Why children's meal times are a choreAlamy

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.

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I feel horribly guilty about this, but I know that I am far from alone in operating a two-tier catering system.

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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.

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Eating with them is horrific. They wriggle, fidget, play with their food, spill their drinks and generally undermine any semblance of gracious living.

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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?

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Picky eaters - it's not the parents' fault!


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