I Ate Like A Toddler For A Week, And It Transformed My Relationship With Breakfast

Discussion in 'Dietetics' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Feb 28, 2020.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    As a single woman, I’m familiar with those “joys of cooking for one” articles and books – the pieces encouraging women to nourish themselves without needing a partner to justify the culinary effort.

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    It’s all very romantic, the push to treat yourself as the love of your life. But I say screw self-partnering.

    Instead, why not cook as if we’re feeding our own imaginary kids? We all know offspring are far more special. They come from your bodily organs, whereas a partner only hails from an app or a bar.

    For one week, I decided to devour this concept by eating the meals of a toddling child and reporting on my findings.

    I had the meal prep covered, but I’m used to cooking with spice

    I am a childless adult, and damn do I eat like one. I love my kitchen time.

    My mother is from a large Portuguese Malaysian family, so I grew up with exquisite fusion dishes that took both time and spice. I was the kid with tiered steel containers of homemade dumplings and a ginger-sesame reduction to make my white-bread peers weep.

    These days, living far from home, I make an effort to cook for myself. I spend Sunday shopping for fresh produce, fondling avocados with the care of a prostate specialist, smelling herbs with the vigour of a mid-level apothecary owner in the 1600s. I spend most of the afternoon preparing meals for the week. I own seven kinds of balsamic vinegar. There’s chilli sauce in my bag. You get it.

    It’s fair to say I had the organizational, meal-prep aspect of this eating challenge covered. I just lacked the ability to keep flavours simple.

    I had to make the food bland, yet appetizing to a toddler

    The last time I ate like a baby, it was when I had all four wisdom teeth extracted. The last time I ate like a toddler, I was a toddler. The last time I fed a toddler, I gave him homemade sweet-potato gnocchi with burnt sage butter. Evidently, some research was required.

    According to the National Health Service, children ages 12 to 26 months old require omega-3 to support their rapidly evolving brains, iron for healthy blood, calcium for bone growth, and protein so they can get supremely jacked (just kidding).

    As a vegetarian kidult, this meant I had to incorporate protein-rich ingredients like eggs, legumes, and dairy, and omega-3 rich ingredients like chia seeds and walnuts instead of fish.

    I normally do this, but this time I needed to make the food bland, yet somehow more appetizing to a toddler.

    The NHS also recommends avoiding salt, sugar, spice, and sweet drinks like juice or flavored milk. Another takeaway from my research is that toddlers do not drink alcohol.

    Toddlers also require consistent meal times each day to regulate their appetite. For the week, I ate breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon, and dinner at the humble hour of 6 p.m.

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    I’ve never loved porridge for breakfast, but apparently kids do. Or are expected to.

    Armed with NHS knowledge and Pinterest screenshots of “colourful fun healthy kids food,” I shopped for ingredients and meal-prepped for the week.

    Here’s what I ate:

    Monday
    • Unsweetened porridge with oat milk, blueberries, coconut, and ground chia seeds
    • Corn cakes with carrot sticks, cherry tomato, baby cucumber, and small cubes of cheese
    • Vegetarian sausages with peas and mashed potato and cauliflower
    Tuesday
    • Toast fingers with hard-boiled egg and cherry tomato
    • Homemade broccoli, spinach, walnut, and cheese muffins with a side of apples and almond butter
    • Tomato soup with hidden kale and lentils
    Wednesday
    • Toast shapes with blueberries and almond butter
    • Corn cakes with carrot sticks, cherry tomato, baby cucumber, and hummus
    • Mini pizzas with peppers and carrot
    Thursday
    • Unsweetened porridge with oat milk, almond butter, banana, and hidden chia seeds
    • Homemade broccoli muffins with a side of apples and almond butter
    • Vegetable lasagna with pureed carrot, spinach, and zucchini
    Friday
    • Toast fingers with soft-boiled egg
    • Corn cakes with carrot sticks, cherry tomato, baby cucumber, and small cubes of cheese
    • Pumpkin mac and cheese with pureed broccoli
    I made sure each meal was packed with nutrients and colour. It needed to look fresh, exciting, and appealing to a young child.

    I also chopped everything to prevent choking. Even though I’m proud of my fully developed chewing skills, I needed to get into character.

    By the end of the week, here’s what I had learned.

    I realised breakfast is an exercise in mental wellness

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    I learned that boiled eggs are the most comforting breakfast.

    I eat breakfast most days, but it’s not a priority. I scoff Vegemite toast as I’m walking out the door or ladle granola into my mouth on the train. And when I’m hungover? Catch me in the McDonald’s, station-side.

