I mentioned in a previous post that my picky eaters make meal-planning a bit of a challenge. My kids are picky. At various ages and stages, some of them have been ridiculously picky. We had a white-food-itarian in the family for quite a while (white bread, pasta, butter, potatoes, rice, milk, not much else). Add to this the wrinkle that half of us are vegetarians, while one or two would happily live on meat alone, and family mealtime gets very complicated.
When I was a kid we were made to eat our veggies. It was considered rude and disobedient not to eat what you were served. But this approach just didn't sit right with me as a parent. It's been shown that most preschoolers and young school-aged kids do develop a degree of pickyness, and it's been suggested that this is hard-wired, and had a survival advantage in hunter-gatherer societies. Tribal children old enough to wander away from their caregivers, but not old enough to have learned which plants were dangerous, were well-served by aversions to unfamiliar foods. I also recognized that at least a couple of my kids had some pretty significant sensory sensitivities in other areas. Just as they found sock seams and shirt tags noxious and intolerable, maybe they experienced tomato sauce the same way? Who was I to judge?
I didn't want to do battle over meals. For a while I just made whatever I wanted and let the kids eat it or (more often) not, as was their desire. Eventually I just found this approach too demoralizing. Night after night, week after week, month after month, I'd cook yummy wholesome family meals and my kids would head to the kitchen for a piece of bread and butter or a bowl of cheerios. I no longer enjoyed cooking at all. At ALL.
Next I made an effort to provide a buffet arrangement, or two options for the entrée, purposely choosing at least one option that each child would likely eat. But this wasn't much better. It made for a kind of cooking I don't much like -- three- or four-pot cooking of several different menu items. Time-consuming and messy. And the kids seemed to change their preferences as quickly as I figured them out.
When we started our big kitchen renovation in 2005, we had a discussion about how to manage meals while without a kitchen. This was kind of a turning point. We came up with a rota of 7 meals that everyone agreed to eat, meals that could be cooked on a camp stove on the deck, and/or bulk-prepared and stored in the freezer. I was pleasantly surprised that we could agree on 7 meals. There was a certain amount of compromising involved. "Fine, we can do lasagna, but none of that carroty soup, then." That sort of thing. And the kids decided that everyone could name one Banned Meal, a meal they personally found so disgusting that no matter how many other family members wanted it included on the rota, it would not be. But just one banned meal per person.
In the two years since, we've loosely stuck to our program of compromise-based agreements, bans and a rota. Likes and dislikes have shifted, and we've discovered new meals. Sometimes we get tired of one and it quietly exits the rota for a few months. For the most part, the approach works. I can maintain the bare minimum of cooking motivation. The kids eat most of what they're served. No one is forced to eat stuff they hate. Because the food is, if not enjoyed by all, at least tolerated, a little more adventurousness is slowly evolving. The kids now understand that the cook has feelings and does not want to cook at all if diners make loud sighs and sulk off in search of cheerios.
I wish there were more variety. We only have about 10 meals on our rota. But this is the best solution we've found, and I can certainly live with it. Today Fiona ate a whole piece of tomato, and liked it.