Like many of you, I'm a busy single parent doing his best to keep the kids ticking over whist working and studying at the same time during the relentless, energy consuming summer holidays. I'm no different to most in that when I'm trying to be in 15 places at once, 'spreading yourself thin' sometimes leads to things being done half heartedly in an effort to squeeze it all in and even completely missed because the squeezing didn't work and I ran out of hours in the day!
Over the last week or so at work, I've been promoting the new government campaign to provide free school meals to all children in reception, year one and year two across England in a move that could save a family £400 a year per child. Great for all concerned I'm sure; improved concentration, better quality of food, potentially reducing the rate of childhood obesity, but how are my children's diets? And is it something I have taken my eye off in the hysteria of the holidays otherwise known to my boys as 'freedom'?
It got me thinking about just how well my family are eating and whether it could be improved seeing as my children are going to soon be old enough to be making their own choices in the school canteen, maybe it's about time I started giving them some choice at home too?
I dread to think what Freddy would choose if he were in the school canteen wanting to rush his food down him as quick as he could because there was fun to be had in the playground. I think his instincts will tell him 'grab something that I can take with me... hmmm that burger will fit in my pocket!' So how can I promote healthy eating like the Department of Education at home without it being another transparent ploy to make the kids even more determined to moan about whatever I put in front of them?
Due to my recent studies at Cambridge as a life coach I have lots of new ideas for parenting in general so I wanted to adapt those new concepts; non judgement, choice empowerment and intuitive questioning to help in making food plans at home.
1. Decisions, decisions...
I sat the boys down for one of these increasingly frequent 'Brazier planning meetings' and it was clear that choosing was the easy part. I placed recipe books in front of them and was really surprised by how interested they were in making dishes they had never had before as well as some of the old favourites.
Whilst Bobby may pick something that offends Freddy's taste buds, that's fine because Freddy can have his own choice which we will all eat so no matter how many mouths there are to feed, everyone can feel 'consulted' in the planning.
Questions for the kids...
Is that going to keep us healthy?
Is that something we will ALL enjoy?
What would your muscles like you to eat?
What food will give us more energy to play?
What fruit would you like to have in your dessert?
2. Shop till you drop...
Here's the best part. I send the boys off in to the aisles to get things that I only first learnt existed in my 30's! Bobby comes back with the quinoa and Freddy successfully returns with the papaya for the tropical fruit salad. They are learning about the different fruits and vegetables and general health foods that are available to them and it broadens not just their knowledge but their preferences too.
Question for the kids...
Is there another version of that ingredient that is better for us?
3. Cooking up a treat...
One of Bobby's chosen meals was chicken shawarma (kebabs!) and part of the arrangement is if it's his choice then he has to help make it. There were lots of herbs and spices involved in the salad and the marinade, some, like coriander, had they been put in front of him ordinarily, would have resulted in a turned up nose but because he was in charge, it went unchallenged.
It was wonderful to see him skewer the marinated chicken and proudly yet carefully pop his creations in the oven to cook.
4. If they own it, they eat it!
We all sit at the table together and the person that chose and cooked from the recipe gets to bring the food to the table and tell us when we can get started. With the salad going in to the wholemeal pitta and the yoghurt being spooned over the chicken I believe he enjoyed this dinner more than any other I can remember and not a care for how perfectly healthy it all was!
There are so many benefits to including the children in the whole food process from planning to consumption to tidying away! When it comes to my children living alone, they may choose to eat pizza but I can at least rest assured that they know their way around a kitchen and how to feed themselves properly!
Reward? Not required. The responsibility and enjoyment of 'being in charge' was reward enough and the feeling that you have fed your parents and siblings is a very empowering experience for all!