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If you're happy with your diet, you're getting enough exercise, the children are eating well and everyone's getting enough sleep, the rest of your life must be looking pretty good. For a lot of us, each of these things provide a challenge, and there's a knock on effect on our relationships, our sex life, and our general level of happiness.

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Kids and Food

Most mums worry about what their kids eat, what they don't eat, why they don't eat and whether they are getting a balanced diet. You are in the very lucky minority if your child tucks into to a healthy range of home cooked dinners without any fuss.

For most of us, the challenge is to provide something they will eat, that provides the nutrition they need without causing a major breakdown for either you or the kids. It is very disheartening to slave over a hot stove to provide a delicious home cooked meal only to have it thrown back in your face (literally, sometimes!).

Back to the basics on nutrition

So what are we trying to feed them?

In order to have a healthy diet, children need the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, fat and sugar. The main difference between the requirements of a young child and an adult, is that they require full fat products, whereas most of us instrinctively go for low fat versions, for our weight and cholesterol levels.

I, like thousands of mums out there, have a copy of Annabel Karmel's book. This book has some great information in it and some lovely recipes, but in my opinion, it is designed to make a slightly sensitive first time mum feel very inadequate in the cooking department.

Annabel has menu planners for the different age groups from weaning to toddlers and beyond. In each there are different home cooked dishes for at least two out of three meals per day. If you have the time or inclination to do this, I take my hat off to you, just don't let the rest of us know, as you'll make us feel inadequate.

What I have used this book for is to get the basic information about what my children should be eating when, to give me a few new ideas of meals and in a couple of cases, to follow particular recipes. As with most of my cookbooks, if there are a few pages I refer to regularly, it's worth the money.

There are plenty of other books out there with meals especially designed for children. Let me know if you find one you'd recommend.

Where do the kids eat?

My sister's children sit at the table for every meal and when they have finished they say ' thank you for a lovely breakfast (lunch, dinner), please may I get down'. They have been doing this since they were able to sit.

I wish my children did this. Unfortuately I can't claim they do, so I'll tell you what I think in theory, not what I do in practice.

As with anything, the sooner a child gets used to a situation, the more likely they are to stick with it. So, if you want your children to sit at the dining table for every meal, start young and expect it to take a bit of effort to get into a routine of behaviour. Where possible, make meal times regular and structured. If you are very lucky, you may be able to have regular family meals together, which will help the children learn.

Children should definitely learn to sit down whilst eating. It is a potential choking hazard to let them run around with food. Preschool and Day Care will help with this discipline.


Ok, so I'll tell you what I did. I am just coming out of a phase where my 3 1/2 wanted me to feed her, and my 18 month old wanted to feed himself, but usually needed close supervision. I found myself feeding the little one first, in his highchair, before I tackled the feeding of the 3 year old. In fact the only way to get the 3 year old to eat was to put the television on and let her know that if she didn't eat, it would be going off.

We have just instated a new regime. The highchair is being decommissioned and the children both sit at the breakfast bar on the bar chairs (bub with booster seat). They now eat together and I am gradually persuading the 3 year old to feed herself.

My child won't eat anything

I have met mums who will tell you how little Johnny won't eat anything. Yet, little Johnny isn't fading away. A friend came round a while back and her three year old was a 'non-eater'. Her mum tried to persuade her to have a sandwich at lunchtime, and she had a go, but I have to say, mum was right, she really didn't eat much. What I would say though, is that when the biscuits came out, she helped herself to at least three.

The danger is that because your child hasn't eaten their main meal, you worry that they'll starve and you let them fill up on biscuits later on. Kids are pretty smart and they'll catch on to this plan and play up to it if you give them a chance.

My 19 month old will push his main meal away if he spies something he wants instead and I cannot persuade him to eat it. I have just in the last month acknowledged that he's pretty smart and I can't let him get away with it. I have to be careful to hide the second course until we're done with the first and if he won't eat, he, like the 3 year old, doesn't get dessert. Previously I would have worried that he'd wake up starving in the night, but I can safely say it hasn't happened and he's definitely not fading away. In fact, if he's hungry, he will eat what he's given.

