When I talk to people who don’t know how to cook a meal or don’t enjoy cooking, in many cases, it is linked back to their experiences as children. I distinctly remember, having a conversation with an old friend about this. He hated cooking, because he said that his mother disliked cooking and he was fed very basic, microwavable packaged foods, and now as an adult, he had no idea how to cook and didn’t enjoy it.
Recently I found out something about my husband of 17 years this week. We were talking about school lunches and how old the kids should be before they start making their own lunches. He said that his mum made his lunches up until he was 16 / 17 years old. I was like, “Are you serious! Well, that explains a lot”.
You see, (and bless his lovely heart) this explains why he never makes his own lunch for work and relies on someone else (ie: me) to make it for him.
So, this got me thinking more about parenting and how we influence, shape and empower our kids about eating healthy food, so that when they are adults they can be independent healthy cooks and understand how food is fundamental for their well being.
I do have a strong conviction that teaching children about quality, flavoursome and healthy organic food, produced in a way that does not harm the environment, produces significant change in our world. However, there is a balance that needs to be found. My strong opinions about food and what I allow in my home can also send a mixed message to my children, if I am not careful. For example, I used to be the extreme mum at kid’s parties hovering over my child ready to grab colourful, evil food out of his hand. Looking back, I realise that I was sending an unhealthy message to my child, even if I thought my intentions were good. I wasn’t allowing freedom in a ‘once in a while’ special occasion and allowing my fear to get in the way.
Over the years, and as my kids have got older, I have relaxed a little bit, as I am more conscious of having open conversations about food, empowering choice, rather than restrict, ban and condemn. Obviously, babies and toddlers are different and you still need to ‘stick to your guns’ about what food they eat, and enjoy the control while you can. I still have a pre-schooler I am trying to rule with an iron fist with the food he eats, but that grip is relaxing.
At the end of last year, we had promised to take the kids out for dinner as a treat, and we gave them a few options. I wanted to go to a nice, healthy restaurant and have some control over their decision, however all they wanted was pizza, not fancy woodfire pizza with rocket and goats cheese, but the good ol’ greasy Joe’s pizza. The dinner was not by any means as healthy as I would have liked, but the kids were happy as pigs in mud, and the conversation, laughter and special time was priceless. To me, that was worth it.
Kids are clever beings and interestingly, that night as I was cuddling them goodnight, my boys were saying, “Mum, I’m really thirsty. I feel bloated. I have a weird taste in my mouth” I thought to myself, halleluiah, here is a learning opportunity right here. So, I didn’t say “I told you so” or “You should have listened to me”. Instead, I gently talked about making good food choices and that unhealthy food can affect their body, mind and sleep and at that moment, their bodies are sending them a clear message about that. If they had the choice again, I don’t think we will be going back to that pizza place.
So, where am I right now with all of this? I still hide the lolly bags my neighbour likes to bring around for the boys each Christmas and Easter and then selectively and secretly dump half of them. I spike their smoothies with probiotics, superfoods and other stuff they don’t know how to pronounce. While I have the occasional grumpy days in the kitchen, I hope that they hold on to the memories that cooking healthy food isn’t a hassle, a stress, but enjoyable and a part of life that needs the time it deserves. I am still working on relinquishing my control in the kitchen and getting them to start cooking and making their lunches, how they like it to be (including mess and all). I shiver at the thought, but like I said, I am working on it as gracefully as I can.
I can only hope that in 10-20 years’ time I will be witnessing my kids happily feasting at the table with us, enjoying all types of food. I hope that they can self-sufficiently prepare healthy meals for themselves and one day if they have their own family (and I am a grandmother…eeek!) that they will create their own healthy traditions and talk to their children about food and well being. And may they continue to champion change by their food and lifestyle choices.