Food is a nightmare. There are two approaches: either you take a hard line and insist that everyone eats what's been put in front of them; or you prepare individual meals for everyone, taking into account all the princessy peccadilloes. Of course life isn't that black and white and, inevitably you will end up in some horrible grey area in the middle of the two. And then the little bastards have got you.
The problem in our house is that I'm a fussy eater. Me. I'm the one.
It's like this: anything green that's been cooked (with the honourable exception of peas - I love peas) strikes me as a vile and unpleasant thing to put into your mouth. Along the lines of - oh I don't know - a turd. My secret name for broccoli is "evil trees".
Given this weak-natured state of affairs I'm very much occupying the moral low ground and consequently I have set up a permanent camp in a MASSIVE grey area that hands control to my kids in exactly the way all the parenting manuals tell you you shouldn't.
Luckily my oldest, L, loves veg and regards my dislike of brassicas as a silly aberration that places me on a lower evolutionary rung to her. S, my youngest, however, is much more of my mind on these matters and that's where the problems come in. It's not that she dislikes what I dislike. It's more that my dislike gives her permission to dislike her own stuff.
She's going through a stage just now which her sister went through at the same age. The stage is the neatly named I-will-only-eat-discrete-foods-that-are-not-touching-and-are-completely-separate-on-the-plate-stage. So it's OK to dip your sausage in tomato ketchup. It's NOT OK if your sausage is already touching your tomato ketchup on the plate. No. Then you have to wail as though someone had torched Flat Teddy in front of your very eyes and then rubbed the ashes in your face.
Incidentally, sausages are the Holy Grail of all foods as far as S is concerned. They are to be grilled or fried in a pan and in this state are referred to as "straight sausages". Present her with anything other than straight sausages - mess about with them in ANY WAY and you will pay the
The other night I had made a sausage and bean casserole with borlotti beans and butter beans and tomatoes and butternut squash and all manner of other goodies in it. Modesty aside, it was delicious. She point-blank turned it down and just ate boiled potatoes. I naively thought that she might eat some of the sausage. Oh foolish man! She hadn't spotted the heresy until I pointed it out. "NO!!!" she yelled " I WANT STRAIGHT SAUSAGE!!! NOT THIS SAUSAGE!!!" She glared at me in the way that I imagine George Osbourne would glare at an actual real person: with a mixture of confusion, fear, anger and incomprehension and began to weep.
S's nickname when she was a baby was Foghorn Leghorn because of the volume of her crying. Ships in the Firth of Forth sail closer to the Fife coast when she is in full flow. The volume is akin to letting out time at the klaxon factory. After I had mopped the blood from my ears and calmed her down I assured her that we would have straight sausages the following day.
The next day at tea time I served her baked potato and straight sausages: her absolute favourite tea. There was still a lot of the beans left over from the casserole so L and I had them. In an attempt to be firm I placed a tiny pile on her plate which she scraped of onto the table declaring, "I am not very keen on beans. Beans are exgusting. I am allergic of beans".
There is no way to win this battle. If you take route one then meal times become a misery of tears, snot and rage and the kids will get upset too. If you take route two, I pity you. More often than not you will find you have started out with the best of intentions and, via some convoluted path ended up with a child that eats pretty well over the course of the week but splits their carb and protein intakes to different days. And that's fine. Better that than they are allegic of anything.