I don’t think of any of my children as particularly fussy eaters – each of them is happy to eat a reasonably wide range of different foods. The problem is that they all like different things. I have one daughter who doesn’t like pasta or mushrooms. The other daughter loves pasta but is suspicious of most green vegetables. Neither of them will eat fish. My son doesn’t eat parsnips. At times, the challenge of finding a range of reasonably healthy meals that everyone in my family will eat can feel overwhelming.
On the one hand, I want us to all eat together as a family as often as we can, and I want my children to be exposed to a broad range of foods and be constantly encouraged to try new things or try a little of something they don’t usually like. On the other hand, I want to cook food that all of my children will eat and enjoy – and I want to minimize the number of times I have to make toast right after the meal for the child that refused to eat anything.
I don’t have all the answers to this one yet, but some of the strategies that I find helpful are:
I’ve mentioned menu planning before in the context of eating more healthily and saving time in the supermarket. But menu planning also means that I have a go-to list of meals that my family will at least tolerate, which I can fall back on when I am feeling short of inspiration.
Not being afraid to try new things
My family constantly surprises me by what they will eat. My spinach-hating husband and my vegetable-wary daughter both love Jamie Oliver’s chicken pasta pesto, which has a whole packet of spinach in it. Sometimes it is all about the presentation. If the food looks beautiful on the plate or an ingredient is presented differently from usual, my children seem more willing to approach it with an open mind. Also, children’s tastes evolve; what one child refused to eat a year ago, they might now be willing to at least tolerate.
I’m very cautious about falling into the trap of cooking different meals for different members of the family. But sometimes a little variation can keep everyone happy. Being willing to put a couple of pork chops under the grill alongside three pieces of salmon is no more effort than cooking salmon for everyone, but it keeps my fish-hating daughters happy. If we are having pizzas or paninis, each child organises their own toppings/filling. If I’m feeling very motivated, I might even spiralise a parsnip for my pasta-hating daughter while I’m cooking spaghetti for the rest of us. Sometimes this flexibility can allow me to try something that I know one child will refuse, but everyone else might just enjoy.
My ambition is for my children to grow up enjoying a wide range of healthy nutritious food. Despite their differing preferences, I feel I’ve made a reasonably good start. But I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. So, if you have any strategies for feeding children with very different tastes, or even just if you have a favourite recipe that all your children enjoy, I’d love to hear from you.