War & Peas: a book review

After a little online discussion about the merits of sneaking fruit and vegetables into food for kids - versus letting them choose for themselves what to eat from their plate, Jo Cormack sent me a copy of her book, War & Peas to read. Jo is a mother of three, and a qualified therapist, and has used her personal and professional experience to develop her 'emotionally aware feeding' theory. The subtitle of her book is "end the battle with picky eaters" and I think that this, for me, is the most appealing aspect of this book. We have come a long way from where we were a couple of years ago, but we went through a stage of having many unpleasant mealtimes, which resulted in everyone being angry with each other and very little food being eaten. What did we achieve by making R sit at the table for ages, attempting persuasion or bribery or refusing to let him have pudding unless he ate his main course. Absolutely nothing!

This book doesn't include recipes, nutritional information, meal plans etc, nor does it (as my 3.5yo pointed out after borrowing it to take a look) include any pictures or diagrams. If you're put off of reading a book that at first glance might feel a little 'academic' (for want of a better word) - don't be - this is an extremely accessible, well written approach to an issue that many families have to deal with - that of picky eating. The key principles are very clearly set out and it's easy to remember what you're meant to be doing (something that I often struggle with these days after having children!).

Reading the book has made me realise that things in our house aren't quite as bad as they sometimes seem - for example my kids don't have issues with texture, don't insist on only eating beige food etc. They are just not very good at eating vegetables (hence sneaky veg) and one of them won't eat fruit. Does this still make them picky or fussy eaters? In some ways yes, but things could be worse.

What I have really taken away from Jo's book is a shift in the way that I approach mealtimes. On the first day of trying elements of her approach (making it clear that the kids could eat whatever they wanted - or leave whatever they wanted - but they wouldn't get an alternative later and not attempting any persuasion) I had to stop myself around 20 times from saying "Just one more bit", "Why don't you try…", "three more mouthfuls then pudding" etc etc. Can you imagine how annoying this constant nagging must be for the children?

This was the day we had pasta and peas, which was a massive success. For tea that day we all had vegetable curry (blog post coming soon), which was also a big success. D and I ate at 6pm so we could all eat together and R amazed us by eating up all of his green beans and asking for more, which encouraged his little sis to do the same.

It has felt like a real relief to stop trying to persuade the kids to eat things on their plate, although I am still having to remind myself not to do this. Of course, it's up to me to offer healthy things and accept that if chips and carrots are on the plate of course they'll only eat the chips.

Cutting down on, or stopping snacks altogether, as obvious as it may seem, has made the biggest difference. This is something that I find really hard to do, especially with the 2yo who inevitably has a lot of time in the buggy on nursery drop off and pick up etc and has got used to snacks to stop her from being bored. As Jo points out though, is it a helpful lesson to take into life that whenever you feel bored you have a snack? Absolutely not, I just never thought of it in that way.

I also have some new thinking to do about 'labelling'. My eldest has real issues with fruit, he can't even bear the smell if someone is eating a tangerine opposite him at the table so we all think of him as someone who doesn't like fruit. He is the kid at nursery who won't join in at fruit and juice time. I've always assumed that he'll grow out of this at some point, but perhaps he won't and I can see that not liking fruit has already become part of his young identity. Jo draws interesting parallels with this and herself as someone who isn't good at maths. I am going to make a real effort not to describe him to himself, or anyone else, as someone who "doesn't like fruit".

In summary, I imagine I'll still be sneaking fruit and vegetables into food for my children, but I've learnt some really useful lessons from War & Peas, and would recommend it to anyone who has difficult mealtimes.

Find out more about Jo and emotionally aware feeding on her blog, which also includes a link to buy the book.