Tuesday 8 November 2011

Food Choices, food treats

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

With material prosperity comes the ability to choose and refuse. When the threat of hunger or starvation has never cast its shadow at our tables, we have the luxury of developing discerning tastes. Our kids may love sushi, but hate curry; their mouths may water at the thought of a warm apple crumble but pucker at the thought of kale.

With a global food market at our doorstep, our tastes and 'needs' have become exotic and complex. I remember overhearing one of my children opening his lunchbox to check the contents before school.
'oh not mango again,' he sighed wearily.
Hugh and I exchanged horrified glances, what had we done wrong, that our child should have become so dismissive and bored about what to us was the ultimate luxury fruit treat. But then I didn't taste a mango until I was in my late teens. To me it seemed a luxury item to be savoured..well of course it's not, 2 for a pound in Tesco's doesn't encourage special treatment. You might even buy two and one will end up rotten in the compost bin.

Our children have the luxury of choice rather than the luxury of treats. Treats are every day now, the magic sparkle of their rarity dulled to everyday mundanity. I remember the excitement in my dad's voice when he described to me his first taste of banana after the second world war rationing ended when he was seven. The absolute thrill of the moment was as vivid as it had been all those years ago.
I love treats and I make sure that my children experience treats, but that does mean limiting their appearance to rare occasions, just to distil that exquisite pleasure of having something really special. I buy seasonally too, so the first taste of a summer raspberry just makes you sigh with pleasure and the memories of summers gone by, the first roast parsnip of autumn fills you with its mellow sweetness and promise of winter chills.

As for the luxury of choice, is it really a luxury or a burden? In our home, choice is pretty limited when it comes to food, as in, would you like nuts or apple on your porridge? Usually I just serve up. I believe that too much choice is confusing and burdensome for young children and puts them in an uncomfortable and uneasy position which they are not ready to take on.  We are the adults, and hopefully have adequate nutritional knowledge to provide well for our children's dietary needs, and the creativity to make the food appealing. We also need the confidence to just decide ourselves what's best.

I make one meal and expect everyone to eat it. If they don't want to that's fine, but there will not be an alternative and no snacking until the next meal. Because there is no choice everyone does tend to eat, altough I do admit to having some sneaky delicious kale and swede ideas up my sleeve for those mainstays of our winter veg box! See end of post!

My method can be tough to carry out but it's simple and it works, it really does! Our choices with food in the west today may be tantalising and exciting but they have also contribuited to the pickiest kids in the world's history! And yes I have had a fussy one. Lily went through a long vegetable shy stage, and I had to take many of deep breaths to get through it, oh! and implement the two bite rule....two bites even if you don't like it, and do you know, before long, she did like it...whatever it was!
I love things to be simple, and I find too much choice overwhelming too!

But really my kids love food because we spend so much time in the kitchen. From the time they could peel a garlic clove or tip flour around they have all been cooking. Stirring, chopping, kneading, beating, creating.  Leo stole some flour the other day when my back was turned and made a half decent, if rather solid raisin bread. Fred has spent vast amounts of the recent holiday cooking, (freeing me up to pack for our move!) rustling up a chicken and leek gluten free pie, and ratatouille stuffed pancakes, bread, and soup.Tansy is my steady reliable chopper and helper, always at my elbow with her little knife. It's so important for kids to see and be part of the process, what child is going to turn their noses up at something they have made themselves? Even if it does contains swede or kale!

Kale and swede solutions!
  • Pasties, a great way to involve the more challenging root vegeatables, chop small and vary the contents.
  • swede chips, yum, serve with homemade tomato sauce.
  • swede cakes, mash with butter and some potato and form into little cakes to fry.
  • Kale in sausage casserole, delicious and soft.
  • Kale and cream pasta sauce, boil tub of cream with 6 (less if nervous) cloves of garlic for five mins, then puree with bag of steamed kale. Lily's favourite pasta sauce.
  • Kale in anything really, chopped and added to lentil soups, vegeatable and grain mixes,
  • Kale chips, tear kale into pices and mix with scant olive oil, bake on a tray until crisp, they are delicious.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 8 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I agree - so many of us have such a wide variety of food experiences that our grandparents or those on different income levels did/cannot enjoy. I do appreciate the fact that I can give my children some control over their food options, though. As the adult, I choose what to buy and serve, and I do try to respect the fact that my child may not share my fervor for certain dishes. Of course the alternatives are limited ;)

  2. Yes of course, not all children relish certain foods, and I certainly never force anyone to eat anything! Limited choice seems like a good option!

