Getting children to eat well seems to be a struggle these days. In the vegetable department, at least, I’ve been lucky.
Having been raised on an allotment, my daughter will pretty much eat anything ‘vegetable’. As a toddler, she’d follow me round the beds, helping herself to peas from the pods and fruit from the bushes. I remember one day she pulled off a savoy cabbage leaf and happily sat there munching on it. I tried my best to not pull a ‘eww’ face. ‘Mon Petit Pigeon’ still really likes cabbage, and I’m very grateful for the chance to have had the space to grow our own when she was young enough for it to seem a completely normal and natural thing to eat. Even raw. Especially raw. She surpassed me on that one.
Then my daughter started school. I remember her coming home one day and telling me she didn’t like vegetables and not to give her any. “Oh?” I said, as I laid the table with a big bowl of mixed vegetables, realising Reception might not be so good when you’re 4 and very receptive… “so you don’t want any carrots or peas?” I asked. ‘I want carrots and peas, please’. Ok… ‘What about some beans?’ ‘Oh yes’ she said, ‘I like beans’. The penny dropped… ‘And do you still like cabbage?’ ‘Yes, yes, mummy, just don’t give me any vegetables!’ After that, I never asked her if she’d like vegetables with her meal and always called them by their individual names. It seemed to get her through that vegetable-hating peer-pressure patch.
Now she’s turned 13 there are other food hurdles. The social and media pressure that young girls (and now boys too) are under to be thin and ‘beautiful’ is horrifying. I haven’t ever ‘been on a diet’ [actually, I have! Please see the addendum] and hope my daughter continues to make good food choices because she likes those foods. At the same time I know if she doesn’t have a proper meal (an alarm bell rings when she says ‘do I have big thighs, mum?’) she ends up craving sugar and is off to the village shop buying sweets… and I have to bite my lip to stop myself mentioning obesity and diabetes.
I do my best to educate about the evils of sugar (glass of wine in hand), and that fat is actually, in moderation, vital for health (organs, skin, brain function, carrying vitamins). That pre-prepared/low-fat/zero fat products are most often not, actually, good for you, most often due to high levels of sugar. But it’s hard to educate on food without it being a lecture. Or being a hypocrite. Of course, we all like the creations that come from sugar. Jam, ice cream and the occasional cake bake, ensure sugar is still in my larder.
So I think that ultimately, like all competitions/self-help issues in life, the best thing is not to focus on the enemy/the problem but to concentrate on the good things – in our lives, in ourselves – and build on multiplying those. It’s what Olympians do. It’s what healthy, happy divorcees do. I’d like my daughter to grow up with that mind set.
A respect for where the ingredients come from is just as important, if not more so. I noticed that my daughter’s anti-egg phase ended after taking on the responsibility of feeding and locking up the neighbour’s chickens every evening for two weeks, while they were on holiday. The Bantams were broody and when one did eventually lay an egg my daughter rushed in, carrying it with pride. ‘That chicken tried to peck me when I took her egg!’ she declared. Respect for that chicken. Respect for her egg.
Last weekend I had some smoked mackerel that needed eating. It can be a bit much on its own, even for me. “Ugh, I don’t want fish!” My daughter mutter as she looked over my shoulder at the unappealing slabs. (We don’t live near the sea, I don’t think she’s ever seen a fish being caught or understands what it takes to land that fish. I must do something about that.) “Oily fish is good for…” I started, but she’d already disappeared upstairs.
With my purple potatoes and the first of my purple spring onions, I decided to make fish cakes. And then there were The Courgettes. With a courgette glut in full swing, how to make those different from last night’s, and the night before’s? I decided to cut them differently and they turned out looking like chips.
So we ended up with purple fish cakes, served with the homemade tatziki, and pretty tasty they were too. My daughter thought they looked more like burgers. As she ate them merrily, I name this dish “Purple Burger & Green Chips”.
Dr Seuss would have approved.
I noticed there is a Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook, on Amazon for £14.99
[addendum: my mum has reminded me that I HAVE ‘been on a diet’. When I was 16 (not that much older than my daughter) I went through a series of desparate diets. There was the Grapefruit Diet, the Pineapple Diet and the Hard Boiled Egg Diet. None lasted more than a week. There was also neon leggings, an oversized Mickey Mouse T-shirt (knotted to one side) and the Jane Fonda workout. All of these made no difference to my puppy fat, which eventually dropped off the moment I started work and became far too busy to worry about it. I’ve been far too busy ever since].
Do you have any stories about getting kids to eat vegetables? Do you find it easier when you grow your own?