Remembering and telling how our own family food cultures nourished (or not) and nurtured (or not) our childhoods can allow us to become present to our current journey with food in our families, and inspire us to create a nourishing food culture. There are also other food stories, which have a less positive effect, but an equally strong impact. These are the ones that we do not necessarily know we are telling.
In running ‘Family Food’ workshops, I hear many stories from parents about their children’s relationship to food. The most popular ones are: ‘Adam will not eat his vegetables’, or ‘Zainab is such a fussy eater’. There are many others, and they can become family folklore. They usually start with ‘she won’t’ or ‘he won’t’, or sometimes ‘I won’t’. Some of you reading this may be thinking, ‘it is not a story, Adam will actually not eat his vegetables’ and this may really be the case. But what we sometimes forget is that this is only the case so far!
How many times has the worry (and sometimes sheer desperation) about our children’s eating habits found us sharing our concerns with anyone that will listen? This is great on many levels, as we all need to share our concerns, know we are not the only ones and have support on our journey. However, problems can arise or be exacerbated when our children are also listening to these stories. For example, if Adam knows himself as someone who does not eat his vegetables because he has heard time and time again that he does not, he may soon live up to these expectations. Why wouldn’t he? He is getting a lot of attention and maybe special treats when he does eat them. We know that children model behaviour and are open sponges to words.
Changing the way that we look at the issue may bring surprises for us and our children. If you do feel you want to say something, perhaps try ‘Adam does not eat his vegetables yet’, which is a very different thing. It gives everyone the space to welcome a change. Adam does not feel that he has nowhere to go, and one day spinach may become his favourite food. Zainab may come to realise that she can try a few more things. You will be given the freedom to keep preparing the foods the rest of the family enjoy, and Adam and Zainab may or may not come to like them.
We can empower our children in their food choices, so that when we place a meal in front of them they have the freedom to leave certain foods, and we do not need to make a fuss about it. We can get so drawn into what our children are or are not eating that we miss out on sharing with them the joy of mealtimes and just being together.
Some children may be undernourished and should be taken to a health practitioner; I do not mean these children. But most young children have five meals a day, so if they do not eat their vegetables at dinner they will not starve; my children occasionally leave some or all of their dinner, and neither of them have ever woken up in the middle of the night hungry.
As for modelling behaviour, keep eating what you like to eat without any ‘teaching’. Try for yourself foods that as a child you told yourself you did not like (I am experimenting with mushrooms), and always keep the wonderful possibilities of food open for yourself and your children.
Honest Avocado Recipe!
As I am not a fan of hiding food in children’s meals, this recipe is as honest as can be. I have not yet found a child that does not devour it. I think part of the reason is that it is a recipe that they can really be involved in.
- 1 ripe avocado.
- 40g fetta cheese—you can also use cream cheese.
- 1 handful of ‘green things’. This should definitely include some finely chopped herbs—mint, basil, parsley, rosemary, dill, thyme, coriander—whatever takes your fancy, and also either spinach, Swiss chard or silver beet, finely chopped.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Scoop out the avocado, and crumble the feta cheese on top. Add the ‘green stuff’ and olive oil, and mash.
That is it! Serve with a mixture of fruits and vegetables: carrot, kiwi, celery and pear are our favourites.
1-2 years, crumbling fetta and scooping out avocadoes.
3-5 years, picking herbs and leafy greens, and washing and mashing.
6-11 years, make it themselves.
Published in Kindred, Issue 27