Thursday, 18 April 2013

Enough already with the cupcakes!!

A major source of tension in this house is fussy eating. My youngest is basically a cheesy pasta addict. She’s happy to eat a variety of fruit and veg, whole wheat pasta and rice, wholemeal bread, yoghurt, baked beans and hummus but resists meat and fish and any form of potato (yes, even chips). Occasionally she will manage a sausage, provided it is not over-cooked, or even a meatball when pushed (not literally you understand, although it is tempting…).
Learning to cook from scratch

While most of what she is eats is relatively healthy – and oddly the types of food other parents often struggle to get their kiddos to eat – I would truly like to see her sample chicken or salmon and maybe even mix those items in among the whole grains and veg.
I’ve tried bribing with stickers, monetary rewards, chocolate – and I’ve tried showering her with attention and ignoring any undesirable foodie reactions. I’ve made ‘fun’ faces with food and put it on pretty plates; I’ve invited teddies and dolls to tea, put tiny amounts on her plate to avoid freaking her out and sat her near ‘good’ eaters – all with very little success. And I’d like to point out that I weaned her 'correctly', offering cubes of homemade purees according-to-Annabel as was the prevailing advice then (although baby-led weaning sounds a whole lot easier to me!!).
I am now resigned to the fact that she is what I refer to as a ‘Fanny fusspants’ and won’t change until she wants to. Or is ready to.
To be honest her elder sister was very similar. Cheesy pasta was also the dish of choice (maybe I just do really good cheesy pasta??), with chicken and fish fingers acceptable plus lots of fruit and veg and lots of yoghurts. And I’m pleased to say she grew out of it at some point (that I can’t even remember because I stopped stressing about it) and the other day even shared a Thai curry I’d cooked myself (I must have eaten a hundred of those while I was pregnant since it is my personal fave).
In fact during the Easter holidays I set my eldest daughter up on the Cook 5 scheme to encourage her to learn how to cook a variety of everyday recipes such as Bolognese and scrambled eggs. One of my most shocking moments in a supermarket was when a teenage checkout girl asked me if the parsnips I was buying were ‘some sort of white carrots or something?’ And I’m still frequently shocked when I realise many adults I know can’t cook – unless it involves opening a jar of ready-made sauce, moving simply from the freezer to the oven or stabbing a plastic cover. Although they do have miles tidier kitchens than me…
Not what is meant by 'food pyramid'...
I was lucky; I learnt full-on ‘domestic science’ at secondary school. And I was a bit of a teacher’s pet too. As well as being taught about conduction (hob), radiation (grill) and convection (oven), we were taught the basics – how to make several types of sauce, how to make different pastries, how to meal plan and how to store food hygienically. And it has actually proved a lot more useful than the simultaneous equations and iambic pentameters I learnt in other classes.
And since fashions come and go, it seems general food ignorance and rising child obesity (alongside the shock people seemed to suffer when they discovered lazy and low-price processed food tends to be full of the cheapest crap the producers can get their unwashed hands on) encouraged the government do some research. And it discovered that a shocking 60 per cent of pupils were leaving school unable to make a basic meal (although I suspect they all knew how to dial for a pizza). The government promptly put proper cooking back on the curriculum.
And it’s about time. For too long anything encouraging kids to cook has been focussed around bloomin’ cupcakes and cookies. Every book I’ve bought or been given that has a cute mummy/daughter (cliché anyone?) pic on the front seems to involve icing cakes or decorating biscuits. Because kids just don’t get enough sugar and fat in their diets do they? Even titles aimed at adults tend to focus on baking rather than cooking, often with a retro feel –as if everyone in the 1950’s did nothing but pop on a floral pinny and whip up a Victoria sponge dripping with jam and cream (they didn’t because rationing didn’t end until 1954 – and sugar and butter were some of the last items to come off rations!).
This is why I was attracted to the Cook 5 scheme. It aims to teach kids how to cook meals – not snacks and treats. There’s everything from filled jacket potatoes and penne with tomato sauce to various ways to cook salmon fillets. Once a child has uploaded photos of their resulting five creations they get a certificate. And further down the line there are cash prizes for recipes that earn online ‘likes’ and a massive dollop of dosh for the school that gets the most pupils uploading dishes.
I’m sort of hoping that the enthusiasm my elder daughter is showing in these new and varied dishes will at least pique the interest of her sister. Meanwhile my mini chef is learning about real food – how to buy it and how to cook it and hopefully won’t find herself struggling to learn nutrition retrospectively as an adult roly poly dependent on ready meals. And I’ll personally make sure she knows what a parsnip is…

What's your opinion on fast food and rising obesity? Do we all need to re-educate ourselves Mrs Beeton style? Comments in the box below please.



  1. You're setting a good example. i was lucky growing up with every dinner including a protein, a starch, a cooked veggie, and a huge green salad. It was a little shocking when I moved out on my own to realize what people ate on a daily basis. Half of what people eat doesn't even qualify as being "food." It's a lot harder if you have to learn about health and change your tastes as adults. Your kiddos are lucky to have so many good options at home! :)

  2. Thanks for your kind comments Henna. Nice to know I'm not alone in my quest...

  3. OMG that's so true about children's cookery books being all around cakes and sweet things. The problem is that processed foods, and of course cakes, have exagerrated tastes so children crave those sensations and home cooked food just doesn't do it for them. The rest of their life is spent chasing a sugar and salt high only given by the like of McDonalds, crisps and chocolate - not a great diet. Not only that but in this day and age of cheap sweets and biscuits and relative affluence what was once a treat is now a school gate given i.e. come straight out of school, get a chocolate bar to tide you over 'til you get home (not to mention the daily packet of crisps in their lunch box....). OK rant over! Thanks Vanessa for raising this debate! Diana

  4. That chemical-induced desire for junk food is exactly what I'm trying to avoid them developing Diana. It does take extra effort to provide home cooked meals and healthier snacks but I'm trying to put as much effort into that as I would with encouraging good behaviour and supporting school work. I'm sure I could still do better though!!!!