I'd like to start this post by outlining each of the dietary preferences/needs represented by the five people in my family:
- Vegetarian: 1.5 people
- Omnivore: 2 people
- Prefer lots of vegetables: 2 people
- Prefer no vegetables ever: 1.5 people
- Low-carb/low-cal needs: 1 person
- Carb-loving: 4 people
- Ideally need to eat by 5:30 pm: 3 people
- Schedule varies by day so mealtime never the same: 1 person
- Extremely picky: 2-3 people, depending on the day
- Eat spaghetti (with or without meatballs) with no complaints: 5 people
It's so not easy to feed this family. I personally am a very picky eater. I choose and prefer a lot of healthy food, but I like what I like and I don't prefer trying a lot of new things. I've been this way since I was a kid and although I have expanded my palate quite a lot since then, I still don't eat meat (or really most animal proteins) and have a decent list of other foods I simply can't choke down (goat cheese, eggplant and squash/sweet potatoes/yams are all on this list).
Because I am a particular eater I have found it very difficult to lay ground rules with my kids and encourage them to try new things. Pacey is a great eater and has been for a couple of years now. Brighton is very, very picky and while she does like a fair number of healthy things she does not like any vegetables and almost no meat. Archer is about average for a toddler thus far, but I know it can go either way from here. The way I provide food is generally to make an evening meal I know the kids will all eat (in some deconstructed form) and then make something different for Chris and I. Often that something is different for each of us, in that we have radically different needs and preferences. It's a lot of work, it's hard to plan and I don't really know how to change it.
I know perfectly well that the kids won't starve if I serve them a meal the adults want to eat and they choose not to eat it. However I also know that that approach didn't work for me growing up. If I didn't like it I didn't eat it and while of course I didn't starve, I was hungry a lot. Eventually I discovered I liked cooking and in my family whoever cooked got to choose the meal. That solved things a few nights a week and then I left home, my palate matured and I got to choose what I ate all the time. Food and eating is just not a battle I'm willing to fight. If I make a meal I know the kids like and they choose not to eat it, I don't provide alternatives. We don't do dessert as a reward all the time, although I will sometimes require a taste of the vegetable before getting dessert if there is one.
There's no point to writing this here except to say that meal-planning and preparation is a drag at the best of times and we're not in a great pattern here. I checked out Ellyn Sattern's book "How to Get Your Kids to Eat, But Not Too Much" and I will peruse it to see if her methods resonate. I'm dragging my heels, though, since I'm just not sure I have it in me to take a hard line on this.
What say you? How do you feed your families? Do your kids have different eating preferences despite being raised with the same approach?