I remember as a kid my mom would just put the food she cooked for dinner and if we ate it great but if we decided we didn't like it we didn't but would get nothing else. My brother and I learned very early that being hungry was no fun. We also learned that we could go a LONG time without food.
All that being said, I wonder if maybe you are trying too hard to feed your kids to their pallets. My doctor mentioned to me that the difference between kids and adults is they just eat for fuel as we enjoy and eat, eat, eat! In short, we tend to think they need more and they just don't. So don't sweat it, you are right they won't starve themselves.
I also, think that one of the greatest talents our kids have is to see when they are getting to us. In other words, you react to them not eating and being picky so they keep it up. Somehow it is entertaining to them to see you get worked up and then they follow suit. So here is what I would do if I were you (and have, as all three of my kids try to be picky and irritating this way too):
- cook dinner and put it out for them (17 months can have what you are having, just cut small chunks or shred the meat and cook the veggies a bit longer so they can chew it). Do not offer to help them eat. They will throw it around, they will spit it out, they will make a mess but they have a chance to make some of their own decisions about food. They also like to have the chance to explore the food on their own and try to be like you with the utensils. It is rather exciting for them. Let it be.
- DO NOT make separate food for each kid because they are picky. You can choose meal plans that may suit things they like, but you cannot alter good healthful eating habits because they won't eat it. I can assure you the less of a deal you make all this, the less of a deal they will make of it.
- They may not eat for a couple of meals, or eat very minimally, but stick to your guns. They will finally start eating when they see you are no longer catering to their every food emotion and when they get hungry. I have heard it takes 5 to 7 days to break bad habits like this if you really stick to it.
Also remember this, if there is anything my kids teach me continually is that they will work me whenever the opportunity allows. In other words, if I freak or try to force something they will revolt - 10-fold!
You may see that they don't eat much or are erratic (part of this is just kids) but you need to teach them that meals are a beautiful part of the day. A time to be enjoyed as a family and that starts with you. No need to try to force them to eat, they will figure it out.
Good luck to you.
P.S. Obviously, if they won't eat a bite for days and start to act and look like they are starving, by all means take them to the doc, something else might be going on. = )