My guilty confession as a mother is that while I am a gourmet at meal times, when it comes to cooking for the kids it is junk all the way.
As a competent cook and self-confessed foodie, I hang my head in shame when I admit that it is rare for my children to eat a meal where at least one component is not breaded or direct from the freezer (or indeed both).
I know my cicchetti from my ceviche, have shelves crammed with well-thumbed cookbooks by Nigella, Jamie and Ottolenghi. I love whipping up a delicious dinner parties for my friends, sourcing the best quality ingredients, balancing flavours and textures to delight my guests. In short I adore food, both making it and eating it.
But this enthusiasm only extends as far as feeding grown ups is concerned. When it comes to the kids I must confess that I call on Captain Birdseye and his sidekick Mr Heinz with monotonous regularity.
Hot dogs, beans, fish fingers, potato waffles, pizza and egg on toast feature on the children's menu daily, while their parents feast on slow-cooked tagines, pungently spiced fresh curries and succulent roasts.
I feel horribly guilty about this, but I know that I am far from alone in operating a two-tier catering system.
While most parents know that ideally we should eat freshly cooked meals with our children, helping to polish their table manners and broaden their culinary tastes, sadly thanks to long working hours, a lack of cooking skills and, in my case, painfully fussy eaters
, this isn't always possible, or even desirable, at least from the adults' point of view.
The biggest barrier to contented family meals in my household is that my eldest considers even the blandest cheese pizza or chicken nugget a suspiciously exotic foodstuff.
This is the boy who survived for almost a year as a toddler on yoghurt and marmite sandwiches, despite the many futile hours I spent pureeing the finest organic fruit and veg when I weaned him.
While it isn't fair to blame it on my son, I suspect these years of cooking in vain for him are the root of my apathy when it comes to feeding children. While I dreamed of my children tucking into delicious dishes direct from the pages of Annabel Karmel's cookbooks, what actually happened was my firstborn spat every home cooked offering across the room in disgust until I gave up in despair, retreating to adult meals to exercise my love of cooking.
Now the problem is that on top of the children's understandably narrow tastes they have the table manners of savages as result of having always been banished to eat their frozen meals alone.
Eating with them is horrific. They wriggle, fidget, play with their food, spill their drinks and generally undermine any semblance of gracious living.
While I know that my bad mothering is in part to blame for this atrocious behaviour, I am not sure it is all my fault as a good friend who has always bravely shared her meal table with her children claims they are no better.
A meal time can't pass without one of her (school age) children rushing off for a toilet visit and the speed at which they eat rivals treacle inching its way out of the tin. While the grown ups have all cleaned their plates, the children's appear untouched, leading them to begin complaining that their food isn't nice any more because it's cold. These tales hardly inspire me to rethink my poor parenting and start sharing my meals with my boys.
As my eldest is now nine and his desire to be grown up and eat with us is beginning to override his distaste for all things not hailing direct from the deep freeze I know that my time of peaceful meals is rapidly coming to an end.
But I can't say the prospect of watching him drench my slow cooked garlic lamb in ketchup fills me with joy and I shamefully admit that I am deliberately delaying the day when every meal is a family meal.
What do you think? Shocking or really pretty common with young kids? How long before you enjoyed a family meal?
More on Parentdish:
Picky eaters - it's not the parents' fault!
