Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Toddler food fads


My nearly- three year old has been through some odd food fads. At the moment he is going through a stage where he prefers not to eat food items that are mixed in with each other. He suddenly only eats salads of the 'deconstructed' variety.
He doesn't like stews or casseroles where things have all gone one colour. He won't touch soup. He wants to see separate, readily identifiable items on his plate, preferably not touching one another. Where did he get this from?

It's the latest in a series of food fads he has gone through, and I believe it's shared by most tots his age. At first he ate anything and everything. At the age of two-ish he developed an obvious preference for eating the same as me. If I wasn't eating it, he didn't want it. It didn't matter what daddy ate. The way to get him to eat something was for me to have a taste, and ideally we ate off a shared plate. Then came possessiveness and these days if I want to eat something I'd better get my own dish of it. But now there is this strange sort of hyper-hygienic attitude where the objects in his plate need to meet some standard of uniformity, of orderliness. 

I can't help being curious about where these behaviours come from, and why? The last question is naughty, because I'm presupposing that there is an adaptive explanation. It may not even be the case that it's innate. I can't believe he's learnt these habits from his parents (I've never been first in the hygiene queue. What? It makes kids get allergies!) but he could have learnt them in a more general sense. Like now that he has started to feel familiar with various food stuffs maybe he feels happiest eating when he can identify them? This would fit with the general love of familiarity and routine he has been showing lately. Or maybe I gave him some bad stew one time and he's anxious to avoid a repeat.

But it's really tempting to imagine these behaviours are innate. Early on he uses mama as a personal food tester, like the Queen (he foolishly doesn't wait around to see if I croak before he tucks in, but I guess he can safely assume I know what i shouldn't be eating by now). But now his food recognition capacities have been honed he is relying on his own experience of what is good to eat. He is very hesitant about anything totally novel - though he will still eat those if he sees me doing so! And he doesn't want me to make his task harder by reducing everything to unrecognisable mush, or hiding it under sauce. And I swear he can spot left-overs at fifty paces, however hard I've tried to 'upcycle' them. If it ain't freshly cooked he ain't touching it. Spoilt dictator, or is he just hard wired to avoid dangerously spoilt food?

I'm just counting my lucky stars that he will actually eat healthy food....even if it means I have to 'deconstruct' things for a little while. I wonder what will be next?

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