At first glance it sounds deplorable. We appear to be “one of those families” who let their children run wild, no discipline or structure, no bonding over the lasagna dish, no breakfast en-masse as Papa opens up his paper. But the reality is, in this house eating together (at most meal times) simply does not work. We are an unconventional bunch and none of us is about to change, for an assortment of reasons.
Daddy is an extreme eater.
And he is happy in that role. God knows I have tried to lure him into new and exciting ways over the years but all to no avail. I blame it on his days of eating Tesco Value day after day at Uni. My children’s father would have been perfectly at home during the era of war rationing, eating the same food several weeks in a row. Except nowadays he has a choice. He doesn’t have to eat avocado and beetroot salad with a bowl of chickpeas every single evening for a month (weekdays) – I kid you not, this really is the current health fad of a routine. Neither did he have to embrace patatas bravas and chorizo for three months solid during the winter; the latter definitely not winning any prizes in the “clean eating” stakes.
But this is who he is. It’s who he has always been – since the day I met him anyway. He will simply attach himself to a food in limpet-style and eat it continuously. It makes him happy, and I guess you could even go as far as to say he is listening to his body… albeit one which likes to stay in its culinary comfort zone.
Whereas for me, variety is the spice of life.
You would have to serve me something straight out of the Burj Al Arab’s six star kitchen if you expected me to polish off the same dish two nights in a row. I feel about my mealtimes the same way I feel about my holiday destinations, choices in a cocktail bar or an ice cream parlour:
The foodie world IS my oyster. And it is all there to be sampled!
The nearest I come to eating the same thing on a consecutive days is via a smoothie or a soup. But even then my homemade combinations will always differ.
And if I really have to eat a salad just to match the mood of my husband, it will be full to bursting with sweet potato, red pepper and rocket. This trio for me equals a tasty salad (I loathe avocado and beetroot – well, unless the latter is in a chocolate cake). And my favourite orange, red and green veggies also make the most decadent wintery soup. When I devour either, life is infinitely sunnier, shinier and happier. And yes… I have offered loving ladle loads to the rest of my clan – only to be shockingly mocked at.
Furthermore, I have an intolerance to yeast (banishing giant homemade family pizzas, calzones and any other filling family favourites of that ilk).
And then there is my stomach’s dislike of red meat, pineapple and mango…
Add to the above my adoration of spices and disdain for the plain…
And then my daughter’s nut allergy… and tongue prickling reaction to courgettes.
So you can see why finding a meal we can and will all tuck into; a meal which suits everybody’s body and excites everybody’s taste buds, is ever so slightly challenging.
My children are… well… they’re your bog standard definition of fussy children.
One week they love broccoli and polish off all the “trees” on their plate. The next week they have gone off cous cous. One minute a salad with a Babybel “bonus” is de rigueur, the next it’s “super disgusting”. Carrots are to be eaten raw one day… five days later, they want them sliced and cooked. With a side helping of tomato ketchup. Even chocolate cake has known to be frowned upon.
But it’s not only different tastes.
We all have different timings! The children eat lunch late at 2:30pm (schools in Spain, where we live, finish too early for lunch to be included in the academic day…) Yet they need to eat dinner/tea/supper (whatever you like to call it) by 6:30/7:00pm – leaving hardly enough room for digestion before bedtime.
But my husband and I have fast become annually continental. Not to mention the fact that he only walks through the front door as the kids have put down their knives and forks. The idea of eating a full meal early evening (for us) is enough to bloat the stomach… and that’s before a morsel has even been chewed. It’s just impossible.
Two hours later (and a beer or two for him), yes, that’s much more like it.
And so the path of least resistance in this house is to take The Restaurant Approach: to eat what we individually like.
It’s time-consuming. It’s highly anti-social. It’s not at all conducive to living congenially like The Waltons, but it works for us and it makes those rarer mealtimes when we DO sit down as one – okay, so I lied when I said we all sit together once a week… we don’t always manage even that! – so much more special. Like Christmas, like Easter, like birthdays, like the restaurant visits (when we naturally all choose completely different things).
I write this not to make any particular point other than to urge you to quit beating up on yourself, if you, like me, sometimes worry that you aren’t conforming; that you aren’t doing things the “prescribed” way.
A happy family is one where a healthy dose of freedom is encouraged, after all!