The journey of eating has been an easy one with Harry, thus far. Much like his mum – he’s not shy of his food – he has a voracious appetite and a penchant for the carbs. Since that first mouthful of carrot puree (home blended – as was everything for the first few ‘first-time mum’ months till I realised it was far easier to let Ella and her kitchen do the work), he has embraced textures, flavours and recipes with gusto.
However, we have hit a hurdle – one put in place by our own actions. No longer do we have the confines of the IKEA Antilop (the staple, wipeable high-chair of the masses) to keep him contained during dinner. He manages some amazing gymnastic feats as we try to lower him in to the seat, fighting against his dining prison. So we’ve given up. He will happily sit at his little IKEA Mammut chair (plastic, durable and covered in Bing and CBeebies stickers – you have to sacrifice something to be stuck on – rather that than my walls) but then he has free reign to jump up and down, decide playing trains is preferable to pasta and generally allow his dinner to end up matted in the carpet. There is also the lure of the TV. The cardinal sin of dinners.
Yes – we have become that family. The TV dinner family. As if eating on the sofa every night isn’t cheeky enough, we’ve also got in to the routine of leaving Bing or Thomas playing to really cement those bad habits. Google anything about family dinner times and the keywords that pop out in relation to TV dinners are obesity and lack of social skills. If it all took to shed some pounds was to sit at the dinner table then I’d be a size 8!
Jesting aside, it is not habit I’m proud of. When I was growing up, setting the table and sitting down together was just the done thing – as was me and my sister winding each other up across the family meal. Why have we lost our way with this? I think it stems from London living. When you’re in a one-bedroomed flat, with not a lot of space, sitting on the sofa becomes more comfortable. To suddenly be in a house with a large kitchen diner and a farmhouse table, was a little alien. When it was just the two of us before Harry, getting in from a long day at work, it was just comfortable to slouch on the sofa with dinner. Since we’ve begun to eat the same meals as a family, we’ve allowed that to become Harry’s norm with the TV as a focal point rather than our meal.
The negatives speak for themselves. Harry sat at his table with his focus on the screen, means he is not getting to observe our eating practices. He becomes distracted by what is on TV, rather than focusing on eating his food. So much emphasis is put on mindfulness these days but how mindful can you be of flavours and tastes when there’s all- singing, all-dancing entertainment usurping all your attention. Social development comes through making eye-contact and engaging with conversation. All of this is so much more enhanced if you are looking at each other over the dinner table. So mumma is on a mission to reverse our ways before it’s too late!
This is a battle I’ve chosen to tackle head-on. And to say it hasn’t gone down too well would be an understatement. Mr Unyoung is still quite partial to his sofa dinners. But My Unyoung isn’t the one who has just burst blood vessels trying to remove sofa covers, wash them and wrestle them back on. Mr Unyoung isn’t the one who has to chisel porridge, pasta and potato in various forms off the carpet on a daily basis. So Mr Unyoung needs to back down and back me up when it comes to sitting at the table.
My attempts thus far have not been wholly successful; Wriggles has not been wholly compliant. He was more intent on re-enacting Evil Kinevil on his mini-motorbike around the kitchen island than consuming his cod, mash and broccoli. This culminated in me threatening to throw his dinner in the bin, a prospect he was not too happy about. Daddy then waded in telling me I was being unreasonable. His argument was that I had tried to change too many variables at once and needed to ease in to this family dinner time at the table malarky (I think there was also the criticism of it being too cold in the kitchen and the sofa being far more comfortable but by this point I’d stomped off to another room and left him to battle with the fork with the huff of “I give up, I’m constantly the bad cop – I have no support’).
An instagram story asking followers for their experience has only fired me up further. It seems that the majority of people who responded at least try, work and timing challenges aside, to eat as a family together. I am determined we will crack this. Interestingly when it’s just us two at lunchtime, he will happily sit at the table with me and despite the odd bop up and down, will eat nicely. Perhaps it’s just the excitement of seeing Daddy – or perhaps I’m just one bad-ass cop whom he knows not to mess with?
We did have some success last night over cottage pie and peas. I don’t think our dining arrangements are massively conducive to toddler seating. We have wooden benches rather than chairs. To sandwich him in, we sat either side of him. He did engage in some ‘feed mummy a forkful, nearly taking out her eyes’ and some swapping of forks, but we managed a family dinner at the table. A small win and a step in the right direction.
Now just the morning to tackle. Weetabix is so much easier to wipe off the tiled floors than the deep pile carpet. This one is on mummy though – at 6am I’m just adjusting to the world and the sofa with coffee is my halfway house to embracing the day. I need to bite the bullet, ramp up the heating, stick on my thermals and sit us up at the table. The Twirlywoos can wait; breakfast can’t.
If you have any tips or suggestions about how to keep him in his seat and how to make family meals more of a success rather than warzone I will be endlessly grateful. We are getting there but still a work in progress. Wish me luck!