Lisa Markwell: Turns out it's the shape of your food that matters

How do you get hooked on nuggets? There was a story in yesterday's newspapers about a 17-year-old girl whose relentless diet of chicken nuggets has resulted in major health problems. This result, of course, should not be "news" to anyone. Cheap meat cloaked in a greasy case as the basis for nutrition. It's blindingly obvious that it's a disaster.

But among the declarations of disgust from all quarters (including the girl's mother, astoundingly), I feel a twinge of sympathy. Not for the mother, but for Stacey Irvine herself.

She has appeared in the popular press posing with nuggets and detailing her unhealthy habit - there's even space for a mildly ghoulish picture of her surrounded by the free plastic toys she's overrun with. This is a girl who was advised by somebody to seek publicity, rather than medical help.

I know a little of children and their eating habits. The table can quickly become a battleground because when you're little, one of the very few aspects of your life you can control is what you allow in your mouth.

It might be that when Stacey first ate a McDonald's chicken nugget (at age two), she loved it and a harried parent noted "Oh good, something to use as a bribe". God knows, it happens. But as a very occasional treat, not a daily diet.

One of my children, who happens to be adopted, told me very soon after arrival that his favourite food was nuggets. After digesting (no pun intended) this dispiriting news, I decided to serve food in nugget form – falafels, potato tikkis, fishcakes, turkey meatballs, etc.

He didn't complain, because they were nuggets, of a sort. It turned out that it was the easily held, managable-to-a-child size that had appealed to him when it was all on offer, not the content.

By coincidence, on Wednesday night I met a man at a cookery course who talked about the four different meals his wife prepares every evening. This, he explained, was because their children all like different foods, at different times. It took me a while to stop reeling (and get my conflicting feelings about his wife's life under control).

Unless there's an allergy involved, it's madness for children to eat different dishes from their parents. We all know that sharing a meal, at a table, is an important family ritual. Now mine are teens, if they reject what's on offer, they can wait till the next meal arrives.

Stacey's mother may feel regret that she didn't persevere with varying her daughter's diet. But it's not too late for a little creative cookery.

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