I truly believe that if we can teach children a deep-rooted love of real food then most of our worries about whether they’re eating ‘well-enough’ will melt away.
You see, I think that as a society we have become so detached from our food. Little attention is paid to where it was grown, let alone having an appreciation for how it grows and when we can harvest. And when it comes to animal welfare, many, and I do understand this, would rather not think about that side of things.
This struck me once when Laurence was much younger and I recall asking him where yoghurt came from and he said, the shop. Of course, he was little and we hadn’t talked about food much then and we don’t live on a farm, milk our own cows or make our own yoghurt. There was no context for him and I didn’t expect him to know.
But I also hadn’t expected him to make that connection either. At that age, I assumed for him, food was mostly about throwing it at the cats and occasionally eating some. I didn’t think that he would have much perspective beyond the fact that it was put in front of him and he was expected to eat a little, if he was hungry. And yet he had made that link – yoghurt comes from the shop and we eat it. This led me to realise that he had been joining the dots probably long before he could answer my questions and so the opportunity to learn an appreciation of food began earlier than I had anticipated.
Following on from that little chat I would show him videos on YouTube of chickens laying eggs, cows being milked, which led to all sorts of interesting and funny conversations! Involving him in my day-to-day food-stuff – helping me unpack the veggie box; pottering together in the kitchen, or even taking him berry picking in the summer. I was teaching him that food was really important to us.
Which is a very important point – food is important to US as a family. What I was teaching him was sincere – I have a genuine love a real food and sharing this value with him came naturally. In other words, a love of real food rubs off on them. I believe if children can learn by (a consistent) example, rather than being told, for example, eat your carrots because they’re good for you – they truly embrace the lesson into their very nature.
“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
― Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider
We went to two birthday parties on the same day at the weekend and at the second one, bearing in mind Laurence has eaten a picnic at both, he declined a slice of the second birthday cake. I was so pleased. Not because it was cake (I will talk more another time about our perspective on ‘treats’ and indeed, why we don’t view them as treats) but because he was listening to his body and realised he was full up – even his special tummy reserved especially for ‘afters’ was full.
Last week was also Rob’s birthday and he’d asked for a chocolate cake. I said to Laurence that we could look through some of my cookbooks together and find a recipe he’d like to make and he turned to me, almost as if I’d insulted him, and he said that we didn’t need a book. He knew exactly how we were going to make the cake: by using apples, and eggs, and flour and cashew nuts (all said while gazing at the pantry).
My recipe development for my cookbook has clearly rubbed off on him to the point that he must think all mummies are in the kitchen till 11pm at night testing recipe after recipe – for him it is completely normal that we would concoct something of our own rather than use someone else’s recipe (we didn’t follow his recipe, just to reassure you, but we did tweak one from a cookbook and made cupcakes instead).
This is not to say that Laurence is some sort of poster child for eating well – oh my goodness, no. I will come on to tell you some tales that will soon snap you out of that view. He is just like other little people that are fickle in their opinions and strong-willed at the dinner table. But mostly, I believe, we are instilling that appreciation of food that I hope will stay with him for the rest of his life.