My childhood home had too much food. My Ma is addicted to food. She uses food to celebrate and she uses food to commiserate. Food, food, food. At 48, I still feel jumpy if there is no food in the house. I am suspicious of women who can't cook. I don't believe that people can be genuinely happy without proper home cooked food. Yeah, inherited prejudices. And oh, my kids can push my buttons so easily when it comes to food.
Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with food and we unconsciously pass that on to our children. To compound our inherited problem, small children are pretty smart creatures who learn from a very young age that they can use as a blackmail tool. Does 'if you eat another mouthful, you'll get ice cream' sound familiar to you? I was guilt of saying this once to my eight year old son Kit, "If you don't behave, you won't get another cup of Ribena until you're 20 years old."
This is what I have learned from my 30 years of bringing up five children:
START THEM EARLY
I am a great believer that children should eat the same food as adults, with some modifications, of course, viz-a-viz salt and spices. Eating is a natural part of family life, and I love this old adage, a family that eats together stay together.
EAT AS A FAMILY
Eating should be a celebration, not a battlefield. Even if you are eating simple takeaways (seen here), make it a lovely experience.
MAKE FOOD INTERESTING
Involve children in the food preparation process. Make it child-play. Even boring food can appear interesting if (1) they enjoyed making it and (2) it looks funky.
TEACH THEM ABOUT FOOD
There is so much to learn and it is all very fascinating. Even for parents. And learning about food is wonderful thing to do because you learn about staying healthy and taking responsibility for wellbeing. I think the best way is to actually grow something, even if you don't have a garden. Container gardening works very well for growing herbs.
ALLOW THEM TO EXPERIMENT
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it gives children the opportunity of finding their own way to loving food. My daughter makes the most disgusting concoctions which she tries to get us to drink, expounding on the health benefits of her lethal sludges.
You could try new foods together, explore together. It is about you, too, after all.
It's about respect. If I respect your wish not to eat mushroom, you have to respect mine and eat carrots. I suggest having a "NO NO LIST" - allow your teenager to list six things that they have amnesty from. In return, they have to respect you back and eat what you painstakingly cook for them. It is a two way thing.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com