Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Food wars

I read this news article today, and was surprised at how few children are actually fed responsibly in our country.

Here's a snippet for those of you (like me) who hate opening links unless you know for certain that it won't bore you to tears:
"Kiwi kids are not eating their greens, with high prices adding to the challenge for parents.

A survey of 2500 children and young people found fewer than a third were eating the recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake of five servings per day.

The National Survey of Children and Young People's Physical Activity and Dietary Behaviours found most children were eating enough fruit but their vege intake was poor, with fewer than 40 per cent eating three or more servings per day."

This comes hot on the heels of a TV show I watched the other night, where TV chef Jamie Oliver was trying to teach the US's unhealthiest city (town?), Huntington, how to cook and eat healthy meals. I watched astounded as we were introduced to families that used their deep fryer more often than their stove top (as in EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL) and had entire freezers filled with frozen pizza and processed TV meals. Entire kitchens that were devoid of a single fruit or vegetable. These people genuinely loved their kids, no-one would argue that, but they were essentially carving years off their lives and handing them poor health by the rubbish they were fueling them with.

I was possibly even more amazed at the horrendous lunches that the school children were fed as a part of their provided cafeteria lunch. Think fry. And more fry. But they had milk - the choice of several, sugar-laden flavours! As a parent, I couldn't bear it - my kids would be having home-packed lunches no matter how uncool it made them. A dorky lunchbox has to be cooler than obesity and diabetes, afterall!

I was feeling quite smug and superior for a moment or two, thinking about my children's carefully planned meals and nutritious snacks.

Then the above article began my descent back into reality. I remembered the dozens of children I have taught in low socio-economic areas that wouldn't have any lunch. Or breakfast. Or would have a packet of biscuits to last them 2 days. Or dried 2-Minute Noodles every single day that they'd eat raw, pouring the MSG-riddled flavour sachet directly down their throats. I didn't have kids at the time, so I'd just shake my head at these situations, and make them the odd Marmite sandwich when I could.

Now that I'm a parent, and packing lunches myself, I agonise over the contents, because I just can't feed them rubbish. Their behaviour worsens and in Caleb's case he has genuine allergic reactions to most processed foods. In fact it was the label-reading that I had to do when starting on his gluten and dairy-free journey that alerted me to how little nutrition there is in most prepackaged food and started my crusade as a certifiable food nazi.

Recent meal times though, have made this determination a tad difficult. Sophie is very particular about many things in life (some would say neurotic, but lets not be unkind) and food is becoming one of these things. All of the decent parenting books say not to enter into food battles, and I try not to, but it's so hard sometimes! Here are the emphatic particulars:
* Foods must not be touching on her plate. Makes the stirfries, salads and pasta dishes we enjoy difficult.
* All vegetables except carrots (must be in sticks) corn (off the cob) and broccoli (florets only, no stalks AT ALL) are firmly rejected until the threat of the dreaded egg timer. At this point, hysteria ensues, all food is shoved into mouth at once, resulting in tears, drama and / or vomiting.
* Cutlery is very important. No matter what the meal, a knife, fork and spoon must be present. And of a different set to the one at her place-setting. Much time must be spent trading and rectifying the situation, even if Certain Little Person set the table herself and chose offending cutlery.

I try and stick to small portions (a recent and astoundingly simple breakthrough) as it usually keeps things achievable and limits food waste, and all that is required is 2 decent mouthfuls of each thing on her plate. The alternative is bed, with no bath or story.

Lately, Soph has gladly taken the 'bed with no story' option over eating her meal, which frankly, is a heck of a lot nicer than what I imagine most other 3 year olds have slapped on their place in the evening. This immediately flicks my 'Ranting Mother' switch, and I seamlessly launch into a lecture about how many hours I spend in the kitchen per day, how nice her meal actually is, how many million children in less-fortunate corners of the world would gladly devour her cannelloni, how ungrateful she is, and other such useless nonsense that serves no purpose whatsoever, except to cement her resolve to let not single nibble pass her lips. She then slinks off to her room, puts on her PJs, and happily goes to sleep.

