Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Venn diagrams of children-feeding pain

Is it just me, or does anyone else with more than themselves to feed come up against the problem of non overlapping pickiness?

To wit - I have three children, aged almost 4, almost 8, and 9.5. I also have a partner who is not ridiculously picky but has distinct likes and dislikes, and does not cook except for barbequeing. Devising and executing the daily refuelling operations is, therefore, almost exclusively down to me, and honestly I sometimes feel like I need an PhD in set theory and logistics to get it even roughly right.

It's not that any one of the other four people I feed, taken individually, is painfully picky (although I do have one child with sensory sensitivities that complicate her eating somewhat). Everyone eats across the five food groups, and most of us eat roughly enough to sustain bodily needs, most of the time.

No, the issue is that there is a wafer-thin margin for me in serving up food that most (let alone all!) of the people will eat. As Example A, I give you: The Venn Diagram of Fruit.

As you can see, Child A (let's call her Miss Orange) eats quite a few different kinds of fruits - 8 in fact, the most of any of them. That looks all very nice and fine, until you start to look at the intersections.

Miss Orange and Miss Purple will both eat banana, while Miss Purple and Miss Green both eat apples (albeit only if peeled in Miss Purple's case). The three of them all eat strawberries consistently, and will eat pear if it is absolutely perfectly ripe, peeled and quartered (Miss Orange is a little more forgiving here and will eat a skin-on pear as long as it's not discoloured).

What this means in terms of serving up shared snacking plates, or buying food for lunchboxes, is that if I want certainty that all the fruit will get eaten and not spoil, I end up sticking to apples, bananas, pears if perfect, and strawberries when in season. Don't get me wrong - I still buy other fruit, both those on their individual white lists and new ones to try. But when I am busy, or having a cash-flow crisis week, it's hard to justify buying lots of beautiful fruit that will either sit there til it rots or give partner and I the skitters as we desperately try to scoff it all ourselves.

The picture becomes even grimmer when we move to the Venn Diagram of Recognisable Vegetables.

The first thing to note here is the empty central segment. Yes, that's right - there is *no single vegetable* that all three will eat as a separate, including potato. (As an Irish-descended potato fanatic, I would never have believed it possible that I'd have a child who wouldn't eat potato ... but I do).

It's also a bit depressing that each kid has a vast repertoire of 4 vegetables apiece that they'll eat, and each one only eats a single green thing (broccoli in two cases, peas in one). None of them eat any salad vegetables in raw form, which makes doing dinner sides heinously difficult sometimes. This is not for want of trying, mind you, but that is where they rest at the moment.

I could go on and on, making Venn Diagrams of Despair about their meat lists, grains / starch eating, their lunch preferences, their breakfast cereals etc, but rather than go with the downer approach, I will tell you the only thing that has saved me from having to make foolishly complicated and tailored dinners with twenty-seven different components every night. It is this:

One. Pot. Cooking.

You might notice that vegetables such as, say, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, and turnips, and the staple cooking fruit, tomato, don't appear on anybody's white lists. This is so, but that doesn't mean I don't cook with them or they don't eat them, it just means they don't recognise them when they are mixed up in a larger dish. I don't tell them lies - if they ask, they get told - but nor do I draw attention to the fact.

My top five one-pot dishes, in which I can load a multitude of stuff, are:

- Pasta sauces, especially bolognese and napolitana
- Stew - Lamb or beef, loaded with veg, also contains lentils (another thing none of them eat as a separate)
- Risotto - I make tonnes of different kinds.
- Soup - ALL sorts.
- Shepherd's / cottage pie - I will admit that Miss Purple, the non potato eater, still scrapes the mash meticulously to one side, but given that there is lean meat and at least five veg in the base, it doesn't matter so much.

If you cook for a few people, do you come up against the overlap problem? How do you deal with it? Suggestions very welcome!

1 comment:

  1. We do lots of help yourself meals, sushi, taco's, wraps. Put all the ingredients out on the table and let the children put together what they want. Easier to do in summer, we struggle in winter.