppance. That’s what happens to smug mummies.

January 2012:  Full of good intentions and resolutions for the year ahead, I was determined to turn to a fresh new page in the proverbial toddler cook book. Fired with positivity,  I even wrote this little ditty as a reminder of my new found resolve.

Welcome to the Toddler Cafe
Here we serve one meal all day
Pasta for breakfast, lunch and tea
A real crowd pleaser, we're sure you'll agree.

Pasta with cheese or tomato sauce
Pasta with butter or plain, of course
There's something to suit even the fussiest child
Even ragu, for those that go wild.

For specials we offer sausage or fishfingers and chips
Yes, we also offer a tomato dip.
For pudding there's chocolate cake, yoghurt or ice cream
These toddler delicacies sell like a dream.

This new year we have an announcement to make
We're branching out from pasta and chocolate cake
Our portfolio is set to widen
There's a new menu on the horizon.

You'll see the return of fish pie and a delicious beef stew
Why don't you try it? you might like something new
We're making more effort with berries and fruit
And adding in some pulses to boot.
Cous Cous, lentils, blueberries too
A fantastic array of dishes just for you.

Please don't stick your tongue out
Please don't say yuk
Don't drop it on the floor or the chair where it all gets stuck
Eat it up nicely, do it for me,
Make the toddler cafe a place that Mother wants to be.

One further announcement...Pasta will be served just once a week, by this time next year, it will be a special treat.

September 2012: 
Swiftly glossing over the fact that I’m no poet laureate...How am I doing?

Pasta is now much less prevalent on the menu in our house than it was . However, when served, some days I find  I’m still fighting the pasta ‘no sauce' battle.  It’s the randomness of it all I find so difficult to deal with.  On a good day, Bolognese will be eaten and devoured, on a bad day, it will be rejected with a wail; ‘I don’t like sauce’.  It is SO frustrating.  Fickle foodies are not fun to be around.  On these occasions I persevere.  I am determined that Mummy’s cafe will not rustle up meal after meal.  It's a one sitting, one serving opportunity.  Still, I find it incredibly draining, having to sit and persuade him to eat each mouthful.

On the plus side, Pip has become a carnivore.  Fish and meat -he now loves.  I can now cook a roast dinner for the three of us, and know that he will also eat the meat I’ve cooked and not just gorge himself on roast potatoes. He has just recently gained his back molar teeth, and I am sure that his appetite for meat is directly related to the fact now he can chew it properly.

Unfortunately, the vegetable issue still rages too.  Roasted parsnips cut to look like chips fooled him for all of two minutes recently.  Carrots and peas will only be eaten if they are hidden amongst rice, or meat, rather than presented as a side accompaniment on his plate.   As for broccoli.  Forget it.  To Pip, broccoli is the devil’s work.

Reflecting back on my ditty, it seems that despite my best intentions, we’ve not come as far as I hoped.  Perhaps autumn and winter will be easier than summer, as he’ll happily tuck into stew / cottage pie/ fish pie.  Yet, it’s always with a sense of trepidation I carry the plate to the table. Silently praying, ‘Please let him eat this without complaining’. 

When do they grow out of this stage?  I am determined that he’s not going to be a chicken nuggets and chips kid.  (Although sometimes I am sorely tempted.) Does perseverance pay?  All suggestions for tried and tested ‘successful’ meals that appeal to a 3 year old gratefully received.


  1. Fabulous post - and your ditty was just excellent - really brought a smile to my face. I too get nervous when all Little A will eat is just cheesy pasta, but I console myself with the fact that no matter what they eat, toddlers still shoot upwards - they seem to be mad for carbs which I guess is what they need. I survived on a diet of spaghetti hoops, golden syrup on toast, custard (the only way they could get milk into me) and miraculously I now have a preference for my five a day, and eat a healthy diet. I wouldn't worry too much - as long as Pip is happy and growing (and of course not eating 'junk' all the time), that's really all that matters - he will open up to veg as he gets older - just maybe not the broccoli :o) Three posts in one week - I'm impressed! Ps. I had a great holiday! X

    1. This mother guilt is such a terrible thing to live with. It doesn't help that half my NCT group get their kids to eat tofu/lentils etc without even a moan. (Still I have one friend who confessed she lets her little boy have a freeze pop before breakfast some mornings ..and that made me feel a whole lot better!). Yes, the 3 posts thing..the doorbell rang and I pressed publish by mistake! Glad you had a great holiday. x

    2. Ha ha ha - that was funny - but also my worst blogging nightmare - publishing an incomplete post.

  2. My elder two ate most foods until 2, then were fussy buggers, then from about 6 startEd to head back the other way again- eldest eats everything now, middle will try anything, but doesn't like it all yet, and the baby hasn't hit fussy as yet! In time it will get better! I took the view that as long as there were a few healthy dishes they would eat I wasn't going to overly worry!

    1. Thanks for reading. Your comment was very reassuring. Fingers crossed mine eventually heads back the other way too!

  3. They all go thru it around 2 it seems, about the time they realise they have a choice & our choice is slim & none at getting food into them. TC has the healthiest diet on the planet, really, but she also eat tons of plain pasta, the white stuff not wholegrain either but her diet is so full of other good stuff I let the odd bits go. She still hasn't had chocolate or sweets bar a marshmallow on her weekly baby 'cino at Marks!
    If you took a look over a week I'm sure Pip eats just fine, I'm looking forward to TC making a vocal choice rather than launching what she doesn't like or feeding it to the dog!

    1. I love the image of TC throwing the food she doesn't want at the dog. Fabulous.

  4. Oh I dread the day the fussy eating stage arrives in my house. I'm determined that there will never be a two-meal scenario. I don't mind if CK doesn't eat something but he won't be presented with an alternative. One bizarre oddity that I do pander to is that, when we have a roast dinner, he likes the meat on a separate plate, and will eat that first before touching his veg. Oh, if it makes you feel a little better, cake (well, custard filled brioche) is an acceptable breakfast choice in my house. Better something sweet in the morning rather than before bed.

    1. Yes, custard filled brioche sounds like a most acceptable way to start the day - however old you are. x

  5. I have discovered the wonders of pesto. If your little one likes the stuff, it can be great for adding a bit of flavour to veggies. The little man adored broccoli and would hold a great branch of it in his hands and munch away (I was so proud!). Then he went off it a bit and it was around this time I discovered he loved pasta and pesto so I dipped the greenery in the pesto and he loved it. Now he doesn't always need the added sauce but if he is looking like he might turn up his nose, out it comes. I confess I also entertain him with books, glueing, sometimes even painting during mealtimes. While I have a twinge of worry that really mealtimes should be just for eating, after he has sat there and eaten a good way through the meal, he tends to get bored and if I give him something to do, I can get him to eat a whole lot more which for me is a fair pay off. The path of least resistance is often the best direction to head I reckon.

    1. Thanks, might try a pesto dip and see how that goes down. Mine gets bored too, countless meals I sit there reading to him in order to ensure he eats the max amount!