    My week eating like a toddler changed this. The suggested mealtimes got me out of bed earlier than usual. Rising to prepare a filling breakfast and sitting down to enjoy it was satisfying; I was starting the day by taking quality time for myself.

    One parenting guide proposed that the dining table be a distraction-free zone, so the child can focus on eating. So the phone went away. As a result, breakfast became more of a sacred time, which helped me mentally prepare for work.

    Eating wholesome toddler’s breakfasts also made me realise that I need to eat more in the morning. Or rather, eat differently. I usually feel hungry about two hours after breakfast and end up snacking to avoid my trademark mid-meeting stomach grumbles. After incorporating more protein into my breakfast this week, however, I remained full until lunch.

    Boiled egg with soldiers was my favourite breakfast of the week. Chopping toast into fingers made me eat the bread slowly instead of wolfing it down in one heartburn-inducing chomp. It also helped me savour how delicious melted butter tastes in the morning.

    This week taught me that breakfast should be enjoyable. It’s a reward for bothering to wake up early.

    The week made me appreciate everything parents do

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    Being this organised is fairly satisfying.

    Sitting in the breakroom, surrounded by colleagues eating premade supermarket meals or last night’s leftovers tossed into old Tupperware, I experienced a range of emotions.

    My food stood out. It looked so curated. Most adults don’t compartmentalise every ingredient in this way.

    As I gazed down at the cheese, Emily Blunt’s iconic “The Devil Wears Prada” bit came to mind: “Right before I feel I’m going to faint, I eat a cube of cheese.” Perhaps my colleagues would wonder if I were on a crash diet.

    At the same time, I felt strangely proud of my lunch. When I looked at the chopped carrots and perfectly bite-size tomatoes, I had to acknowledge it looked as if love had been put into it. As a child, I never fully appreciated the effort my mother put into my lunches every day. Looking back, I wish I thanked her more.

    As I usually bring leftovers for lunch, having such a basic meal made me recognise the freedom that comes with not having to heat up food, too. With my packed container of goods I was more willing to head out for a picnic-style lunch. Fun!

    I learned to stay away from prunes – and filling drinks

    One parenting tip I received was to finely dice prunes and sneak them into meals. I presumed this was another parental stealth tactic to summon stools out of their children, only I didn’t understand just how well it would work on me. I will not be using this ingredient in the future.

    Another toddler diet tip was to drink water between meals, instead of juice or milk, as these will only lead to “mealtime battles.” Therefore, rather than drinking a midafternoon hot chocolate – which never fails to make my jeans stress against a bloated stomach – I stuck to water.

    The disciplined nature of mealtimes also improved my routine. Avoiding stodgy beverages between meals and skipping beer or wine with dinner made me feel lighter and more ready to exercise later that evening.

    Sometimes hunger is actually just boredom

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    Welcome to bland land: We don’t have any condiments here.

    Once I got into the mindset of eating to nourish a child, it was easier to refrain from eating junk and drinking alcohol. If I was in doubt about giving into my desires to demolish a block of chocolate or a pint of beer, I’d ask myself: “Would I want my niece or nephew to have this?”

    One parenting guide implores parents to find out whether their child is actually hungry. “Try distracting him with a fun activity – he might just be bored!” Strong4Life said. The presumption of gender aside, I figured this information would be useful.

    When I found myself wanting to eat between meals, I took myself for a walk. Turns out it makes sense to step away from my desk instead of reaching for snacks.

    The toddler diet changed the way I look at breakfast

    Forgoing my standard dash of hot sauce was the most difficult part of the week, but eating basic meals with mild flavours made me appreciate the simple goodness of individual ingredients. In my typical diet, I would be less inclined to notice the sweetness of a cherry tomato or the umami hit of cheese because these would be drowning in Cholula.

    In a millennial world in which Sunday drinks and midweek work meetings are likely to run overtime, I wouldn’t be able to keep this rigid diet going, but there are elements I plan to take away.

    By following a toddler’s diet, I found that instead of lunch being leftovers, a selection of fresh vegetables – that aren’t just salad – is an easy way to add variety to the midday meal.

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    By the end of the week I had given up on the cute presentation and the plastic plates.

    I also learned that my breakfast lacks protein. I’m not being filled up with toast and granola alone. So, I’ll add more protein-rich ingredients like eggs, scrambled tofu, or peanut butter to my morning routine.

    In terms of mindfulness, I hope to make more time to sit down and eat breakfast. This won’t be realistic on days when I’m so beer-brained I press snooze six times, but I’d like to try.

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