Are you sick of facing off against your kids over a plate of vegetables? Scarlett Hyde from White Glove Services explains how, in her experience, feeling positive about food is linked to the whole household’s attitude to eating.
Before I start this column, a disclaimer: I come from a large Mediterranean family so the whole concept of people (even little ones) refusing to eat is foreign to me. My whole life as a child, my whole life as a parent, my whole career as a nanny, has revolved around the kitchen – because everything good begins in the kitchen.
Okay. Disclaimer finished. Professional governess cap back on. At this point, I could probably bore you by listing a couple of tried and true “kid friendly recipes” or 1001 ways to hide onion and broccoli in your child’s food. But given that I am neither a doctor or a nutritionist, I will get back to what I actually do do: kid wrangling.
I believe there is a link between psychology and food. Think about the smell of a particular food from your childhood and how it makes you feel. It might be good. It might be bad. Either way, you will be feeling something. Think about when you go out to dinner . Think about how your mouth waters when you think about the myriad of flavours conjured up by the elaborate descriptions on the menu. Similarly, remember that time you went to that hipster place around the corner that everyone raves about but the service was poor, it was waaaaay too loud and you don’t really enjoy eating food out of cardboard boxes. Kids are exactly the same. However, it’s more at basic level. Good eating habits start early.
I grew up with my mother, my grandmother, my siblings and at least a dozen neighbourhood kids in our kitchen as Mum and Nanna prepared the meals. And I’m talking every meal. There was noise – lots of noise, lots of conversation about whatever, lots of food laying around being picked off plates, chopping boards and eventually, our own plates. We were all involved in the preparation. We all ate together. We ate until we were full. We experienced every flavour from the minute we could digest solids. And my babies grew up the same way. My kids never had a problem with food. To this day, they have a sensational relationship with food.
In contrast, a friend of mine came from a different type of household. Her family were members of the “you don’t leave the table until you finish your dinner” school of thought. They were also members of the “meat and three veg” group. So not only was her palate limited, she remembers mealtimes as being extremely unpleasant. Mainly because she was being threatened with early bed time, capital punishment or a night spent in front of plate of cold food. Sometimes, she tells me, she didn’t eat because she was full. Other times, she didn’t like the food. Other times, she just wasn’t hungry.To this day, her relationship with food is bad.
Are you seeing the pattern? Food that is associated with fun times leads to a healthy relationship with food. Food that is associated with fear , isolation and sadness leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.
So how is it done?
- Start early. Expose your babies to a wide variety of flavours. I encourage all parents to make their own baby food with real ingredients. Add herbs. Add flavour (and no, salt and sugar are not flavours)
- Make dinner fun. Dinner shouldn’t be a chore. When they’re old enough, involve them as much as possible in the preparation
- Remember, kids have a smaller stomach and faster metabolism. They don’t like big meals. Their little stomachs empty quickly, hence why they snack more often
- Keep a wide variety of snacks in the fridge, both sweet and savoury. Fruit. Vegetables. Cheese. Whatever. Just keep it healthy
- If possible, let them have a little garden. Pop a tomato plant, a cucumber plant, maybe some mint or parsley in the dirt and watch them become increasingly fascinated by the growth process
- Don’t threaten them into eating. Don’t shame them into eating
- Get as much diversity as you can. Maybe Monday night is an Indian meal. Tuesday night might be Italian. Mix it up
- Make sure that you have a good relationship with food, after all, you are their first role model
- Don’t make separate meals for everyone – we’re a family, we eat as a family, we eat the same things
- Kids aren’t stupid; trying to hide things in their meal will just make them distrustful
- Kids will eat when they’re hungry. They generally won’t overeat unless we teach them to
In essence, kids not eating their dinner isn’t a big deal. As my wonderful, crazy grandmother has always told me, life is too short to eat bad food, drink bad wine and keep bad company. She’s right. Life is too short. Enjoy food. Enjoy the meal times. Enjoy watching your children discover the wonders of flavour. And most of all, rediscover flavour for yourself. Make your kitchen a place where memories are made. For all the right reasons.
Scarlett Hyde is the founder of White Glove Services and has worked as a professional Mothercraft nurse, nanny and household manager for over 12 years. Scarlett’s professional experience and qualifications have been a wonderful foundation for the company, now; she is sharing her expertise with the world through White Glove Services.