Give them what they'll eat

I think it's important for children to be exposed to a range of foods, and to try some new things, but if you know there are four or five things that are healthy and nutritious and they will always eat them, then feed them these four or five things. Maybe try a new thing just once a week, or once a month, depending how brave you are, but if possible, make it something you and your partner are going to eat, so that if it is rejected, you don't feel you have completely wasted your time slaving over a hot stove.

Think about what you ate as a child and what you eat now.

A lot of children will not eat vegetables, or if they do, they have two or three they eat at most. As a child you were probably the same, and in most cases, as an adult, your tastes have broadened and you now eat a wide range of vegetables. You might also eat more spicey food, be happy eating meat when you never would as a kid and be keen to try new things given the opportunity. The chances are, your children will be the same. Try not to get too stressed about the lack of variety in their diet.

Disguise the veggies

It's amazing what you can get away with when it's covered in cheese sauce or mixed up with mashed potato.

I always chop up a leek, fry it in a bit of olive oil and cook it with the potatoes to then serve mashed. I also cook them in a mix of water and vegetable or chicken stock which makes them taste delicious, and is a lower fat alternative to adding milk and cheese to mash.

If possible, buy the Heart Smart stock made with natural ingredients, as it has a much lower salt content than regular stock. Or make your own (no, silly suggestion!)

I have found the children will eat carrot, courgette, cauliflower and broccolli covered in cheese sauce, whereas they wouldn't touch them on their own.

Meat and Kids

Red meat can be a bit of a challenge for children. Some seems to relish a good steak, but others find it chewy and not easy to swallow. If your child is getting enough fish or chicken, they don't need red meat.

One way to try is to make a bolognaise style sauce for you and your partner, with loads of veggies, and nice lean minced beef. Take some out before you add too much seasoning and puree it to make a sauce for pasta for the kids. Mine will eat some red meat this way, especially if I add extra tomato puree so the predominant flavour is tomato.

I have also found that the three year old, who is anti anything green, will eat the green bits if she closes her eyes. Quick, there's a green bit, close your eyes, you won't notice it!



Food and You

So what about you? How is your diet? I know of numerous mums who simply don't find the time to eat regular meals during the day, especially when the babies are tiny and there seems to be the constant need to feed and change and rock to sleep. Yet this time is the most important time to keep yourself healthy. Often mums are breastfeeding and the baby has first dabs on nutrition. If you are not eating regularly and healthily, you will feel even more tired and run down than you would do through the usual sleep deprivation and constant demands of your children.

The pregnancy and baby books recommend you eat roughly an extra 500 calories per day if you are breastfeeding. I worked out once that that's the equivalent of 10 extra Hobnob biscuits per day. I don't think that's quite what they meant, but it justified my extra intake quite nicely!

Do you crave sugar or chocolate? The combination of lack of sleep and the need for extra resources if you are breastfeeding, may lead the body to demand more instant energy.

It's not the best way to go, and neither is the coffee rich diet, as this can't be good for the baby.

However, take heart, it is a natural response, and as you gradually get your sleep patterns back to normal and reduce the breastfeeding, your energy will return and the cravings will reduce. It may take a bit of self discipline to get out of the habit of reaching for the chocolate (or Hob nobs in my case) but it's doable.

What I would recommend is eating low GI foods. These release energy slowly and keep you going longer. A high GI food such as chocolate, gives you a quick energy burst, but it doesn't last long and you are likely to suffer an energy low which means the body will crave more sugar. A low GI food is digested more slowly, with a slower more sustainable energy release.

There are some good low GI breakfast cereals on the market, which I recommend. Look for the GI symbol on the packet. As everyone knows, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so don't be tempted to skip it. You'll probably end up needing a mid morning snack which won't be as healthy.

There are also a large range of low GI breads on the market, which makes for an easy option at lunch time, or as a snack.

So what about your weight? Will you get your pre-baby body back?

Someone once told me it takes nine months to put on the baby weight and nine months to take it off. I reckon that for a least the first three months, you should not be worrying about it. The challenges of a new born provide enough worries to keep you going. By three months you are hopefully a bit settled into a routine. If you are breastfeeding, the baby has settled into a feeding pattern and you are coming through the hard time of sore nipples, mastitus and problems latching on. The baby also starts to take more nutrition from you know, and this is when, hopefully you will see some natural weight loss.

