I was in the supermarket buying sausages yesterday and I was perplexed to see that Jamie Oliver has brought out special sausages for children. Since when have children had a problem with sausages? I’m not a huge fan of Mr Oliver at the best of times, but I do appreciate what he was trying to do regarding school meals. If schools provide lunches then they must achieve decent nutritional standards. Jolly good, well done, carry on.
My problem with his children’s sausages is, yet again, one of training and good habits.
We should not give children special children’s food.
We should not be running in-house cafeterias.
Children must learn to eat what is put in front of them
Children must learn to appreciate the effort that goes into producing good food.
I am not a complete fascist and I recognise that children have less sophisticated tastes than adults and that there are some things that individuals simply don’t like. What I absolutely can’t bear is when children (and some adults) will claim not to like something they have never tried. I will accept that someone doesn’t like something if they’ve at least had a good run at it. If they eat most things, there is a reasonable chance that they genuinely don’t like something and that’s fair enough.
Fussy children turn into fussy adults and there are few things more frustrating, particularly to keen cooks, to be presented with a grown-up who doesn’t like this and doesn’t like that. It should have been trained out of them when they were children and it makes them unwelcome dinner guests.
A lot of this goes back to table manners again. If families sit together round the meal table, all eating the same thing, enjoying good food and conversation, and let’s not forget good manners, those habits will stick. It probably means that when your children are young, you may have to hold back on the really spicy food a bit or not give them Stilton and oysters at every meal, but surely this is not an excuse to start running a cafe where different family members are eating different food.
I have sat at tables where three different meals are served to accommodate fussy children. I’m sorry, but this is parental weakness, a ridiculous use of the cook’s valuable time and is utterly uneconomical.
Ideally, one ought to start from the word go, as soon as your children start eating solids. Make food that they are likely to eat when they’re older, but without the spices and salt. Mash it down, but leave some texture in it so they get used to having to chew or at least gnash a bit. I made all my own baby food in big batches and froze it in clearly labelled portions. I made soups, Shepherd’s Pie, cauliflower cheese, baked squash, fish cakes, fish pie, liver and onions, fruit crumbles, rice pudding and so on – you get the drift. Also, I found some great recipe ideas in Annabel Karmel’s super book on feeding babies and toddlers and I even adapted some of her recipes for all of us to enjoy.
If your children are still relatively young, it’s not too late to start clamping down. I have Boy the Elder who would wolf down oysters and mussels when he was 7, and Boy the Younger who would live on nothing but Sunday roasts given half the chance, and deep down suspects me of trying to poison him. I blame the latter scenario entirely on my own lack of discipline because at the time when I should have been strict I was going through a very difficult ‘life event’ and I let things slip. However, I have since toughened up and we are making progress.
Food is put in front of them and they are expected to eat it. I give them age appropriate portions and they don’t get pudding until a valiant effort has been made. If they sit in front of it for over half an hour without eating, it is quietly taken away. If I know they are being deliberately arsey, it sometimes comes out again at the next meal. The same rules apply to their friends who come for tea. No alternatives are offered.
But don’t let mealtimes become a battlefield. There are plenty of ways that children can exercise choice in their lives and it’s up to you to find choices within (your) acceptable parameters that make them feel independent. Food is not one of these choices. Fussy children become fussy adults. Fussy adults are a pain in the arse. I also believe that people who don’t eat well are often limited in other aspects of their lives and are unwilling to embrace new things in general. Just a thought.
So Jamie Oliver can keep his poxy sausages and Bernard Bloody Matthews can definitely keep his twizzlers and dinosaurs or whatever other life limiting crap they turn out. Ditto children’s pizzas, cereals and anything that’s spelled ‘Kidz’. And while I’m at it, a note about cereals. If the name has ‘chocolate’, ‘cocoa’ or ‘sugar’ in the title, it’s pudding. Not breakfast, pudding.
For what we are about to receive…