‘It’s the parents’
That’s what the voice said on the radio. ‘It’s all down to the parents’.
Today new advice has been published about limiting children’s intake of sugary snacks and it has caused some debate.
As a parent it really made me question if we should need advice about what to feed our children on a daily basis. That’s a big part of parenting.
I do agree that we have to teach our children about health, cooking and having a balanced diet. Over the past year we’ve tried more to involve Holly in planning our weekly menu and started teaching her to cook. The first time we gave her a knife nearly had a heart attack, but she adapted so well and was really careful. It isn’t easy – some nights we just need smiley faces and beans – but it’s about balance.
As a teacher I do see a lot of contradiction. Children who bring packed lunches aren’t allowed to have sweets or chocolate – but school dinners include cake and custard. I felt guilty when I organised three bun sales at school for a fundraising event. It’s mixed messages. Do we really need a sugar pick me up in the middle of the day? Or at all? When did fruit stop being a snack or after dinner dessert? The bun sales raised hundreds of pounds, but the daily school fruit stall has very few customers.
There was a huge discussion about the word ‘treat’. That children shouldn’t have treats and sweet snacks. That we shouldn’t use the word treat. I disagree – I use it at least once a week. Fridays in our house are movie night. We sit down in PJ’s, cuddle up and raid the sweet drawer for a bowl of ‘treats’. That’s what it is – it’s not an everyday occurrence. I think using the word treat reminds Holly that it’s not part of our normal diet.
I remember, a few years ago I was really shocked when I read an article about portions for toddlers. I had always made lunch and served Holly a sandwich when we were having a sandwich – when actually she only needed half. I try to be much more careful about serving up a smaller portion now and then giving her more when she asks for it.
I’ve also been really shocked about the variety of things Holly eats. When you ask for a children’s menu at a restaurant, it’s often chicken nuggets, fish fingers and chips. However Holly has become a lover of feta cheese, olives, hummus and curry. She loves a chicken pakora and popadoms when having Indian. It’s brilliant – but it’s all come about because we offered it to her without being a ‘short order cook’ and preparing two meals.
I’m not sure we needed the new advice that rice cakes are a better snack than mini Mars bars.
So, how do you ensure we’re teaching children about health?
- Don’t leave it to the school
Schools do so much, and since the introduction of free school meals for KS1 there’s a great variety of food on offer at school. But we still need to be teaching our own kids at home. I was shocked recently when some of my Y4 children couldn’t use a knife to butter bread.
- Plan a weekly menu
If it’s planned ahead, it’s easier to see what you need in advance. Plan a variety of meat, fish and vegetarian. Try to involve small people in the planning. Holly is always more excited to eat dinner when it’s something she’s planned and help cook.
- Dessert is not an expectation
Not the sugary kind anyway. Some days three meals a day is enough, without a sugary ending.
- Say nothing
When putting food down, don’t make comments about having to eat it or eating so much or it being healthy. It just causes resistance. Leave the job of ‘vegetable police’ away from the table.
- Set an example
If you’re going to expect kids to eat it – try it yourself. I’m amazed when I have school dinner sat with the children that they’re much more open to trying new things from the salad bar, or even sprouts if you do too.
Anyway… long story short – we think there is a place for rice cakes and an occasional mini Mars bar too!