Tuesday, 22 January 2013

UK Toddlers Tea-Time Tantrums

If I had a pound for every time I’ve had to explain to my four year old that biscuits are not a vegetable, I could probably afford someone else to feed him. However, I am now mildly relieved to learn that we are by no means alone in our daily dinner time dogfight, but merely part of a national nutritional nightmare.

Research by the European Toddler Nutrition Index, as reported by Sky News, reveals that 43% of UK parents end up allowing their offspring to veto certain food groups, whereas in France the figure is a more modest 33%. And 26% of our under fives apparently refuse meals at least once a day, their continental cousins declining just 15%.

Maybe French food just tastes better, so toddlers don’t complain, or it may be that our processes and not our products are at fault. Perhaps in current culture, our approach to all things culinary leaves us increasingly in need of a crash course in meal-time management for our minors. In her book ‘French Kids Eat Everything’, Karen Le Billon transplants her two picky-eating kids from North America, to a small town in France. After initial resistance, the family embraced the complex culture of French cuisine and emerged a healthier herd for it, so maybe we should all follow suit?

Now, the hardest hurdle for parents on this side of the channel may be the strict ‘no-snacking rule’. It turns out French kids are far less likely to refuse their food because they are famished. It makes sense. If your nippers are full of crisps and cookies by the time they get to the table at tea-time, it’s no surprise they give their carrots the cold shoulder.

Le Billon was also banned from providing a packed lunch for her school aged offspring, a source of major sinning on this side of La Manche. Certainly, my daughter delights in dishing the dining dirt on those classmates whose packed lunches are clearly prepared with no more effort than the hurling together of a collection of coloured packets. A daily duty we both secretly regard with thinly veiled envy.

French school dinners are dished out on higher budgets, and often in conjunction with nutritionists, making them much more balanced than merely a collection of ways to clog your arteries. Whereas, it is the very fervour with which my kids crave their canteen’s culinary offerings, that makes me doubt the quality of their contents. If Jamie Oliver is to be believed, many school dinners are little more than a production line of low-budget homages to saturated fats. If that’s the case, then the preparation of a packed lunch represents the last vestige of parental control in a world of self-destructive snacking.

Perhaps the problem boils down to the fact that unhealthy parents rarely breed healthy kids. If Donna from Doncaster thinks a Wagon Wheel is a dietary supplement, then sooner or later her kids will need elasticated waistlines.

Personally, I don’t keep cashew nuts in the house because I lack any restraint in their presence. Perhaps if kids are offered no option apart from healthy home-cooked grub, they would eventually cave in and eat it. In a world obsessed with choice, maybe one of the least learnt lessons is when not to offer any. Bon apettit.  

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