Pandering to children in food terms

Article taken from Root + Bone , Issue 9

When it comes to children, food is an ongoing saga for parents – but it doesn’t need to be. It wasn’t in years gone by and I think ‘modern’ parenting is to blame. Oni, my 7-year-old son, isn’t the best eater or the most diverse but it’s my priority (in a relaxed way) to help him nurture a love and appreciation of food which will create a rich cultural food life for his future. This is easier said than done; here are a few pointers I hope might help.

This is made easier if you live in a rural setting as we do – I appreciate it’s much harder for people who live in the city. Oni is a mad keen fisher boy but less keen on eating fish; one will eventually lead to the other I feel. He also plucks birds in my restaurant and with friends, so food cycles are part of his world and in time I hope an appreciation of the food itself will come. We also pick berries, seaweed, mushrooms and are always walking in the wilds and hoping for whatever we can get, be it sheep skulls, shells or wild garlic. It becomes part of his framework and food then becomes multi-dimensional and fun. Trained chef Cliodhna Prendergast has launched a childfocused food campaign that should provide inspiration:

If you are lucky enough to travel with kids, be sure to involve them in experiencing the joys of local foods. This is a shocking concept for most parents but it’s a process that has to be nurtured – it doesn’t happen overnight that children sit quietly and eat diverse foods in this context, but it will happen. One of my fondest food memories was bringing Oni after school in Beirut to an old Lebanese restaurant and seeing him eat flat breads with sumac and hummus when he was four years old. Travel is an exceptional opportunity for food education and experimentation.

This is a fantastic way to encourage the joy of food and shared experience. As a parent, try to cook as you would normally and let children eat food as you would eat. If you’re a working parent, this is easier said than done – weekends and a couple of school nights are good places to start. Equally, when you’re in a restaurant, try to order from the normal menu, not the children’s one. Textures, as much as taste, affect what our children like – so keep that in mind. The French are superb at helping adjust their children’s palates; that story is told by French Children Don’t Throw Food, by Pamela Druckerman.

By this I don’t mean the endless making of cupcakes, but actual cooking. Making soupsand stews, cutting vegetables (preferably the ones from your own garden) and actually making proper meals like your Granny would have. Combine this with visits to the local market to choose the fish, chicken, eggs and children can sometimes catch that sense of excitement.

Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at roughly the same times every day and try to limit the snacks in between to fruit. It may seem unfair at times but if you want them to eat - children need to be hungry for their food. In terms of what to eat at meal times Michael Pollan recommends an approach in his book Food Rules; it’s how they used to eat, back in the day before green juices, carb free madness, rising obesity and foodrelated illnesses. Reading this book might bring us back to the basics: even when it comes to eating pure food – real butter, real bread, real food. 

It’s not easy, but we need to have a stab at making some of the above a reality for our kids. It involves a serious commitment; often that’s very hard for tired, busy parents but it’s a commitment we need to make. The patterns we establish in childhood will often stay with us for life.

Article taken from The Irish Times, April 9th 2016