I have been on both sides of the fence, and am glad that my husband and I agree that the hardline works best.
I make a meal, and my kids know if they don't eat it they don't get anything else, period. If they do eat it, they will be able to have a snack or dessert later. It took some battles, let me tell you, but I am very glad we went this route. There are certain things that my kids don't like, and they must at least have a small bite of it to complete their dinner.
On the other side is a friend of mine who is a phenomenal cook, but who allows her children to eat whatever they want. She makes an amazing meal while they snack on junk food, and then she makes them kid friendly food like macaroni, chicken nuggets, or cereal. They eat a few bites, if that, then get back into the snacks.
The difference is astonishing. Her kids will not TRY ANYTHING new on their own. Her two older children have weight issues which they are aware of and rather embarrassed about. In fact, to entice her kids to eat, my son will go over to their house for dinner, and rave about the meal she makes which ocassionally will convince one of her kids to try the item - which they always end up liking.
Another friend did the same thing...only provided things her daughter "would eat" and convinced herself that her 2 year old had sensory issues because she only wanted to eat goldfish crackers and Chicken McNuggets. I tried explaining that every two year old would live on that if you let them. It isn't hard for a kid to figure out...throw a fit a couple times, get what you want, and repeat.
Currently, her daughter is 7, and when they visit we have to spend and extra 45 mintues driving around finding a place that her daughter is willing to eat at. Then, we have to make sure the Nuggets are McDonalds, because she doesn't like any other type. We go to two different restaurants when they visit, and as soon as they leave the restaurant, she busts out the snacks to reward her.
She says her daughter ONLY eats crispy items, and nothing mushy because of the texture, but then when my friend leaves, her daughter will eat yogurt with my kids,and all these other items my friend swears her daughter cannot eat because of her "condition." It would be funny if it weren't so sad. The daughter has the parents so trained, that three meals a day, she had four cars of families running around to alternative restaraunts to feed her while we were in Wisconsin Dells for 3 days. It was absolutely ridiculous.
My solution ~ I manuevered it well when my oldest was almost 2 and hated vegetables and fruits. We would regularly take him to Camp Snoopy (the amusement park). While he was always fighting me on eating fruits and vegetables, I took him and put him in very thin flat flip flops...whereby he was too short to ride on many of the rides. I explained that eating fruits and veggies would help with this. I would remind him of Camp Snoopy at meal times, and how to ride the cool rides, he needed to eat more fruits and veggies. He chowed down, and a few weeks later we brought him back, and I put him in some taller loafers. He could ride many more rides due to the height difference. We would go off and on, and depending on how many battles we had and how he had been eating, I would alternate shoes to show him how eating a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables would help him grow big. Lots of veggies and fruits, and I would dress him in tall shoes or boots to go, and vice versa. Because he could actually merit from good eating, he started asking for fruits and vegetables, and the rest is history. My mom thought it was pretty devious (to say the least), but I must say it did the trick. He could see the reward of healthy eating.
My pediatrician and I discussed this many times, and he explained that kids that age will not starve themselves...it is a biological need. Eventually they will eat what you put out, but you have to make sure you are willing to meet their resistance and not break down. It is very easy to make alterantive meals and cater to your kids, but what are you really teaching them?