If you did that as a grownup, I would narrow my eyes slightly, smile sweetly and make a mental note to never cook a meal for you again. If you are one of my children, however, that is not an option. According to the Department of Community Services, I have to feed my children. And according to my beliefs about parenting and the future of their well-being, I have to feed them from all five food groups.
Unfortunately, when two control freaks procreate, they make super-stubborn babies who are capable of wielding great power and influence over their providers. Before I knew it, our wonderful open-plan kitchen that was designed for togetherness and unity, gave our super-stubborn toddlers the power to watch, comment and complain about my culinary activities. Differing tastes and preferences as they grew into super-stubborn children then turned me into a short-order cook always at their beck and call.
What’s best for my children isn’t always what’s best for me.
Trust me, I didn’t set out for this to happen. I come from a strict Indian background where all food prepared was to be eaten, no questions asked or comments made. After all, my father told many graphic stories about people in India who had no food at all, and greatly fearing my father’s disapproval and the broad expanse of his hand, I did as I was told.
Not knowing how else to manage their consistent refusal to eat the food I prepared, I started using the same stand-over techniques as my father and guess what? It didn’t work.
There were more tears and tantrums with every meal, from all of us. The angrier I got, the harder they dug their heels in and suddenly, dinner time became a disaster and I was a wreck. I started reading parenting manuals and blogs about dealing with fussy eaters. I cooked different meals to suit everyone’s tastes and I turned into the kitchen slave. My anger never went away, though – it merely switched from ‘controlling parent’ to ‘resentful parent’.
I just wanted the children to eat the food I prepared for them without question. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently it is, because now they’re at school, there’s also the lunchbox dance. You know it – cranky kids at the end of the day with a lunchbox full of uneaten food. The thought of 13 years of uneaten lunches tipped me right over the edge. So much waste and so little control.
Instead of anger this time, I decided to be an adult, stand firm and make the children eat their lunch for afternoon tea, despite the tears and carrying-on. It’s working and slowly, their eating habits are improving.
But I needed more for my arsenal plus some reassurance that I wasn’t alone, so I attended an evening at school last week called Nude Food Night (no naked food fighting involved…!). Run by two mums from school with a strong passion for mindful food consumption, it was an event designed to give parents more tools and skills to provide the best nutrition for our little terrorists.
As Dieticians and Nutritionists, they explained that “food can have a lot of emotional baggage for people, relating to their own experiences as children” and I understood exactly what they meant. My relationship with food is as complex as the relationship I have with the people who provided it for me as a child. I don’t want to pass any of that one to my own kids – the cycle must stop with me.
Nude Food Night provided me with innovative ideas and more than anything, encouragement to keep plugging away at mindful nutrition. Other parents empathised and shared experiences of how difficult it is to manage food preferences and disputes at home – it seems we are all going through something similar. They gave us courage to keep on trying and to never give up, because we are responsible for the health and behaviour of our children, especially in the early years.
Brisbane Chef, Dominique Rizzo, also showed that if we get the children involved and make food selection, preparation and attractiveness fun and interesting, then we might actually see a change in the mealtime behaviour and certainly the mood of the whole family.
So, I’ve cut up my short-order cook’s apron and made two aprons for the children instead. It’s time they took some responsibility for their own future. Yes, it’ll be messy and time-consuming, but hopefully, it’ll be worth it.
Caylie writes weekly essays on her blog, Distractions of a Busy Mother, to help people feel less alone through shared laughter, tears and inspiration. She works to transform everyday events into vivid sketches, showing an understanding of what parents, women and people in the community are going through.
Her first book, Bedtime Stories for Busy Mothers, is now available for purchase online, at selected books stores and via her website.