Her brother is a veritable garbage disposal, albeit an expensive one with his dietary restraints. He can comfortably devour an adult serving of rice porridge for breakfast, followed by several pieces of toast and a banana. Often an egg or two is thrown in the mix for good measure. He continues to wolf down anything that he is presented with for the rest of the day, except tomato, though he tries valiantly because it is food after all, so it has to be good, right?

Sophie may (or may not) eat 1 piece of toast for breakfast. An hour later she is demanding morning tea. As I am a stubborn mother, grazing is not allowed in my kitchen. We have set mealtimes and snack times, and if one meal is spurned, you will get nothing (except a well-rehearsed lecture) until the next. Sophie whinges her way to morning tea, eats her snack (usually a home-baked muffin, crackers and some fruit) and then claims malnourishment until lunchtime where she may, or may not, eat a ham and salad sandwich or wrap, or leftovers from the previous evening's meal. Afternoon tea is a repeat of morning tea, then dinner, which as I have mentioned previously, is usually spurned.

I don't like hiding veges in meals. It seems sneaky, and Sophie finds them anyway, lining up the grated imposters like unwelcome villains on the side of her plate. I'm sick of eating boring veges at every meal though. I like asparagus! And I'm sick mealtimes being ruined by nagging (me) and whining (Sophie) over food she doesn't like.

So I'm faced with a crossroads. Options are:
* Give up and feed her what she wants. IE; Marmite sandwiches, tomato sauce and McDonalds. Or plain pasta.
* Cook two different meals - one for the kids and one for the adults, who appreciate the fine fare I present and respect the time I spend preparing it (**yada-yada, etc, etc, see above lecture**)
* Shrug my shoulders, serve up the meal, send her to bed if she doesn't eat it, and trust that when she's hungry, she will eat. And if I only give her nutritious stuff, she will eat well.

Think I like the latter option. But geez, it's hard work! Planning nutritious meals isn't easy. It does require thinking about meals before you start making them, which can be hard after a day at work, with kids hanging about your skirts and requiring attention. Believe me, I knooooooooow! It requires planning at the supermarket, because the stuff you buy doesn't naturally, miraculously evolve into tasty, healthy nourishment for your family. It requires time to cook, because tasty food isn't usually fast (**dodges bullets from vegan vegetarian types who strongly disagree with this statement**). It does NOT have to cost a lot though. Sure the GST rise has impacted our grocery bill, but how about buying frozen veges, if the fresh ones are too pricey? How about exchanging the 2L of Coke for a packet of lentils that you can cook with your spag bol, reduce the meat cost and add a decent nutritional boost while you're at it? I could go on forever, because this is a hobby horse of mine.

Kids need to eat well. They deserve it and our health system can't afford to take the strain of the consequences if they don't. It is our job. Learn to cook. Teach your kids. Insist on health (with the odd treat because life's about living, right?) Even if our kids resist, they can't keep up the fight forever, surely **pleading look to the heavens**


  1. I need your advice - how can I get more veggies into lunch? At the moment the kids have veg with dinner and we use lentils too.

    But... Lachie hardly ever eats dinner, mainly because he eats 4 Weetbix and a banana for breakfast and a similar sized lunch LOL.

    I really want to make better lunches than a sammie and fruit! I'm making yoghurt but I want finger food that's healthy - help goddess of nutrition!

  2. Could you serve him dinner at lunch time? Leftovers or steamed boring veges? I remember Soph used to like frozen mixed veges as a wee thing, because she liked picking them up with her wee pincers.

  3. I gave Soph a sammie with lettuce, grated carrot, a tiny bit of grated cheese and 1/3 rasher of bacon, chopped into bacon bits. She ate it all! I was prepared for gagging and complaining and much table sitting till it was gone :P

    I think I will start giving Lach veggies at lunch time. I have kumara here I can make into kumara chips for him (baked) and I'm sure he'd like cooked carrot sticks.