Moving here from England meant new food, and it also meant losing school dinners. This was not a problem for my middle son, who is hyposensitive to taste and will eat almost anything. Actually, that's not strictly true. In recent months he has developed strong aversions to food that he considers he is eating too often, like lentils, when I was trying to use up the lentils before leaving England, and potatoes, this week when I have a huge sack of potatoes that will go off if we don't use them. If we suddenly had a glut of sweeties and chocolate, no doubt he would take a militant dislike to them too. But packed lunches are pretty manageable. The introduction of packed lunches, however, is a complete nightmare for my oldest, who has very pronounced and eccentric food preferences that change with the wind.
We've done a lot of work on this and now he will try most things, he will eat cooked food well as long as he understands what is in the recipe. But snacks are still difficult. We have near-daily conversations of this kind:
"Can I have some bread and jam? No margarine. Or butter."
"Sure. Here. No butter or margarine."
(intake of breath) "You CAN'T give me bread with that jam on it, you know I don't like it!"
"But you liked it yesterday. You wanted more."
"You know I hate it! You did it on purpose! It is HORRIBLE!"
"Er - "
He is also hypersensitive to smell and taste. This has caused chaos since moving from England. "I can't eat this! It has fish in it!" I look, bewildered, at the shepherd's pie. "No it doesn't. Eat up." There are tears, pleadings, tantrums. Both my husband and I lose our temper. Then, at the end of the meal, I check the bottle of Worcester sauce: and he is right, the New Zealand version has a slightly higher concentration of anchovies than in the UK. Sigh. Parenting FAIL. And there were the apples, the blasted apples. "I don't like these, they taste too appley. Like tomatoes." (He doesn't like tomatoes). "But they are apples." "But in England apples taste normal." Yes, son, we are now living in a country where food has not been processed to death, where the fruit still tastes of fruit. Get used to it. And yes, that is Basmati rice cooked in a proper rice cooker, it is the same rice you had in England it just tastes nicer now. No, I'm not making it in a saucepan especially for you. Get used to it, kid. "Can I have a carrot instead?"
This hypersensitivity meant that packed lunches in the UK were disastrous. "I don't WANT this lunch, the lunchbox smells funny. It had fish in it." Yes, his brother used it for tuna sandwiches last week. "You give me HORRIBLE cheese. I threw it away." "It's the same cheese as yesterday." "No, it tastes of ham." I look in the fridge. Yup, he's right, the cheese has been next to the ham. So I wilted somewhat at the idea that we were going to need to provide him with a school lunch. I looked at some websites for inspiration. "Healthy lunches your child won't refuse," they proclaimed. I looked at the list of ingredients - tuna, tomato - and clicked away sharpish. They look like the sort of articles I would have written in the days before I had children, when I genuinely believed that picky eaters only happened to parents who didn't bother to cook fresh food. (And I believed that all a child needed was firmness, that traditional parenting was the best, and that labels like ADHD etc were part of a medical conspiracy. Hey ho).
But two things have happened to give me hope. One is that the local shopping mall has a Sunday evening market which is basically an international food fair. My son is gradually getting quite proud of his hypersensitive palate, and we are seizing the opportunity to get him to try new foods. Last Sunday he went down to the market with me and had a Chinese sausage. It looked like a dog turd on a stick to me but he thought it was great. He will now eat almost anything if it has soy sauce on it. This has to be worth something. Can one make jam sandwiches with soy sauce?
The other great thing that has helped us is that we are now living in a place that sells cheap biltong (the South African dried meat snack about which I have raved before on this blog, no it is NOT like Beef Jerky, Beef Jerky is HORRIBLE, don't make me eat that stuff and pretend it is biltong, it is DISGUSTING, hmm I wonder where my eldest gets his food issues from). We have agreed that he will have biltong in his lunchbox every day. That way, whatever else he eats or doesn't eat, I know he will get a bit of protein and he will know there is something he really likes. "Except for the fat bits, Mummy. You can't give me the fat bits." All right, I give in, I'll cut off the fat bits. I have even managed, somehow, to stop myself from snacking on it, to save it for his lunches and keep it in the fridge and off my hips. Now let's just hope that biltong doesn't pick up other flavours in the fridge...