Monday, 18 February 2013

Minimalist Parenting and thoughts on feeding children

There appears to be yet another new parenting book on the block - Minimalist Parenting.

How do I know this? Well, it's half term, and the Husband is working away, so of course I have decamped to my parents and handed over all responsibility for pretty much everything (i.e. the children, cooking etc) to my parents while I regress to behaving somewhere akin to how I did during my A levels - so I am working, slopping around reading books (I have discovered a new author - Sophie Hannah. The Room Swept White is very gripping) and raiding the biscuit tins. (I should clarfiy that I am not, you'll be relieved to know, smoking crafty fags out of the window or sneaking off to nightclubs to meet boys when I should have been revising).

As a result, I actually got to read a newspaper this morning. On a week day. The paper from today. And not snatched articles whilst scrumpling up the news print to lay the fire. Not my paper of choice, I have to say, but not the Daily Mail, so I have to be grateful for that. And when I say 'read the paper', what I actually mean is the frivolous bits. But enough of my inadequacies. There it is, "How to be a minimalist parent". We should all be scheduling time off between after school activities; editing our calendars and have to do lists and (wait for it) - NOT to do lists; spending 10-15 minutes a few days a week decluttering a small area of our homes (the purpose behind this is most definitely not explained in the article - I am as confused as the next person).

I should say here that I lurch through parenting from one disaster to the next. I really do feel like I am close to collapse most of the time in terms of the decisions that have to be made, how to handle different situations. It's fashionable, if not a little passive aggressive to say it, I know, but I genuinely, truly mean it. I didn't have the confidence to pick up a book that would tell me how to parent and follow it, but nor did I have the confidence to believe that what I was doing was the right thing. I did the stereotypical professional woman thing and went into freefall after Blue was born, ended up sobbing on the health visitor, diagnosed with mild PND, and came out of the other side to create motherhood - my way.

As most people do, I guess we tread the middle road. We do not run to a tiger mother-esque calendar of improving activities and play dates, but the kids do a couple of extra things each after school - Cubs, football for Blue, Ballet and Rainbows for Pink. I work. I shout (although I try not to). I worry about not spending enough time with the kids doing what they want to do and then take them along with me to do what I need to do anyway. Out of school, we do the gardening, we walk the dog, we throw stones in the sea. We might occasionally go to a museum. We do being bored and amusing ourselves. I am not for a moment saying that the way we do things is any better than how other people do things (unless they are abusing their children) but it's how we do it.
I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of all these different parenting theories and practices - obviously as I've hardly read any, and practised none, I have no grounds to do so. But what I did think was interesting was that this minimalist parenting theory stretches to the food you put in front of your children.  Apparently, the authors (a couple of American women, Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest) are "...not prepared to act as short-order chefs. Everyone eats the same thing or starves - well not quite...." One of the other 'tips for going minimalist' is to "come up with two or three quick, healthy dinners you can prepare using basic ingredients"

I am really pleased that someone has written this down. My own philosophy for feeding children is fairly similar, but it wasn't always so, and I still feel the irritation, nay the disappointment and upset if they reject one of my lovingly prepared dishes. If they are feeling sensitive, I'll get "Well, it's not my favourite thing, mummy", but more often than not, their displeasure is met with gagging and "Please do not EVER make that again". Take the broad bean and bacon risotto, for example. Arguably, by pretty much always cooking from scratch every day, I am never going to make a minimalist parent - but then I like eating well-cooked, good food, and I am not going to cut off my nose to spite my face. Part of what makes us what we are is the food we eat and the importance the Husband and I attach to eating honest food is part of our family make up and I - you've guessed it - I'm not going to give that up to become a minimalist parent. However, I would agree with the suggestion that, once your kids are out of the baby stages, you should have two or three quick healthy dinners you can bang out with little stress when time is tight (most of mine involve pasta), or you just can't be bothered. the idea is that food is sometimes just fuel - it may be good quality fuel, but children need to learn that they are not always going to be able to eat what they choose.

