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"Mummy, What's for dinner?"

Food challenges with children

This article is for all the exasperated parents out there with food conflict every day….you are not alone!! Feeding time at the zoo is happening across the country at every breakfast, lunch and dinnertime! I would probably say one of the biggest causes of tensions and arguments in my house with 3 children (between 7 and 13 years old) is food.  What they eat for breakfast, or don’t eat and what they’ll eat for snack at school to what we’re having for dinner EVERY day! 

With my background in nutrition it is often a real challenge for me to be more laid back and allow my kids to eat in the way they do.  If you don’t have kids of this age then you’ll likely be saying its all my fault and they’ve learned bad eating habits because I’ve not been strict enough.  But believe me I thought the same before I had kids, but as kids get older and become teenagers you need to have a more flexible approach.  

It’s a thankless task cooking for children.  My children once ate every vegetable known to man, loved raisins, melon and all the things that they were given, but now want chips with every meal and even complain that they ‘don’t like those chips anymore!’  Also, having 3 children, you will NEVER please all 3 in one meal unless its pizza.   My 2 boys have nut allergies along with allergies to pulses and shellfish so a lot of the foods I like and that are healthy are off the cards.  I do tend to make us all the same most nights, one choice, like it or lump it.  

So let’s start in the morning…today I have 2 boys starting the day with a wholesome ‘readybrek’ and raisins and this is great.  Daughter makes her own rice crispies and white toast.  It’s not the best and she ends up throwing out the rice crispies as she now doesn’t like them anymore.  This happens usually within a week of loving something again.  It’s happened with yogurts, grapes, watermelon, cereal bars… it goes on.  I’m grateful however that she eats something.  Packed lunches are like a habit now.  White bread sandwich with ham (most days), crisps and a Nutella bar.  The days of putting in yogurts, fruits and chopped vegetables seem to be over.  They either come back or are binned.  I’d rather I knew the kids were getting calories in them and ate healthier when they get in from school.

Eating ham is a big bone on contention for me. I rarely eat processed meats and know these foods are a risk factor in cancer and cellular changes.  Often I sneak in a tuna  or cheese sandwich and hope it’s forgotten about by home-time!  Chicken is like a bad word in my house, unless of course it’s chicken nuggets.  When you’re not the only person or parent influencing your children’s eating habits there’s little all you can do when they are fed Macdonald’s on a regular basis.

My experience of school dinners in primary school are not healthy at all.  I think the best I’ve heard being eaten is chicken curry, the rest is all pizza and burgers and usually a cake…unless it’s ‘Fruity Tuesday’, then there is no cake or biscuit.  I do appreciate there are healthier choices but if a child is given the option of pizza or a baked potato what do you think they'll choose?

To balance this out, when my kids come home they are given fruit or chopped raw vegetables until dinner-time.   I don’t avoid the fresh fish or chicken on the menu in the evening, I have learned to prepare myself for the persistent moaning I’ll get till it’s all over.  Dinner-time can be a time of humourous and disgusting stories, sibling fallouts, slagging off and general catching up with the school day.   It’s so important to me that we all sit at the table and eat together, despite the argument over who sits next to me every single night.  I’m sure I'll miss these days one day! 

Onto dinner itself, and the tone is really set once my daughter arrives home from school, and the first thing she asks is “what’s for dinner?” Now, if she sees or smells something that she’s not happy with then the mood changes and is set for the next few hours.  It can be torture!  Then after dinner, which might’ve taken the best part of 30 minutes to eat, (before we've even cleared up), I start to get the requests for something else to eat.   Except what is really being asked is “can I have a treat or something nice?”  Then there’s the expectation of a supper before bedtime, and really I‘ve ran out of ideas of what to give that’s not toast or more cereal!  Although I did have a breakthrough moment where I could’ve danced a few nights ago…my daughter asked for a boiled egg and toast for her supper! I’m in shock, and she says, “you know Mummy... sometimes I just like to eat healthy!”

So despite my yearnings for my children to eat a super-healthy diet, I reflect back to my childhood, and try to put some things into perspective.  I seem to remember having nothing but a disgusting processed spread on my sandwiches, think it was a ‘Princes’ jar of tuna or chicken paste… smelled like dog food.  I’m sure I refused to eat anything else.  I didn’t even eat real tuna! We had treats of hot-dogs at the weekends, heated in the new microwaves that had just became the rage in the 80’s.  My sister and I were each allowed a big bottle of ‘alpine’ fizzy drink from the van that we were to make last the week.  We had a sweetie shop where we got 2 ounce of ‘rainbow dust’ (coloured sugar) every Friday.  And then my Mum liked some nights off cooking so invariably we had a chippy on a Friday night and a Chinese on a Saturday!!  (sorry Mum)

By the time I was in 2nd year of high school I remember having a daily diet filled with sugar and fat.  Morning break I had the biggest piece of iced ‘fly cemetry’ as it was called.  I remember a dinner lady saying “do you know how many calories are in a slice of that?” I replied “what’s a calorie?!” I didn’t care, it tasted good.  By lunchtime I went to the local bakers shop and had a sausage roll, cream cookie, a drifter bar and a can of coke.   No joke.   I didn’t think there was anything wrong with this.  My Mum did make lighter teas in the evening and they were pretty healthy but a fair number of treats too…as she had no idea how much I’d already eaten.  

So when I start to really see how my diet as a teenager wasn’t much better (or in many ways worse) I can relax a bit and see that all is not bad.  My kids are rarely ill and hardly been off school and so I believe they are getting enough nutrients for their health.  When I see how my priorities around food and nutrition have changed over the years it makes me feel positive that the kids will also explore more foods as they get older.  Keeping everything in balance and not denying the pleasures of ice-cream and crisps, as long as they get plenty good food too.  Trying to ensure eating times don’t become a battle is also important.  As parents we have to make compromises with our own ideas and keep just doing the best we can.  

If you need help with family eating plans or ideas on healthier snacks or a balanced diet contact julie@absolute-wellness.co.uk 

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