Getting Enough Sleep

Before you have the first baby, everybody tells you that you'll never get a good night's sleep again. And they're right! Sleep deprivation is one of the hardest things about having children, and for a lot of us it doesn't stop after the first year or so. Gone are those morning lie ins and by the time your children are old enough to leave you alone first thing in the morning, your body will have got so used to getting up that it just won't let you sleep any more!

But seriously, sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture and without you really realising it, it can have a huge impact on you and your family.

I think it is really important to understand the impact of lack of sleep and to talk about it with your partner. It will make you less tolerant and the two of you are likely to take it out on each other. Voicing your concerns and acknowledging the impact will mean that at least you understand why you are perhaps less communicative or more snappy than normal.

So how can you manage the challenges of sleepless nights?

In my case, I was breastfeeding in the night, so although I could ask my partner to get up to the baby, ultimately it was going to be my responsibility. I found that even though I was getting up, my partner was also being disturbed in the night, and he too was getting tired. He went through a very busy period at work where he had to leave before 6 in the morning and was home around 8 at night. During that time, we decided it would be best if during the week, I slept in the spare room and got up for the baby. This way, my partner got a good night's sleep and to be honest, I slept better because I wasn't worried about disturbing the other half, and I didn't get disturbed by any of his night time movements or noises! So although I had to get up to the baby, I slept better in between. And if the baby was sleeping when my partner got up for work, I did not get disturbed. It meant I didn't see him some mornings, but we knew it was for a limited time period.

I know of other couples who have separate rooms on a long term basis. I'm not sure I recommend this, but only you know how strong your relationship is, and whether it can handle this.

To be honest, I found it hard returning to sharing a bed again after even a few months, and my partner had got used to using my half as well as his! But it was important for our relationship to get back to normal.

Getting the baby to sleep through the night.

There are numerous books out there with various different techniques for helping your baby to sleep though the night. There are the few very lucky parents, whose child naturally sleeps though after just a few months or even weeks. For the rest of us, this is something we have to work on.

Ultimately you have to let your baby learn to get themselves to sleep again if they wake up, and this generally means letting them cry. Some parents just cannot do this, and ultimately you have to decide what is right for you and your child.

Control crying

With our first, by 9 months, exhaustion won over and we decided we really needed her to sleep through. We used a version of 'control crying' and we had two nights of hell before she worked it out and we began to get our sleep back.

At this stage, the baby was on solid food and no longer needed a night time feed.

Control Crying comes under various different names, depending on what book you read. Basically the approach is that when your child cries in the night, give him or her a couple of minutes to see if she can settle. If not, go in and briefly comfort her, settle her if you can and leave the room for 5 minutes. If she is still crying, go in again and settle her very briefly and leave again. Each time, make it slightly longer. Usually after an hour or maybe two, the baby will fall asleep. The next night you need to repeat this, and again and again until they learn. Amazingly, it doesn't take long for a baby to respond.

However, when your baby is crying heartbrokenly for an hour, it can be emotionally exhausting for you. You and your partner need to plan this and support each other. The temptation will be to go in sooner than the planned time. Use a clock, don't try and sleep while the baby is crying. Get up, watch a movie together, make tea, read a book.

In my experience, bottle fed babies tend to sleep through the night sooner than breastfed. This might be because formula takes longer to digest than breatmilk, so they are not waking up hungry, but I think it is also to do with the comfort supplied by a breast feed when they wake up in the middle of the night. I was definitely guilting of feeding my babies back to sleep at night when they were past the age of needing food. In the short term, it was the quickest way to get me back to bed. In the long term I wasn't quite ready to go through the control crying process.

The other thing that seems to affect babies' sleep patterns is a regular routine. This might just be a bedtime routine, which is very important, or it might be the whole routine of the day.

Gina Ford's book, a Contented Baby, recommends a very strutured day for your baby from day 1. Personally I chose not to follow this, as I needed my baby to be flexible enough to sleep when I was out and not have to be in the cot in a darkened room to go to sleep. However, those in my mothers' group who chose to follow this, did seem to get their babies sleeping through more quickly.





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