Believe me, I know all about the art of being a picky eater
- Credit: PA
I was a notoriously picky eater when I was a child, basically refusing to eat anything that wasn't a certain brand of sausages (the only brand my son will now eat – they're local, too, which means I am propping up Norfolk's meat industry even though I'm a vegetarian), chips or sweet things.
My mother – who to do her credit is a really good cook – finally snapped when I was about nine and decided that my dinner tyranny must end and that I would eat whatever the family was eating, regardless of how grisly it seemed to me.
When I look back, I didn't know how lucky I was.
In the grim early 80s, when all my friends were eating Arctic roll, processed white bread, Ski yoghurts and Mr Kipling Country Slices, I was being given homemade granary bread, homemade yoghurt, homemade desserts and some really quite outré food – my mother plucked and gutted pheasants in the back yard, made everything from scratch and had a wide and interesting palate. All I longed for was Arctic roll, processed white bread and Ski yoghurt (not the country slices – they were horrific).
Some nights were better than others. Sausages occasionally made an appearance at the table, as did cheese and potato pie – the nights to dread were those when fish appeared on the plate or things involving offal: action had to be taken, and swiftly.
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We ate at a ridiculously grand table that once graced the dining room of an impressive ship and which, brilliantly, had leaves which unfolded to make it even grander and more ridiculous which involved struts where, if one was cunning, one could hide entire meals for as long as it took for the dining room to clear and for you to re-hide the food in toilet paper and flush it away or throw it on the compost heap. Imagine what fun I was to live with.
This tactic served me well for months until a dark day when we had roast chicken. Palming the meat before it reached my mouth, I carefully placed it on a shelf-like structure under the table, not realising that underneath my feet, the family cats were circling like sharks anticipating a kill.
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One particularly clever cat managed to hook a large chunk of chicken which it then dragged to the rug and ate with great pleasure as my parents watched and I, in turn, watched them as the penny dropped and they looked under the table to find the desiccated remains of meals past, some of which I had forgotten to remove and all of which the cats had turned their noses up at.
Stronger action was required – without the safety net of removing the food to a safe haven, I was expected to actually eat it.
Every meal would require about a litre of water to wash down as if it was bitter medicine, making dinner a war of attrition: my parents figured that if they held out for long enough, I would become a normal human being when it came to food, I knew this would never be the case.
The only weapon that remained in my arsenal was to belligerently turn vegetarian, therefore circumnavigating the entire issue of meat and fish. My mother reasonably assumed that I wouldn't last the course – such was my love of sausages – but she didn't bargain for my intense loathing of offal and fish.
Sometimes, you must sacrifice what you love for the greater good, and the greater good was never eating fish again.
Even now, I baulk if a dining partner wants to order fish in my presence and have never allowed canned tuna within a country mile of any kitchen I've had possession of – I cook meat for my family, but I still don't eat it.
As fads go, my vegetarianism has been the longest lasting of them all, even beating my insistence on only wearing black which began a year or so after I gave up meat, probably because I was in mourning for sausages and burgers, although possibly because someone once told me it had a slimming effect.
I tell you the above for a reason: last week a new report recommended that we shouldn't all be aiming to eat just five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, we should be aiming to eat seven. Seven. A day. I consider it to be a triumph and one (two if he has a lot of it) of my son's five a day if he has ketchup on his chips – and I'm claiming the potatoes, too, even if you're not supposed to. A potato is a vegetable – actually, the potato is the KING of vegetables.
Apparently, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables is linked to a longer life and a lower chance of death from heart disease, strokes and cancer, although on the flip side, trying to keep that much fruit and veg in the house or force it down the throats of your tinies will probably significantly increase your chances of at least two out of three of the above.
As an adult, I can now eat almost normally – on some days I don't even have to keep the different foods on my plate completely separate from each other – but I don't think there's been a single day where I've persuaded one of my two children to eat more than five portions of fruit and vegetables in a 24-hour period. Or even a 72-hour period. But however onerous it appears, things could be worse: in Japan, you're advised to eat 17 portions a day.