STYLE

Are We Too Uptight About What We Feed Our Kids?

26/04/2011 10:39 | Updated 22 May 2015

When my daughter turned five, I asked her what she'd like to eat at her birthday party. She requested sausages, sausage rolls, pizza, biscuits, crisps and cake.

Predictably unhealthy, but it was her birthday, so we were happy to oblige – with a few bowls of strawberries and grapes thrown in for good measure.

As we carried out plate after plate of party food to a table of 20 children we all agreed that there was no way they'd ever manage to eat it all.

Forty-five minutes later, half the children were still sitting at the table, happily munching their way through piles of party rings. When we asked if they wanted to come and play they said no. There was no way they were going to pass up the opportunity to eat so much forbidden food. They scoffed the lot.

These days, houmous and crudites are always on the menu at children's parties, in the same way that jelly and ice cream was always served up when I was a kid. Parents always dump some on their children's plates, and that's where they stay.

Add a packet of crisps or a chocolate biscuit to your child's packed lunch and their teacher is likely to ask for a quiet word as many schools have put a blanket ban on unhealthy snacks.

And you'll notice raised eyebrows and disapproving looks if you let your child snack on crisps or chocolate buttons instead of offering apples, carrot sticks or bananas.

While I applaud the work that Jamie Oliver has done to improve the quality of school meals and raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating, I can't help but feel that, among middle class parents at least, the pendulum has swung so far the other way that we're on the verge of creating a generation of disordered eaters.

Surely the key to healthy eating is to avoid thinking of foods as "good" or "bad" – and banning our kids from eating chocolate, ice cream, burgers and pizza means that once they get a taste they'll find it hard to stop.

My daughter has always liked fruit and vegetables, but she's also quite partial to pizza, chocolate buttons and salt and vinegar crisps. We've been careful to avoid using food as a reward, but we've never felt it necessary to teach her that some foods are totally out of bounds.

I'm all for establishing healthy eating habits, but even Jamie Oliver admits that he enjoys a bar of chocolate from time to time – and he's recently spoken out in support of McDonalds.

I don't think it's a coincidence that when we asked my daughter if she wanted to eat a chocolate egg on Easter Sunday she said no, she'd rather have an apple. Whenever she has an ice cream she gets bored half way through, and she rarely finishes a packet of crisps.

So I think it's about time that we stopped making each other feel bad about what we feed our children.

Food should be a pleasure, not a chore, and there's more to being a good parent than serving up five a day.

So try not to judge the parents who take their kids for a Happy Meal at the weekend or buy a tube of Smarties on the way home from school. They just might be teaching their children more about healthy eating than the ones who only hand out rice cakes and raisins.

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