So, Esther Walker – wife of one of the most famous restaurant critics in the land, Giles Coren (and let’s be very clear here, I only bring in who she is married to as it’s relevant to the story) – is having a pop at what parents say about their kids’ eating habits.
It’s tough enough parenting these days with all the food messages out there. STOP THE SUGAR. EAT 10 A DAY. ETCETERA!
I don’t agree with her and neither does her husband, it seems. But then again I do….
Esther has penned an article for the Times Weekend, informing us of the results of some recent research which cites that “under-fives have more exotic diets than their parents”.
This, she says, should stop one arm of the competitive parent brigade in their tracks. We should all just accept the fact our children are now eating plenty of diverse foods and that should be that.
But as Esther explains there is still a huge amount of cringe-worthy showing off and one-upmanship that goes on amongst middle class parents about what adventurous food their offspring will eat.
She is, she says, deeply depressed by one restaurant experience with a friend and their respective offspring (in which Esther herself could be accused of showing off about her fabulously uninhibited daughter who wolfs down chicken drumsticks “like a starving alsatian”), where her friend insists, somewhat forcefully, that her son eats chicken breast and salad. The point being that this friend somehow seems to feel that she is a better parent as she is super-managing what her child eats, putting a huge amount of thought and indeed pressure, into every bite.
But what really gets Esther’s goat is that parents use their children’s dietary adventurousness as a badge of honour in recognition that this is good parenting…the elusive medal we all strive for. She says it’s the same as the good sleeper/bad sleeper reflection on parental input.
Finally, we get 3 of Esther’s recipes for her children’s favourite dinners – 1 of which my children wouldn’t touch incidentally as it’s way too adventurous. Hmmm…
My first thought upon reading this article is that, as we are all well aware, this child-rearing business is blisteringly hard. Knocking any parent for a win of any sort (getting their darling Persephone to try mussels) is simply not helpful. Take the wins where you can I say, shout them from the rooftops. As we all know, for every win that day there were at least fifty nine losses.
Esther enjoys rebelliously waxing lyrical about letting her daughter take a sip of her diet coke in front of a friend she knows will find this shockingly offensive.
Her husband, Giles, it seems, disagrees with her laissez-faire attitude to not endorsing the food variety competition.
Worse, he is himself guilty of the middle-class-extreme-variety-feeding of his children and the accompanying showing off.
I have no doubt that some of Esther’s vitriol against these show-off parents, stems from her frustration at her own children’s lack of mutual adventurousness. In fact, there are only a handful of meals that both of her children will happily eat.
But actually I am with her on this. I was discussing this with my husband last night, after yet another dinner battle where we tried to introduce something ever so slightly new to our children who are 12 and 9 years old.
Just like Mary Berry did recently on TV, I took the meat out of my normal lasagne recipe and replaced it with aubergine. Unlike Mary Berry and her beautiful, ever-sunny garden festooned with Boden wearing children and adults, it resulted in dinner Armageddon.
So we too have limited, mutually acceptable dinners.
The truth is – watch out Esther, here comes the showy-offy bit – my daughter will gorge on anything from prawns to mussels, snails, vegetable soup and salad. BUT…
My son would not touch these things if hell froze over, he prefers meat of any kind (she mostly hates meat), raw vegetables only and very spicy food (if my daughter gets so much of a whiff of black pepper, steam starts coming out of her ears). They even disagree on staples; he loves rice, she hates it. She adores potatoes of any kind, he retches if they go anywhere near him.
So on accepting the limited repertoire of non battle-inducing foods, I agree.
I also think Esther is right that parents using children’s exotic food choices as a way of convincing themselves that they’re doing a great job is wrong, not because it’s a reflection of said parent’s insecurity which is Esther’s complaint, but if it’s used as a comparative judgement.
I think what Esther is actually saying is… by all means, show off to me (and yourself) about your child’s wondrously adventurous eating. But do NOT try to extrapolate from this that we can judge each other’s quality of parenting using this as the benchmark and where you’ll try to make me look like I come off worse. And with this I whole-heartedly agree. Solidarity sister and enough with the judging thank you very much.
If Esther is able to genuinely make meal times battle free then I take my mothering hat off to her, for even with my limited repertoire, mealtimes can still be a huge source of stress and conflict. My children are older than Esther’s and I WILL insist that my children eat at least some of the vegetables on their plate, I will try and make different dishes now and again and I expect my children to at least try them.
Esther is also right about how labelling food “good” or “bad” is storing up problems for later. But personally, I think it’s incredibly difficult not to want your children to eat these things as we KNOW it’s good for them. Especially if your children are older than pre-school, they need to understand how to make healthy choices around food and to take this knowledge with them in to their adult life.
In short, I believe we need a solutions-based approach. If you find something that works, share it. It might just work for somebody else too.
My way of beating the dinner battles it to try very hard to make food taste so totally delicious that my kids will eat it, I find ways to get their 10 a day into them in which require thought, planning and creativity. Luckily, I love cooking and being creative in the kitchen. In fact, I invented smoked humous to make something healthy taste amazing so the kids would eat loads of it, and it’s now an award-winning product. I’ve recently created a range of vegetable based kips dips to get children eating veg without the battles (www.lovemoorish.co.uk/dipity). So my solution is being creative. But that’s because this kind of work is my passion, it doesn’t make me a better person than you.
I don’t do it every day and it doesn’t always work, but for those who are getting their kids to try new food and to eat a healthy diet my view is…. go on, show-off, revel in the good bits as there are plenty of bad bits, which by the way, we should all be sharing too.