Author and Journalist Veronica Clark: Indulging fussy eaters sets you up for a lifetime of drama

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I was dining in an Italian restaurant, when the air was filled with a high-pitched scream. Thinking someone was being murdered, I turned to be confronted by a young boy at the next table, having a full-on tantrum.

‘No,’ his mother said, beckoning a waiter over. ‘He can’t have pasta – it doesn’t agree with him. I think he’s allergic. Can we look at the menu again?’

The waiter dutifully shuffled off. He returned, only to be asked.‘Do you have chips?’ Shaking his head, he explained the restaurant served child-friendly dishes, but not chips. It was an Italian restaurant, after all.

‘Oh dear, he only eats chips.’ She replied, shaking her head as her child continued to scream.

And that was the problem. Her child had the entitlement of a trumped-up Lord, which begged the question – why did she bother taking him to an Italian restaurant? Yet, no matter how horrid her child, I actually blamed her, because she had brought her child up to expect every whim served up on a plate. To make matters worse, some parents try to excuse their child’s behaviour by claiming a food allergy is to blame. Most of these kids are no more allergic than I am a ballet dancer. The truth is that little Japonica or Tristan are so used to getting their own way that they don’t like being told ‘no’. And when they are, all hell is let loose. Meanwhile, it is parents and other poor diners who have to sit there through the throes of a God-almighty tantrum. Claiming your child has a food allergy, when he just clearly doesn’t fancy what he’s ordered, is insulting to children who do suffer from real-life allergies.

When I was a kid, I used to try and hide all my vegetables under my knife and fork. How my mother laughed when, at 16, I told her I was going to become a vegetarian. ‘I’ll give you two weeks,’ she chortled.

But 32 years later, I still don’t eat meat. Even though I’ve spent most of my life avoiding it, I don’t shove my beliefs down other peoples’ throats. In fact, I cook meat for my own children. The flipside of having vegetarian parents is our children are not fussy eaters. They’d eat almost anything we put in front of them, and that’s how it should be. When my son was younger, he’d invite friends home for tea. The majority were fine, but there were the odd few whose mothers would give me a long list of what they would and wouldn’t eat. But these children weren’t allergic, they were just downright fussy. Usually, by the time I’d cooked, I realised these same kids only thought dinner was ready when they heard a microwave ping. I decided if I ignored their protests they’d get on with it. 
A wise friend once told me – children will never starve themselves, and always forget what they don’t like when hungry. She was right. If you indulge a fussy eater, you are setting them up for a lifetime of problems.