The term fussy eater could have been invented for my daughter Lucy. At five weeks she refused her first ever bottle of formula milk and she has been turning down food ever since.
At one stage, when she was three, there were only four foods that would pass her lips - Shreddies, sausages, pizza and toast. In fact, Lucy was a painfully thin toddler and meal times were frustrating for both of us. I would cook her everything I could think of - presenting it with a flourish and garnishes worthy of Heston Blumenthal. She would look at it disdainfully before sending it over the edge of the high chair into oblivion.
Her first school dinner was equally disastrous. I asked her what she was given. She replied it was pasta with a kind of "disgusting"white sauce. "Oh, what did it taste like?" I asked.
"I didn't actually taste it," she answered witheringly.
And so things continued until, one night about 18 months ago when she was six, Lucy came downstairs complaining she was unable to sleep. She asked what I was watching . It was Masterchef (TV food programmes are my passion). "Wow," she said as one of the contestants produced a cheese soufflé. "That looks tasty."
“Habaneros are crinkly; it’s probably a Jalapeno
We sat down to watch the programme, with Lucy making appreciative noises at each dish. I am not naïve enough to think that this was anything other than a ploy to stay up well after her bedtime. But it worked. She took an interest in food programmes and I let her stay up when she should have been counting sheep (or perhaps portions of roast lamb).
At some point soon afterwards, Lucy asked if she could taste something off my plate. "But it's a vegetable, Lucy," I replied dumbfounded. "Yes, but it looks kind of interesting," she said. So I gave her a slice of beetroot. And she ate it.
Now we sit down to watch-the likes of The Hairy Bikers, Rick Stein, and Nigella. Lucy asks me how bread rises, how you pickle cucumbers and why Jamie Oliver leaves out the "t" in butter, and I let her stay up when we both know she should be asleep.
I wouldn't say she's not fussy anymore but now it's a different kind of fussy. Now she won't eat asparagus unless it has butter and plenty of seasoning on it, she only eats pizza if it is cooked in a wood-fired and her roast chicken has to have a suitably crispy skin.
And she has developed an unexpected expertise. There was an illustration of a chilli pepper in a book she was reading. I remarked that perhaps it was a Habanero (which as you probably know is the world's spiciest chilli). "No", said Lucy, with a look she used to reserve for my spaghetti bolognaise. "Habaneros are crinkly, that one is smooth. It's probably a Jalapeno."
I mention all this because this week we watched the last episode of Jamie's American Food Revolution, in which the celebrity chef has been trying to instill a love of healthy food in a US community with an addiction to the deep fat fryer. As the credits rolled, and I ordered Lucy up to bed, she played for time by asking if she could have a snack first. "I'm hungry for cucumber," she said, cunningly.
Needless to say, we ate salad together long into the night.