Several months back, a smug little me mentioned fussy eaters in this column.
One reader took me to task, thinking me judgmental, and, I suppose I was a little. With two great eaters in my house, I unsympathetically imagined fussy eaters were a product of nurture rather than nature.
Turns out I have to, ahem, eat my words. While I have a five-year-old who will eat anything you put in front of him (from smoked mackerel to sushi, and artichokes to capers) and a three-year-old who isn't quite as adventurous, but still eats well, my third born is a fussy little diva at the dinner table.
Not yet two, she surveys her meals with all the suspicion of someone expecting to find a worm, or worse, secreted away beneath the edibles. Sometimes she forgets she likes something, or doesn't recognise it, and we're forced to trick her into opening her mouth and stuffing in a morsel to unite it with her tastebuds where we know it will meet approval.
She rejects food in two different ways: first there's the 'plate skate' where she eyeballs her meal suspiciously before shoving her dish skidding across the table, discarding the full meal outright. Her second choice is to poke any unidentifiable foodstuff into her mouth, barely allowing it to touch her tongue, before spitting it back out, machine gun-style, in messy bursts.
She hates potatoes in almost any form -- boiled, steamed, mashed, sauteed or cut in wedges. For some crazy reason she fits the universal stereotype and likes chips though -- something I never cook. She hates mince too -- the main ingredient in two of my boys' favourite dishes. That means she won't touch spaghetti bolognese or shepherd's pie, not to mention lasagne, meatballs or cottage pie.
As a food writer and restaurant critic, food plays a big part in my life and I like it to be as healthy and 'real' as possible. That's why my children have never been given fish fingers for their dinner. Breadcrumb-coated frozen fish from a packet may be a great way to encourage children to eat fish, but I prefer to give them fresh, unprocessed fish straight off the fishmonger's slab. (Ironically, fresh fish cooks in less than half the time of 'convenient' frozen fish.)
In Egypt last month, our hotel had a great selection of restaurants, including a fantastic buffet which proved the least-stressful way of feeding our daughter, as we'd always find something she liked.
A visit to the hotel's Middle Eastern restaurant one evening saw our table laden with fragrant treats of hummus, babaganoush (aubergine dip), stuffed vine leaves, grilled haloumi and smoky lamb skewers. While we all tucked in to this feast our daughter stuck stubbornly to mere olives (yes -- she likes these!) and pitta bread.
For fear of her going hungry we returned to the buffet restaurant afterwards so she could snaffle a plate of chips or pasta, maybe with some steamed vegetables and cold cuts, if she approved of the day's choices. It broke my heart to see her wolfing down chips and pasta every day, not least because we were holidaying in a region with such great culinary heritage.
One of the great joys of travelling is sampling new and different foods. From moussaka in Cyprus, to lychees in Bali, fresh sardines in Lanzarote and grilled snapper in the Maldives, our boys have always found something new to enjoy on holidays. Thankfully, our little girl is too young to remember that chips and pasta comprised her culinary odyssey in Egypt.