This got me thinking about my approach to feeding the children, and, fo what it's worth, I thought I would add to that a number of other principles that have stood me in good stead feeding children:

- if you are cooking something new and are unsure how it is going to be received, make sure that there is something as part of the meal that you know your children will eat e.g. a baked potato

- persist with the 'try one mouthful' rule

- fruit is a good pudding, and if there is a treat to be had too, insist on fruit first

- when your children are going through fussy phases (and they will be phases, I promise, although some take longer to get out of than others), try and put some distance between the food you have prepared and what they are eating - if necessary freeze what you have made for another day, and serve them something that you made and froze previously

- if they don't eat much at one meal, try really really hard not to allow them to snack before the next meal. You may have a tedious sugar low blighted morning or afternoon, but you are more likely to get them back on track at the next meal if you do.

- tell yourself that if all they want to eat is a handful of cheerios and a couple of slices of cucumber, then that probably really is all they want. You might have to give yourself a stern talking to about this, but persist with yourself. Eventually they will surprise you and eat a proper meal - my mum had a friend who had I think 6 children. The youngest would only eat bananas and peanut butter sandwiches so that was all she would give him. One day as the rest of the family tucked into something delicious, and he sat looking at his bananas and peanut butter sarnies, he said "Why can't I have that?". Problem solved.

- canned tomatoes are your friend. So is garlic. And pasta.

- try where possible to cook from scratch but remember that no one ever died from eating a fish finger or the odd oven chip.

- insisting that they clear their plates is probably not helpful - I can't help it, I am an inveterate plate clearer, but I am learning that it is probably not helpful. Sometimes
I even manage to let them not finish all their main course and have pudding. I doubt it's going to cause too many problems in the long run

- eating at the table is good - and if you can eat with the children - or sit down with them and have a cup of tea while they are eating - so much the better: it creates a natural environment for confidences to come spilling out.

- letting them help you - chopping, grating, mixing - does actually encourage them to eat it, especially if it's a new thing. I was sceptical, but I think it does work.

So make of those what you will. If you have any other tips, please do share - I am always open to suggestions!


  1. I agree with your feeding children suggestions, it's important to make it work for whole family.

  2. Great tips and yes, couldn't agree more, get them to help you prepare it. They are so much more likely to try it.

    1. :-) - still doesn't always stop the gagging though!

  3. Great tips. Helping to prepare food somehow fails to translate into being prepared to try it here though. Perplexed.

    1. Hmm I wonder how old your kids are? To be fair, mine are 9 and 6 and I'd say it's only really in the last year that this approach has shown real benefits. And I'd be lying if I said they eat everything I put in front of them.

  4. I've really struggled with my fussy eater - so different from the other two. Think I made things a lot worse by making too much of a deal about it all at mealtimes, which meant he'd be tricky before he even knew what was for tea. Negative association seems to be going now I'm more relaxed about meals, and he's a little better at trying stuff, though still no luck with potatoes! Things also improved when I started eating with them, which is easy for me to do with OH away. I should do more cooking with him, I'm sure that would help.
    As far as parenting goes, feel I'm got this far by the seat of my pants.. And couldn't have done it without lists - the very thought! Tend to stay away from parenting books as they make me feel more inadequate, and I feel guilty enough as it is! Don't think I do enough with the kids - some friends are constantly ferrying their little ones to various things, never a spare minute - only downside of this is kids constantly expect things to happen and get bored easily. That's what I keep telling myself anyway! x

  5. Really interesting to read your tips on feeding children. Depending on Mini-M's mood, she can be so fussy or surprisingly bold. My only other trick for new foods is tiny portions - more likely to be finished, or half finished, much congratulation and encouragement, and positive associations all round. Mind you, I'm probably in no position to talk as the parent who had to confess to the dietician (who she was seeing for dairy allergies rather than fussy eating!) that during bad eating weeks, her entire diet consisted of cucumber, spaghetti hoops, bananas and cocktail sausages. Thankfully we've moved on from that now!


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