I gave my children home cooked food from the moment they started weaning. My older two children grew up happy to try new things and love fruit and vegetables - my son's favourite vegetable is broccoli, believe it or not. I congratulated myself on my parenting skills until my third child came along. From the moment she first started on solids, she was different. When I started feeding her purees, she'd scream, arch her back to get away, and since I wasn't prepared to force feed her, I was very glad when a friend told me about baby led weaning, which was a life saver.
Although letting her feed herself solved the initial problem with weaning, the following years saw many battles at mealtimes because she decided she didn't like something. Whilst her brother and sister were happily tucking into pastas, curries, stir fries, roasts, anything and everything you put in front of them, Eve was constantly turning her nose up at her dinners, refusing even to take a bite. It's meant for some creative thinking to avoid going down the path of cooking separate meals for every member of the family. Now we have five children, it would be far too expensive and time consuming, even if I were willing to turn my kitchen into a café. So here's a guide to what worked for us:
Start as you mean to go on.
Although it didn't work with Eve, there is no doubt in my mind that giving my children home cooked food from the start gave them a good foundation of experiencing different tastes and textures. If your child has a broad palate from the early stages, he or she is more likely to enjoy a wide range of food when they hit the more challenging preschool years.
Set some ground rules - and stick to them.
We have very few rules in our house, but one of them is that you must try your food. If you don't like it, you don't have to finish it - but you must at least taste it. It is possible that your child genuinely can't stand the taste of something and all the tricks in the world won't change that. If you've established that you mean it when you say you won't force them to finish if they don't like it, your child is more likely to be happy to sample a meal and it's amazing how many things are suddenly tasty after one bite.
Don't give them something exciting if they say they don't like their dinner.
If your child won't eat their food, don't be tempted to give them something you know they'll love instead - like chocolate pudding! Whilst it's important that your child eats something, if you give them a treat, you're rewarding the bad habit and teaching them that all they have to do is say they don't like something to get their own way. Instead give them something filling but plain, like a sandwich.
Is the taste really the problem?
Sometimes it's not the taste a child dislikes; it's the texture. Eve's hatred of purees as a baby is still with her, so she despises mash, but she'll eat potatoes if they're roasted. She can't stand red meat and went through a brief stage of vegetarianism. Some experimentation showed that meat wasn't the problem so much as the specific texture of red meat and our 'vegetarian' will often be found happily munching away on ham, chicken and bacon!
Get your child involved with making meals.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a good way of getting your child interested in food - there's an immense satisfaction in eating something you've produced yourself. Lunches in our household are always rice cakes with various toppings along with fruit and vegetables and if they've come from our garden, all the better. Eve loves going to the fridge and deciding what we're going to have that day. Little Miss Independent will choose things she's said she doesn't like because she knows her siblings do and because she's the one who got to pick it out, she'll eat it when she might not have if it was just served to her.
It's taken a long time to reach this point, but when we went to visit a friend recently, he'd made a lot of food that many children wouldn't even attempt - cabbage and beetroot soup, tofu wedges, dim sum and enchiladas. I was so proud of the fact that all of my children gave everything a go and although they didn't like some foods, they tried and they were surprised by how much they did like. It's shown me that it's worth sticking to a few basic rules at mealtimes when they're at the tantrum stage because long term, it pays.