I have always considered myself as a half-decent cook. Nothing earth-shattering or inventive, but a solid “Not Bad” in the kitchen. I can knock up a lasagne or a curry without too much brain power and I can follow a recipe so the end result looks and tastes palatable. My husband hasn’t yet been poisoned and friends return to our house for dinner. My greatest challenge has come in the form of my daughter, aged 3. If I could get her a gig as a restaurant critic, she’d even have Michelin-starred chefs weeping at their butcher blocks.
The moment she turned six months old, I followed a weaning plan religiously. I pureed pears, sweet potatoes and green beans. I mashed bananas and avocados into mushy concoctions (please note, for my second child, I followed baby-led weaning which is just throwing food at your child and hoping some goes in). I tried to introduce her to a variety of different flavours and textures. Weaning went well. She progressed onto fish, vegetable fingers, roast chicken and rice. I admit it, I was proud that my child was a good eater. Then she hit toddlerhood and dinnertime became a battle of the wills.
No-one can say I haven’t tried a number of ways to entice my child to eat my food. I have studied Annabel Karmel books and lost several hours on Pinterest creating boards of plates arranged into smiley faces. When I attempted the smiley face approach (fish finger hair, raw carrot nose, cucumber smile and tomato eyes), she systematically picked the vegetable features off the plate, piece by piece until my work of art was decimated. She ate the fish fingers after I agreed to a large dollop of tomato sauce.
Following more well-meaning online advice, I hid the vegetables using my brand-new, purpose bought food processor. I blended the living daylights out of some mushrooms, peppers and onion and made a ragu sauce. What child doesn’t like spag bol, for goodness’ sake? Mine, it turns out. I placed the plate in front of her and she cried. A lot. Proper heaving sobs over mince and pasta.
My smug mum friend (whose children eat oysters and olive tapanades) suggested I involve my child in cooking her own food. Good advice, I thought. We got stuck into creating meatballs. She loved the process and was completely interested and engaged until I presented her with our finished product. She looked at me in horror and uttered “no fanks”.
The most frustrating part is that there is no consistency to her food habits. For example, she loves pasta and she loves cheese but all hell breaks loose if I dare serve macaroni cheese. She devours a pizza (margarita,of course) but she will refuse to entertain that exact same sauce on pasta. Pasta may only be served with tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise or occasionally pesto (on the third tuesday of the month if it happens to be raining that day).
The diss of my food is completely personal now. If I have cooked it, she doesn’t want it. If it has come straight from the freezer and is a generic orange colour, she will devour it with relish (actual relish as she demands copious amounts of ketchup). She’s not oblivious to my plight though. Often she looks at me pityingly and offers me an empty platitude or two e.g. “Oh Mummy. I’ll like it when I’m older.”
It’s also incredibly ironic that her most-used phrase is “I’m hungry”. From the moment she rises from her slumber to approximately 5.30pm, when suddenly, at dinnertime, she’s no longer starving. She eats well during the day and will eat quite a variety of food for breakfast like porridge, eggs, toast, fruit, granola and she’ll eat a decent lunch including sandwiches, cucumber, cheese so why, oh, why will she not eat her dinner?
A friend of mine kindly listened as I vented and lamented about my child’s limited palate. She replied “I just feed them what we’re having”. I felt my hackles rise as I just didn’t want to hear about yet another child that gobbles up whatever is put in front of them. She quickly expanded: ”They don’t eat their dinner, so why should I make something special? They can just not eat what I’m making anyway rather than not eat what I’ve gone to the effort of making just for them”. I feel like a veil has been lifted. My daughter is not malnourished nor overweight. She is rudely healthy. She is not going to suffer from being given salmon and noodles for dinner. I have a new plan...I just need to summon the bravery to try it...wish me luck.