Never has healthy eating been more at the fore of parents' attention than now. Admittedly when my first child was born in 2010 I was very conscious of giving him the right nutritional start in life and so I began to purchase books and read articles assiduously. Before this I'd never heard of flaxseed oil, keffir, quinoa, millet, chia seeds and goji berries - now they are a staple feature of my store cupboard.
Yes, I was one of those mothers freezing sweet potato puree, making fresh carrot soup, feeding my baby quinoa and chickpeas, making bread from spelt and buckwheat and eschewing sugar by using medjool dates. My son had an array of berries to choose from including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. Our food bill went through the roof. And then the powders came onto the market, Maca, Green Powder and Acai. Breakfast consisted of a complex concoction of berries, powder, seeds and nuts. These healthy eating practises continued with both my children and I breastfed them as long as they both wanted to, adopting the baby led weaning approach. 'Breast is best' right even when at one point I had a baby and toddler hanging from each breast, my husband was abroad, I was ferrying the two of them on my bike, and I was completely exhausted.
If we went out for a family meal and there was white rice on offer, I would scowl at my husband if he offered it to the children. When my eldest started going on play dates and children's parties and was first introduced to sweets (something he didn't have at home) I was conflicted. I didn't want to be a tyrannical mother, so there came a turning point, I told him that sugar was bad for you, but in moderation it was ok. I said green stuff is generally good to eat, including brightly coloured foods, but white food usually didn't have any nutritional value.
And so came a slow relaxing over their diet. My eldest son is very slim; he has the same metabolism as I did as a child. Although my mother made wonderful healthy Bengali home cooking consisting of fish, chicken, dhal and vegetables, it was always served with white rice. At school the dinners were stodge, but I survived. My mother, without realising it, instilled healthy eating habits from an early age. Growing up my siblings and I would fight over the salad and fruit rather than sweets, but we were allowed to eat whatever we wanted, nothing was excluded, and yet as a child I already knew what was good to eat and what was bad.
In our local Korean cafe where we enjoy delicious home made chocolate brownies as a treat.
I realised that I had to adopt the same approach with my own children, educate them, offer them choices, tell them what was healthy and what was not so good, but hopefully with the right guidance they would make the right decision in terms of sensible eating habits.
My eldest son eats everything, but he also likes to snack on carrots, guava and seaweed. After Bangla class his teacher might offer him a sweet and I don't prohibit it, because he's five-years-old and having a sweet is something children love. It's not going to kill him, all his teeth won't fall out. As for my youngest son, at crèche they serve white rice. Initially, I was not happy about this, but now the crèche insist he eats all the good stuff that goes with the rice, the chicken and the vegetables, too. I never serve it at home but this doesn't mean they will never eat it. My husband is certainly not as scrupulous as I am, but I have accepted this, because is it really worth fighting over?
Parents need to strike a balance between healthy eating and also letting their children evolve and learn to make their own choices, if we restrict what they can and cannot eat, they might secretly harbour resentment, feel envy when they see their class mates eating an ice cream and then rebel later on. I have made my own healthy ice cream and it tasted nice, but so does ice cream with sugar!
I am 42, the same weight since I was a teenager, I have never been on a diet, I have always eaten what I wanted and always had pudding. By nature I go for the healthy option but I like the bad stuff too - can you imagine life without a delicious cake and a cup of tea? I cannot. Currently, my children eat 80% healthily and 20%of their diet consists of other foods, treats etc. Everything in moderation has always been my motto. I don't believe in excluding certain food groups either unless the doctor says you have an allergy. It makes no sense, it's a hassle, just don't gorge on the bad stuff and you will be ok, you won't balloon or become obese unless you scoff a dozen cakes in a row for weeks. Eating well has always been simple in my eyes, which is why being so regimented with my children started to irk.
Not only that eating super healthily is very expensive, it's not possible for all parents to go completely organic and eat blackberries each morning and nor should they feel inadequate for not being able to. Growing up money was tight, my stepfather told me sometimes they didn't know if they had the money to feed us, but I was oblivious because no matter what was in the fridge my mother always produced the most delicious, healthy food out of the most basic ingredients and this is what I will take from her. It's possible to give your children a great diet without buying into all the fads and it's ok to be a bit naughty too, case in point a treat for all three of us is to have a chocolate brownie at our local Korean café, we don't do it often, but when we do we always have huge smiles on our faces.
Food is not about tyranny or control; it is about joy and revelling in taste and deliciousness.