Friday, 27 April 2012

Fussy Eaters

Oh no… what was I thinking? How in the hell could a chef and a foodie wind up with a fussy eater?! I know, I know – but we did. All our own fault of course, but Junior DinnerMadam #1 is quite fussy. Not as bad at 5 as she was at 3 and 4, thanks to some serious work with the star charts / bribery etc., but no angel. And while I didn’t reapeat the same mistakes with her 3 year old sister, she has her moments too.
So, how to handle it? Well, as mentioned above, I got the star chart out. She was already 4 when I did this, I really do think that under 3 is too young and they just don’t get it. I drew the chart myself. Firstly, we chose a ridiculously over-priced piece of tat as the “prize”. My DinnerMadam is totally obsessed with all things pink and, as a result, idolised Disney’s Princess Aurora above all other princesses. A trip to the Disney store came up trumps – a pair of Princess Aurora shoes to go with the Aurora dress (Dunnes version!) she already owned. These shoes gave me a HUGE pain, €24… I could get a pair of Clarks in Kildare Village for that price! But it had to be something she valued highly, so I went with it.

"Home-made" Reward Chart
There are lots of charts available on the internet, but they mostly rely on the written word – my pre-schoolers (at the time) were too young for that. So I got creative, and printed off some pictures, both of the ridiculous shoes and the behaviour I wanted to stimulate; new foods and also general good behaviour. I didn’t make it too easy for her – initially she got stickers for licking food, but as the weeks progressed, she had to eat more and more. Within a month, she had the shoes and I had a little girl who no longer ate only fish fingers, beans, waffles and bread, but now also chicken curry, shepherd’s pie, bolognaise and a few others.
I do remember reading somewhere that takes a child 20 or more “exposures” to a food to be happy / comfortable with it, so perseverance this definitely the key here.
I also used to stress about the fact that she wouldn’t eat any recognisable vegetables. Then I decided to get over that – get her eating vegetables in “hidden” sauces, and I could work on actual recognisable things later. So, the food processor became my friend and I now make sauces with all sorts of stuff blitzed in them; courgette, broccoli, peppers, onion, carrot, celery, mushroom etc. Continued work has resulted in further improvement since – to the point where she will now eat mashed carrots and parsnips! Not mounds of them, and she does still need to be persuaded, but she does eat them. Okay, she has ketchup and mayonnaise on literally everything (ketchup and mayo on her chicken curry, mayo with bolognaise – gross, but hey, who am I to judge? In fact, I just caught her squirting mayonnaise directly into her mouth just now, my stomach did lurch a little, I must admit!).
One thing I did unfortunately notice was that when eating these dinners with “hidden veg” sauces, she had a tendency to eat all the meat and pasta or rice, but most of the sauce was left behind. So I had a brainwave – if I love naan bread with my curry, why not them? So I toasted two pitta breads, chopped them up and got them dipping. Happy days.
I now usually, when blitzing veg, do enough for enough a couple of dinners – it’s hard to do the quantities for just one dinner for two very small ladies. So today I did 3 celery stalks, 3 cloves of garlic, a whole onion, a small bit of broccoli, one whole sweet red pepper and a large carrot. ). As I was only making small portions for the girls (not including us in the pot, as Himself gets home too late to eat with the girls) I fried this off, used 2 chicken fillets and ⅓ of it for the chicken curry, 2 further fillets and ⅓ of it for the chicken with tomato sauce below and the final ⅓ will go in the fridge overnight and will form the basis for a bolognaise tomorrow (I’ll add courgette and mushroom as well.
Anyhow, I’m sure you all have your own bolognaise recipes, so here’s two other recipes that I use for “hidden veg”, the chicken curry is a Delia Smith adaptation, the chicken and tomato is my own creation, the kids love it but it’s a bit bland for me.

Hidden Veg, incl tin of Marigold powder
·       Hidden Veg
·         1 large onion
·         3 cloves garlic
·         3 celery stalks
·         1 large carrot
·         1 large red pepper / sweet red pepper
·         A small bit of broccoli
·         Any other veg you like – courgette, mushroom, whatever works with the sauce your making (I leave mushrooms out for the curry, for example, and add courgette only to the bolognaise and tomato sauce dishes)
1.       Blitz together (usually I need to do this in batches, as my processor is too small to take it all) and fry gently for 5 – 10 mins

Mild Chicken Curry
Chicken in Tomato Sauce
Serves 2 very hungry small girls
Serves 2 very hungry small girls

2 chicken breast fillets
2 chicken breast fillets
⅓ - ½ quantity of hidden veg
⅓ - ½ quantity of hidden veg
½ tablespoon plain flour
Passata sauce (tinned tomatoes are too chunky)
1 rounded teaspoon mild curry powder
Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp each turmeric & ground ginger
Tomato puree
½ pint chicken stock
1 tsp Marigold Swiss Veg Bouillon (see photo)
1 tablespoon cream (or crème fraiche)
Tomato ketchup
Pitta bread and rice, to serve
Pitta bread and rice, to serve

Add the cubed chicken to the cooked veg in the pan and brown gently
Add the cubed chicken to the cooked veg in the pan and brown gently
Add the flour and spices, to soak up the juices
Add the passata
Gradually add all the stock (slowly, to allow it to absorb)
Add a tsp or a squeeze of tomato puree, a shake of Worcestershire sauce, a small squeeze of ketchup (to sweeten it up) and a tsp of the Marigold powder
Simmer for 20 mins, on a low heat
Simmer for 20 mins on a low heat
Stir in the cream / crème fraiche and serve
Curry in the foreground, tomato-ey chicken behind

PS - A big plus for me has been that I love courgette again, I've always found it a bit a slimy, but blitzed into the bolognaise sauce, it's delicious, it really does add a lovely sweetness to it.

Anyhow, good luck with the fussy ones, and expect more on this topic in the future, 

Sarah xx


  1. love it my little 3 year old has actually eaten a sauce for the first time in a long time thats no out of a bottle, muchly appreciated !!

    1. Oh DELIGHTED to hear that rach1005, that actually really gives me a buzz! We now use pitta bread to dip in the sauce as well, to scoop up all the veggies (so they don't just eat the chunks of meat). And I've now expanded them to shepherd's pie and bolognaise, all with a similar blend of veggies (blitzed courgette is lovely in the bolo, I leave the peppers out of the shepherd's pie though) and just starting with Fish Pie. The 6yr old went for it, the 4yr old remains unconvinced - but we'll try it a few more times, and get there eventually!

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