Eat Your Veg

How we think about food is influenced by how our parents thought about food, and their parents, and their parents before them. My father’s ideas about food are his father’s – inherited from a time of rationing after the war. “You must eat everything put on your plate, or you can’t leave the table.”

Hours I spent, point blankly refusing to finish a plate of food too big for me. My sister has a fairly entertaining story about my Nanny’s pie, though she would kill me if I shared it here…Friends have mentioned the terror of brussel sprouts being sprung on them each roast dinner and nobody ever says – can I please have some more of that delicious soggy broccoli…

I have multitudes of siblings and one or two are still young enough to throw a hissy fit over certain foods; vegetables of some description usually being the culprit. But we learn how to think about food from our parents and those around us, so why do we all hate vegetables so much?

Instead of saying: If you eat your banana you can have (x). Why not say, if you eat (x) you can have a banana? Banana becomes a desirable outcome, a reward for something suffered through, instead of something to suffer through in order to get a reward. How would changing your own attitude towards food affect your children’s attitudes toward the food you give them. How about removing the reward factor? We all know the meal you put in front of them is wholesome, delicious and entirely edible, so why do we continuously have to coax kids to eat certain foods?

Could it be that they are just not hungry? I for one have never had to experience real hunger and for that I am truly grateful. I have always had food of some description available almost 24/7. From my experience as a big sister of four siblings and an au pair to many under the age of ten they want to snack continuously, grazing on a little, often. And this is how I’ve always eaten too. I want my biggest meal for breakfast or lunch to fuel my hectic day. Not an enormous dinner to spend hours digesting just before bed. So if I’ve eaten well the rest of the day, sometimes I’m not hungry for dinner. Perhaps kids feel this way too. When they are given a plate of food with three or four different things on, they might not need to eat all of it to feel full, so why not pick the best bits. When it comes to the last few mouthfuls we weadle them into the poor, stuffed kid and pass on to them the attitude that eating your vegetables is a chore that must be endured.

Hunter gatherers, the first humans and those we are directly descended from as a species, would have eaten sporadically as and when food was available to them. That could mean a period of several meals a day in times of plenty, or no food at all in leaner seasons. I bet none of their kids turned their noses up at a bowlful of whatever wild roots might have been foraged after a day without food.

Three meals a day is a social construct, one that is observed by many in the west. However there are other ways of approaching food. I know men that have an espresso and a biscuit for breakfast, work hard all morning and eat a light lunch before working until nightfall. They then consume four courses for supper! (Yes they are Italian…) Other cultures may only eat two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Poorer people manage on just one and still do a much longer, more physical days work than many in the west. Since obesity is such a big problem in the west, can we have taken it too far? More food does not necessarily mean healthier person, but somewhere between the abject poverty of one meal (or nothing some days) and the gigantic offerings experienced in much of the west there must be a happy medium.

Listen to your body. Do you really need that sandwich or are you eating for some other reason? I have talked before about the mental satisfaction derived from preparing your meal and how many people eat too much trying to create a mental satisfaction by over feeding a physical one.

Those of us in the world who have access to whatever foods we want at whatever time of year have lost sight of the natural foods that humans have evolved consuming. It has been suggested that human brains require an equal balance of omega 6 and 3 to function optimally, a ratio of 1:1, and that most humans in the western world consume a ratio of 25:1. Omega 6 comes from eating meat while omega 3 is most common in oily fish. We tend to eat just one portion of fish per week, while we have meat in almost all of our other meals. For many, meat and fish are luxury foods, as they most certainly were for our ancestors, and as such, would only be consumed on an occasional basis. It is not only good for our own health, but also that of the planet we live on, for us to eat more vegetable based meals than meat or fish.And if the whole plate of food is vegetables, surely a child will approach it with a different attitude once used to it and OUR new found attitude that actually vegetables can form the central part of a meal without having to have a slab of meat involved.

How many of you can hand on heart say you eat the recommended five fruit or vegetables a day? It should be easy to manage and yet so many of us fail on a daily basis. Can we really expect others, especially children, to eat it if we ourselves can’t manage to? I know I certainly struggled. But there are so many easy ways of getting more fruit and veg into our diets. A smoothy at breakfast can get you half way there! Blend a banana, a peach and a glass of orange juice and you’ve got a tasty breakfast drink full of natural sugars. An apple, pear and two plums, some damsons even, or perhaps some foraged blackberries (pop them in the freezer then add them and you’ve got a great natural ice cube). A salad or soup for lunch ticks off at least two veg and then a vegetable curry with chickpeas and lentils could even be another five!

So I challenge you to eat five out of seven of your evening meals without meat or fish, and have one portion of each for the other two meals this week. I’m going to try it too, so maybe you could tell me how it goes in the comments section at the bottom and I’ll share the seven things I cooked this week? Deal? Great. Now lets get cooking! And get those kids involved too!

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