It's come to my attention that I am running an a la carte restaurant at my house, when everyone else is running, well, a normal family kitchen.
I've been known to serve five different meals in one night. Now, it's not like I am cooking five meals a night from scratch; we make great use of leftovers and frozen foods. But I always have to think of everyone's tastes and preferences. Dinner is not a no-brainer.
2-year-old and 4-year-old
The little ones would gladly eat chicken nuggets and frozen vegies every night of their lives, but they would not be so glad about a case of rickets. So I do try to expand their tastes and serve them new things.
But we adults like our food tasty with lots of different herbs and spices, and little kids do not, so I tend to cook them their own meals. It maximises the chances of them eating it. Standards are pasta dishes with home made tomato and vegie sauce, and chicken drumsticks/sausages/meatballs with vegies. These are not meals I care to eat that often, so that's why their dinners are different to ours. Sometimes, due to differing tastes, their dinners are also different to each other's.
If they try something new and really do not like it, I offer to make them toast or a sandwich, or they can have a piece of fruit.
My eldest daughter gave up all meat in Year 3. She has since had on again/off again relationship with chicken and fish. I would never force anyone to eat meat if they didn't want to, but I am always quietly pleased when she will have some white meat.
Fortunately my daughter has very broad, quite sophisticated tastes and will eat just about everything else grown on this planet. She is living proof that a toddler diet of fish fingers does not lead to a boring, limited palate. And that is why I do not fuss too much about the little ones.
I don't cook red meat dishes when she is at home, but she may just as easily refuse fish or chicken on any given night. So I always try to have a vegetarian dish on standby just in case it's one of those nights.
Like many men, hubby has never really grown out of the 16-year-old teenage boy diet. He is happy to consume lots of butter, oil, cheese and other fats, and white processed foods. And just like a teenage boy, he will often pull a face when he asks what's for dinner and I say fish and salad, or a dish with wholemeal pasta or rice. Him, I usually ignore. But occasionally, because I do like to see that child-like, excited look on his face, I will offer to prepare something especially for him that you won't find in a healthy heart cookbook.
So that is how, on some nights, I find myself channelling a Masterchef contestant during a pressure test. But think about it this way. If I'm tied to the kitchen all the night, I can't be expected to be cleaning mashed potato off the floor, sending cheeky littlies back to bed for the 200th time that night, or explaining to my teenager why she needs to understand surds and indices. I'd much rather be hiding in the kitchen.
What goes on in your household at dinner time? Is it a la carte? A smorgasbord? Or an equal portion of gruel for everyone?
Rachel Hynes is a mother of three and publisher of The Kids Are All Right (www.thekidsareallright.com.au), the Australian website for parents of teenagers. It features a personal blog, helpful articles, and a supportive forum for parents to share advice and share the load.