Small cheats for big family meals
- Showing favouritism
Are you sure? So you’ve taken just as many pictures of your second child as your first then? A study by scientists at the University of California suggested 65 per cent of the mothers and 70 per cent of fathers had a preference for one child - however subconsciously.</p>
- Doing their homework
One study shows that nearly half of parents have done their children’s <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/05/24/mum-petitions-for-abolition-of-homework/" target="_blank">homework</a> at least once. It seems many either can’t resist the temptation to help their children do well in their studies or would rather do it than spend their lives whingeing at them to stop watching telly.</p>
- Avoiding play time
It’s the ‘not now, maybe later’ syndrome. Your child wants you to read them a story or go the swings but you are ‘just too busy’. Or is it really that you can’t be bothered because you’re texting, checking emails or even watching telly yourself! Figures show that, on average, parents spend just 36 minutes a day <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2010/11/05/do-i-play-with-my-child-enough/" target="_blank">playing</a> with their offspring.</p>
- Using them as an excuse
Blaming the kids is always the <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/baby/why-having-a-baby-makes-the-perfect-excuse/?icid=parentdish|DL_2" target="_blank">perfect excuse</a>, whether it’s not having to go to a social occasion, the house being a mess, being late for work, forgetting someone’s birthday, the list goes on...</p>
- Bribing them with food
Whether it’s giving them chocolates or sweets as a bargaining tool for chores or simply to ward off a tantrum we often find ourselves bribing our kids. We’re probably well aware that research shows this could lead to obesity - but heh, anything for a quiet life?</p>
- Giving them a smack
For many it’s one of the biggest taboos. But there are plenty of parents out there who have given their kids a clip - even if it is on very rare occasions. A recent poll for ITV’s This Morning found that three out of four parents had, at some time, <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/10/19/should-i-be-banned-from-smacking-my-child/" target="_blank">smacked</a> their little ones.</p>
- Stealing their stuff
Surely not? Well have you ever eaten their chocolate gift from a relative - because you were ‘saving their teeth’. Sadly that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Findings from Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks showed that more than half of parents with children aged five to 12 have raided their kids’ piggy banks!</p>
- Fibbing to get them into a school
Ever found yourself in church pretending to believe, just because it will help get your little on in a <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/back-to-school/how-much-would-you-pay-to-get-your-children-into-a-good-school/" target="_blank">school with a good reputation</a>? Around 50 per cent of parents are willing to fib about their address, religious beliefs or ethnic background to get their kids a better education.</p>
- Writing them a dodgy sick note
Did you feign <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/09/09/sending-your-child-to-school-when-ill-do-you-do-it/" target="_blank">illness</a> as a child to get out of games? Now, as a parent, you find yourself writing a sick note for the teachers, even though you know there’s not much wrong with your kid’s health. A quarter of parents admit to this one, while almost 50 per cent have taken their children out of school in term time to save cash on holiday costs, according to <a href="http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/" target="_blank">TripAdvisor.</a></p>
- Doing anything to get them to sleep
When it comes to getting some kip every sleep deprived parent has a guilty secret - whether it’s letting them stay up too late so that they just flake out, letting baby fall asleep on you, rather than putting it down in its cot or simply allowing them to sleep in your bed.</p>
- Swearing in front of them
You tell them off for using bad language, then find yourself uttering a <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/04/19/there-are-worse-things-than-swearing-in-front-of-your-children/" target="_blank">foul mouthed rant</a> in front of them. When they later use the same words in public you say “they must have picked it up at nursery/school.” Some nine out of 10 parents have sworn in front of their children according to a report from <a href="http://www.youngpoll.com/" target="_blank">Youngpoll.com.</a></p>
- Giving them a treat breakfast
There are few parents who haven’t, at least once in their child’s lifetime, bought them a sticky pastry or bag of crisps instead of making them a healthy breakfast. In fact, figures reveal that half a million kids eat biscuits for their morning meal while more than 100,000 only have a fizzy drink!</p>
- Driving badly
You’re always telling them that their behaviour is dangerous and then you pack them into the car and drive like a nutter. One in four parents admit to having broken the speed limit to get their children to school.</p>
- Overloading the buggy
You’ve read the safety warnings not to do it, but which parent hasn't loaded up their child's buggy with shopping bags while scooting through town, blithely ignoring the chance of the whole thing toppling over? When they get a bit older you allow them to stand up in the shopping trolley at the supermarket too, another health and safety no, no.</p>
- Not having a sit down family meal
Did you know that children are 24 per cent more likely to eat vegetables if they sit down to a <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/food/small-cheats-for-big-family-meals/" target="_blank">family meal?</a> But how often have you let kids eat their dinner in front of the telly? Only 30 per cent of families eat together at least once a week.</p>