Hands up how many of us have stood in the bathroom, cramming a bar of dairy milk into our mouths just so the children don’t see it and ask for some? Or maybe you have served your children up a healthy plate of streamed fish and vegetables, only to order yourself the biggest pepperoni pizza you can find to gorge on once they are tucked up in bed?
Unless you are Gillian McKieth or a saint, who lives off quinoa and mung beans 365 days a year, I guarantee you will have done at least one of those things. Us parents can be such hypocrites about food!
Trying to instill a love of wholesome, healthy food is a full time exercise whether it’s at home, at school or when eating out. As much as we all try to give our children the tools to make the right choices about what food to eat and to eat less healthy food in moderation, sometimes it’s a hard task, especially when eating out.
In many restaurants, it rare to see a children’s menu where every meal isn’t chips with a helping of sausages, chicken nuggets, fish fingers or some kind of random meat product that has been scraped from a factory floor and shaped into a dinosaur. If you are lucky there will sometimes be the option of an anemic looking, slimy jacket potato with some cheese that was grated in the late 1970’s. While it’s true that many restaurants will serve a half portion of an adult meal if you ask them (whether it’s half the price is a different story!) many places are still stuck on the idea that ‘kids food’ should be bland, boring and preferably beige in colour.
School lunches are another minefield. Most schools have a healthy eating policy for lunch boxes, stipulating what your child can have for lunch and what is considered contraband. Some of these policies, however, are just plain bonkers. The school my son attended had a list as ling as your arm of the things that were forbidden to be brought in. Some of them, such as chocolate, crisps and things containing nuts were acceptable; but the more random rules they had left me and many other parents raising an eye brow.
A few of my favorite examples from the bonkers school policy (which sounded as if it was written by George Orwell) were:
- No cheese as it contains fat
- No bought cakes, but home made muffins are acceptable
- No potato crisps, but root vegetable crisps are acceptable
- No yogurts as they contain sugar
And finally, my favorite tagline of all time:
5) No food wrappings – “Don’t be lazy – Be environmentally crazy!”
Now, I had a few problems with some of the policies above:
- Cheese is not the devil. Children need fat to grow and cheese is a good source of protein – especially for vegetarian children, as my son was.
- What if I buy a pack of muffins from Tesco and rough them up a bit (as I do when I am pretending I have home made everything I have ever said I have home made), would they know? Don’t test the rebel in me.
- So let me get this right. As long as it’s a sweet potato or a parsnip, it can still be deep fried in oil, losing all nutrients and absorbing all the fat, but because it’s not an evil potato, that makes it healthy? Okay!
- Fair enough. But my son likes Greek yogurt. I give him the full fat Greek yogurt as there is no added sugar and it’s very good for you. They used to confiscate it, as it was still yogurt. When I argued that there was no sugar, it was natural full fat yogurt, they counter argued that it contained fat. I banged my head against the wall and gave him a banana instead.
- No wrappings. That means no tin foil, no sandwich bags and no cling film. Which means that by lunch time the contents of the carefully prepared wholemeal sandwich has fallen out and is now mangled with the banana and the apple is now covered in tuna mayonnaise. Yummy, how appetising.
These rules were enforced by the lunchbox police, who patrolled the school hall at lunchtime like Robocop, looking for smuggled in bags of mini cheddars so they could chastise the evil parents who were intent on inflicting a life time of obesity and type two diabetes on their children.
I had even more of a problem when my son decided he would like to swap to school dinners. There are no polices in place for those it would seem, as while the children with packed lunches are not allowed anything sugary or sweet in their lunchboxes, my son would come home with stories of what pudding he had chosen each day. Everything about the schools healthy eating policy went out the window it seemed, as the puddings included everything from cake and custard to chocolate chip cookies, with the savory option usually including pizza and chips, or fat filled, cheap sausages. Jamie Oliver would’ve literally exploded if he’d seen the menu at my son’s school.
Of course there are always parents who have differencing opinions. There are the parents who think it’s all madness and know that a blueberry muffin or a cheese sandwich in a lunchbox will not lead to a life of disease and misery and these parents with a sensible approach to eating, thankfully, seem to be in the majority. But then there are the parents who I know these policies are supposed to help; the parents who would happily send their child to school with left over McDonald’s or a packet of crisps and a Twix for their lunch, although, as much as the Daily Mail would like us to believe that these feckless parents exist on every street, I have yet to meet one.
The other end of the spectrum are the parents who micromanage everything that passes their child’s lips; like my friend who got up at 5am to make her children fresh sushi each day. These are the parents who really start to struggle when their children start secondary school, for by the time they set off in their too bug blazers for the first day in year 7, the lunchbox police are no more and most children are in the corner shop stocking up on crisps and sweets at 8am no matter how many times you have told them that an organic smoothie is the best start to the day.