Just because a kid knows their own tastes, it doesn’t necessarily make them “fussy”, writes Rich Hathway.
Is my child a fussy eater? It’s one of those catchall terms that is trotted out whenever a child turns their nose up at some type of food or another. I’ve used the term myself to describe my son’s eating habits. It’s an easy concept to reach for when he doesn’t want to try something new that I’ve put the effort into cooking. “It’s very nice, he’s just being a fussy little sod,” I mutter to myself as I retreat to the kitchen to get him something that I know he will eat.
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There is a school of thought that says just give him the food, offer no alternative, and if he’s hungry he will eat it. He has to learn, right? He’s just being difficult for no reason, trying to assert some control over the situation. He’s just acting out and it’s unacceptable.
But hold on a minute. There have been many times that I have spent an afternoon cooking something for Mrs H and I, only to put it in the fridge and order takeaway. There are days when I just don’t want something that I know I ordinarily like. So am I a fussy eater? I prefer to think I know my own mind.
Maybe my son is just very good at knowing how he feels. He doesn’t need to taste the macaroni cheese to know that he doesn’t want it that day. He’s only just six so he can’t always articulate that thought properly, and it comes out as “I don’t like that”. That gets my back up because I know he does like it, but maybe what he means is “I don’t like the thought of that today”. If I’m allowed to be a discerning diner, I should extend the same courtesy to my son.
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All good then, right? Not quite. The discerning diner approach can work at home but what about when eating out? I’m not prepared to order three or four different things for my son on the off chance that he’ll maybe eat one of them. Eating out with a discerning five-year-old diner takes planning.
My son loves pizza – he is my son after all – so going for a pizza should be a slam dunk. As any parent of a discerning diner will know, however, it’s never as simple as that. No two pizza places are the same, so you can’t just rock up at some Mom & Pop pizzeria in a strange town and expect things to run smoothly.
The discerning diner will forensically inspect the establishment and the menu before telling you in excruciating detail everything that is different to Pizza Express. If you’re lucky, the pizza will smell good and look right so you can relax, he will eat it. On another day it will simply not be good enough and you’ll find yourself speed eating a perfectly lovely pizza so you can get out and find the little fusspot a Burger King.
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As you can imagine, we don’t try new places very often but I’m trying to change that. I want to be able to decide to eat out on a whim without it becoming an issue. I want those great family times in restaurants that I see my friends having. So, I have to plan it.
A few weeks before I want to try something new I cook something similar at home. I introduce it, make no negative comment when my son doesn’t eat it, make him something else that looks quite bland and then over exaggerate how nice what I originally cooked is. The next week I cook it again and follow the same formula. My son will usually try it on the second or third time and, because he has decided to eat it, he declares that he loves it.
When I made fajita chicken the first time I did some plain chicken for when he refused to eat the spicy stuff. True to form he did and I produced the boring, plain chicken. The next week he tried some of the spicy stuff and his little eyes lit up as his taste buds awakened. He now asks for it every week and we’ve had successful trips to Las Iguanas.
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Last week we took our first trip to a curry house. I wasn’t so confident about curry. I’m a pretty good cook but I’m not going to attempt naan bread or poppadum and, however hard you try, a home cooked curry is never as good as the real thing.
I had used my tried and tested formula and introduced my son to the flavour of tandoori chicken. I don’t have a tandoor oven and I didn’t marinate the chicken overnight so in terms of authentic curry it was a disgrace. I wasn’t trying to impress Atul Kochhar though, I was trying to get a first taste of Indian past the portcullis of my son’s cake hole. He loved it when he finally ate it so I decided it was time for the curry house experience.
I needn’t have worried – the whole thing went off without a hitch. My son ate tandoori chicken and pilau rice. He tried poppadums and he couldn’t get enough of the naan bread. He declared on the way home that we should go for a curry every week.
Fussy eater or discerning diner? Call it what you want but I’m trying to recognise that my son is a person like the rest of us. And like the rest of us he is subject to whims and fancies.
It’s not naughty of me to order a takeaway instead of cooking the bolognese when I’ve had a long and tiring day. It’s surely not naughty of him to want a certain thing for tea after a day at school. There are things I like to eat and things I don’t (butternut squash can fuck right off) so it must follow that a child would be the same. Though sometimes I swear he’s just doing it to wind me up.