  3. A wonderful post. I have a love - hate relationship with food which only a person from the developed world could sustain. After many years of confusion, I have come to the realisation that I have an oral fixation. I sucked my thumb until I was 24 at which point I took up smoking. I smoked until I started trying for a baby in 2008 and as a result of quitting gained 4 stone in weight (before I became pregnant). Food is more than just nourishment to me and while I want to pass on the enjoyment of food to the children I don't want to pass on the reliance on it for comfort.
    Life is sometimes not as straightforward as we think, don't you think?

  4. I agree totally... I was brought up with absolutely no fuss surrounding food in that we ate what was served for us... and we never even thought of complaining. I hope to bring my children up in the same light, appreciating food for what it is : nourishment. Thanks for sharing, a great read :)

  5. Thanks so much for your comments, Valerie and African Babies don't cry, yes, everything has got so complicated hasn't it? Surely food should sustain and nourish us and provide simple convivial pleasure, not be the source of 'issues' and power struggles and comfort eating. Thankyou so much for sharing

  6. I loved this: "Our children have the luxury of choice rather than the luxury of treats." And isn't it funny, I think of mango as a luxury fruit, too! I grew up with apples, bananas, oranges, melon, and berries - but we didn't eat many raspberries or blackberries after we moved away from the wild fruit bushes because they weren't as good. So I had mango for the first time in my early 20s and since then I have been addicted!

  7. I love your statement "I make sure that my children experience treats, but that does mean limiting their appearance to rare occasions, just to distil that exquisite pleasure of having something really special." Your kids are lucky to develop healthy tastes now and have the opportunity to truly enjoy treats when they get them! Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

  8. Thankyou Megan and Deb, for your comments, funny about the mango thing! So much exotic food has now become commonplace it doesn't quite have the same sparkle. Also the whole mass production, air freighted issue is another huge one for me, but that's one for another post !

  9. Since we are in the Caribbean, my children have grown up with mango's since they were born but an apple is exotic! I'm in slightly the other end of the spectrum in that I don't feel we have enough choice and variety in our foods as any alternative foods here are very limited. That does make us more creative and we eat probably 90% locally and seasonally. It also means like you -it's one meal or nothing much else! I'm looking forward to a time when we can travel and have more access to different foods so that my children's tastebuds (and mine) are tantalized (all healthy options mind you!) Like you my children are enjoying being in the kitchen and learning so much from the experience!

  10. I couldn't read this without remembering this story about a child (his mother) receiving an orange for Chirstmas in 1920 from James Hollis' excellent book "Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding our Darker Selves." :

    "My mother once told me that the most precious Christmas gift she ever received came to her around 1920, when she received an orange, and only an orange, for Christmas, a gift from her mother, who took in washing and sewing for them to survive. This was before refrigerated trucks and trains, so for an orange to even survive the trip north was a small miracle. It was the first orange she had ever seen, and she knew that her magical gift came through great sacrifice by her mother. I think of this every year when I watch ordinary people pummeling each other to get into Wal-mart or Costco at 6:00 a.m. On Black Friday, the onset of the celebration of the purported Prince of Peace, the onset of a materialist frenzy that mocks his life and teaching."

    By the way, you seem to have the least picky, least bizarrely food obssessed children of anyone I know. Usually when we have meals with our friend's kids it's a nightmare, partly because they don't sit down to meals together at home as a family (that's a dying custom here in Canada) and partly because they are used to choosing what they eat, not their parents. If we are visiting our friends homes, while the adults eat a good nutritious meal that has been carefully prepared, the kids nuke a box of macaroni and cheese and eat it in front of the TV.

  11. Hi Terry, yes limited options do make us creative don't they...90 seasonal and local, I'm really impressed, blessings from Devon to the Carribean!
    Thanks Laurel for that lovely sharing, you've exactly got what I'm saying, as usual! It also reminds me of Laura and Mary's Christmases in the Little House on the Prairie books, an orange a tincup and a candy stick, and so savoured and treasured. Have you read them? My kids really love them!

  12. I was thinking of Little House, too, and their excitement over an orange for Christmas. It is funny how our wonder at the long journeys citrus fruit must take for us has been dulled.

    We're considering limiting snacks and choices around here, so it's interesting to read your views!

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