I recently shared a picture on Facebook of my 9 month old gorgeous, squidgy baby, showing him covered in head to toe glory with a swampy green spiralina smoothie. Said son is now six and currently refuses to eat all vegetables except cucumber (we’ve been on cucumber as the only choice for about a year now). This memory popping up got me thinking about food: about our choices versus those of our children; about our obligation to understand our own relationship with food when attempting to lead our children into a lifetime of healthy habits; about food as the great leveller amongst parents; and about how to be choosy about vegetables and food in general (for grown-ups and children alike) - is a huge privilege in itself.
Speaking of choices, I recently met a gorgeous, vibrant soul who was quite ok with the fact that the extent of her culinary interest was to eat boiled eggs, some salad and bread for dinner most nights (a relatively cheap, balanced meal that requires little cooking time and investment). This lovely lady is affluent, white, a pediatric specialist and comes from a well balanced, loving family. Apparently she grew up on ready meals eaten around a family table. Her upbringing nurtured her own apathy towards food and cooking. She simply doesn’t care what she eats, though as an adult, makes healthful choices with the minimum effort required.
What a mind blowing concept. Apart from negating all my subconscious assumptions about ready meals, demographics, TV dinners, health and learned behaviours, my husband and I were almost envious about what this approach to food would do to your life. Imagine not spending hours in a day cooking, cleaning, shopping etc for a specific meal! Imagine if life really were so much simpler! Imagine not caring that much about what you eat and fueling up as and when needed!
I can’t deny it. I am obsessed with food. It feels like I spend most waking moments thinking about food. I work with food, my hobbies are food related, I talk to my friends about food, my indulgences are food related, it is my creative outlet, I read about food, I watch about food (movies / TV). As a parent, these issues start to take on a whole new significance as our food behaviours / choices (subconscious or otherwise) necessarily impact those of our children. It makes sense therefore that we should be mindful of our own food relationship before we begin to manage our childrens’ food lives.
Here is my self-reflection and how it impacts my children. I consider myself a ‘health foodie’. I am a yogi (a dedicated 6 days a week practitioner and former teacher). My (yogic) philosophy of life directly impacts my food choices - what I will and won’t eat, for what reasons and when I choose to eat (I don’t like eating late as I get up early to practice). As a parent, however, I don’t feel able to raise my children according to the same principles. I will gently inform them of the reasons I don’t eat meat or drink milk but I can’t expect them to do the same. Parents are always ‘abnormal’ to their children - to expect them to eat in a way that is different to most of their friends would make them ‘abnormal’ too. Their food choices have to be their own, that they come to through their own reasoning, in their own time. I can offer them an Ottolenghi salad-fest that will be good for their energetic equilibrium but I anticipate they’ll be furious with me for expecting them to eat it and not offering them something more suited to their palates and tastes. When they were young enough to know no better, my spirulina boys could be just that. But as their own will and decision making came into play, I have felt no choice but to respect their choices - which definitely are not to follow in my ‘health food’ footsteps. In fact quite the opposite. With my childrens’ growing years, so the number of vegetables they have been willing to eat has dwindled, with my youngest down to the meagre cucumber and even squeezing this in on a daily basis requires the attention and patience of a grade A sleuth. Quite frankly, I don’t always have the energy. Nor do I think a heavy hand will help. Sometimes, my heart feels heavy with this reality as I guilt-trip myself up for the paltry number of greens that pass my six year old’s lips. I feel my children have needed me to recognize their own rights to choose foods they want and like to eat (whilst keeping it within the parameters of ‘balanced’).
As I place their cucumber slices on their plates next to their fish fingers (or pasta and pesto, you know the drill) I comfort myself with how happy they are to be offered them and that it isn’t that bad really. From the comfort of these comfortable meals, the boys freak out less when their meal option is Dal and Rice / Lentil Pie / Cauliflower Curry or some such adventurous meal. Over time, I hope the boys will remember that in our family, we are allowed to be individual even in our food needs and choices (within reason); that we have a right to state our own individual approach to eating; and that every single day, in addition to the beige food on the table, there was always a rainbow of vegetables.
Whether you yourself are a health foodie, an aspiring health foodie, a self-confessed junk foodie or generally just feel completely lost with your food choices, don’t beat yourself up over it. We do our best with our children just as we do our best with ourselves. It starts with that moment of self-reflection, those questions. How much do your food choices mean to you and how much room in your life do they take up, emotionally, financially, physically? Is food just a fuel for you or does it have a deeper significance? What food habits do you have that you like? Don’t like? What new food choices would you like to make to replace old habits that don’t serve you? I don’t need to know - I mean, I’d love to know, tell me! but do you know?
Ok well since you have been so diligent and read all the way to the end of this blog, the least I can do is supply you with a recipe, so here we go. This is a recipe for a basic tomato sauce that forms the basis of our only weekly batch cook. What I love about this sauce is that you can take it in so many directions once you have it made up, for grown-ups or kids alike. I use this sauce for everything, including: pizzas; pasta (as it is or throw some veggie ‘meatballs’ on top / with quorn sausages and mixed beans chopped into it / with veggie mince turning it into a bolognaise / lasagne); melanzane parmigiana; as a base for any kind of tomato soup you like (Mexican Bean), Tomato and Basil), as a base for a bean stew with added veggies, beans etc … it can go in so many directions. My life feels calmer when I know I have a batch of this in the fridge / freezer. I used to have a shop-bought jar or two on standby for nights when I would be caught short but actually my kids stopped eating the jar stuff when they got used to this one. I hope you enjoy it!
2 tins of tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
Fresh or dried basil
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
optional ... 1 tbsp finely chopped sundried tomato
Dice the onion finely and chop / slice / crush the garlic (however you prefer).
Fry lightly in a bit of olive oil until softened. Take as much time as you have with this, up to 10 minutes nice and gently is great.Add the tomatoes, dried herbs, if using, and tomato puree. Leave to intensify and thicken for as long as you have. I like at least an hour but definitely will do just 20 minutes if things are more urgent. Add the ripped basil (if using) at the end (about 4 tbsp). Season as per your preference.
To turn into a soup, add 250ml vegetable stock, blend and then add more stock according to how thick you like your soup. You can add seasonings according to the flavour profile that is calling you. Recently I have loved adding some smoked paprika, cayenne and some kidney beans if I have any.
Hi, I’m Becky and I run Kiddy Cook SE London. Find me on Instagram and Facebook … @kiddycookselondon Or you can follow my personal food journey @the_wild_rose_kitchen. You can see me here with one of my favorite creations - an array of Bliss Balls in all the flavours of the imagination.