When the children were tiny, I spent a not inconsiderable part of my day preparing nutritious food for their growing bodies. I read all the books, consulted early childhood nurses and spent hours (hours!) peeling, cooking and blitzing a wide range of vegetables, fish, legumes, dairy and meat to pour into ice-cube moulds and freeze so I would have a constant supply of tasty and healthy meals for tiny tums. No packets and jars for me, oh no! My babies were fed a balanced diet of organic, homemade delicacies following the most recent best practice and medical advice.
Which is why I am so confused as to why these days every single one of them is so flippin’ fussy.
A few months ago the Teen Child announced she was embracing vegetarianism. Which is fine, I have nothing against being vegetarian, in fact I wish I had the willpower to give up bacon sandwiches myself.
Except that very same weekend she was caught on Snapchat by the Tween Child tucking into a juicy Triple O burger with her friends. “Oh,” she said airily when she returned home later that afternoon. “That doesn’t mean anything. They’d just run out of veggie burgers.”
The trouble is, it’s kind of punctured my enthusiasm for finding the inspiration to shop and cook for one entirely separate, vegetable-based meal every single night.
But (being a good mother) I am loosely experimenting with a more meat-free kind of diet, except the Tween Child has an aversion to anything green. Which is kind of annoying as she loved mashed broccoli as a baby. She also refuses to eat onions, chicken and anything with eggs in it. I mean chicken. Seriously? Everybody likes chicken.
And the list goes on. The Blonde Child won’t eat sausages, potatoes, anything salad-based and also appears to have inherited her older sister’s non-vegetable eating gene.
The Boy Child is only happy with plain pasta, white rice, cheese, bacon, pancakes and Nutella. He’s ok with chicken, but not if it’s roasted. Go figure.
And all that advice about cooking with your children to encourage them to eat? Well, take it from me, this is foolish talk. I don’t know how many times I’ve had the Blonde Child and the Boy Child happily trashing the kitchen with spilt liquids, broken eggs and sauce-splattered walls, for them to then casually turn their noses up at everything put in front of them at the dinner table.
In an attempt to get the Boy Child to give pesto a try, I even planted a basil bush in the garden. He’s happy to pick the leaves, chop them up and whizz them with a few pine nuts, but he will still not go near a bowl of pesto pasta.
The other day the Blonde Child asked if she could make a lemon drizzle cake using a lemon from our little tree outside. On the face of it, this sounded like perfect mother territory and I was inwardly high-fiving myself – my child asking if she can put aside the tech, pluck a home grown piece of fruit from the garden, and lovingly mix it into a treat for the family. But from bitter experience I know that Enid Blyton-esque moments such as these can be disappointingly deceptive.
“Do you actually like lemon drizzle cake?” I ask. “Oh no!” she replies cheerfully. “I hate lemons but the Wifi’s just gone down and I haven’t got anything better to do.”
It turns out there is only one (one!) meal that nobody has a problem with – that good old favourite, spaghetti bolognese. With white pasta and no hidden vegetables.
In fact, we have consumed so much spaghetti bolognese since the Teen Child started eating solids back in 2003 that I think I’m practically owed Italian citizenship. Or at least a free Tuscan villa holiday.
And so I am greatly anticipating the arrival of adult guests to dinner this weekend. Finally I can unleash the full power of my creative, culinary skills. A three course meal with not a single small child whining about why there’s tomato ketchup on the table, or why they can’t eat the delicious homemade quiche because it might have ‘touched’ a piece of the asparagus in the salad.
But then the RSVP emails start rolling in.
“Tom’s training for an ultra, so he’s not eating any gluten. Or dairy. Or any red meat. Hope that’s not a problem?” trills one friend.
“I’m only eating red meats at the moment, it’s this new diet. But I can eat pork. And dairy. Hope that’s ok!” replies another.
“Don’t forget I’ve gone totally vegan these days! And no eggs!” says another.
Wearily I type “gluten free dairy free meat free egg free recipes” into Google. Not much comes up.
Being able to conjure up a spaghetti bolognese to general approval is beginning to look like a very happy memory.