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Everyone has a different attitude to food. Some eat for energy, to power workouts and fuel their desire to win in physical competitions, while others eat for comfort; filling a lonely, empty space with more calories than they actually need. The vast majority in the Western world eat at regular mealtimes, a habit borne of generations, but what does our food really mean to us?
Are there certain foods that bring back happy childhood memories? Ice creams with sprinkles and strawberry sauce from the ice cream van by the beach. Roast dinners with all the trimmings, reminiscent of family Christmases past. The first mouthful of the chocolate Easter egg you’d waited for all year.
Perhaps there are foods associated with negative memories? The egg-mayonnaise sandwich that gave you food poisoning. The sticky, sickly-sweet sponge puddings from school or the smoked fish your mum made you finish when you absolutely hated it!
Do you find yourself mindlessly buying the same foods every week; giving your children the same items in their lunchboxes day after day? Humans are creatures of habit, reveling in the comfort that brings and avoiding change at all costs. When a friend or relative decides to make healthy changes they’re often met with resistance; their ability to move forward highlighting our own fear of failure or inadequacy.
Today, as you read this, take a moment to think about your relationship with food, and more importantly, how your attitude to food shapes your own child’s development.
It still shocks and upsets me when I hear descriptions of children’s home-packed lunches: Processed meat sticks, multiple chocolate bars, high sugar fruit drinks, cold pizza slices and the monotony of the same sandwiches day in, day out. Many young children are fussy; going through periods where getting them to eat more than six or so ‘liked’ foods a day is a miracle, but this is no reason not to continue setting a good example yourself.
A recent article in Flybe’s Business Uncovered magazine, (March-April 2013) with Jamie Oliver, highlights a new kind of poverty that we ourselves have generated; a poverty in the quality of everyday life and, in particular, in our food. Jamie says, ‘As a nation, we need to re-prioritise. We spend our lives working and forget about what’s important: health, taste, quality time. When filming a documentary on the eating habits of twenty families, I found only four of them had a proper table to eat on. Incredible!’
For me, eating at a table is a prerequisite for a healthy family life. We are lucky enough to have a small kitchen table and a larger one in our lounge/diner and always make the effort to lay the table with cutlery, glasses and water filter jug, and often have either a small jar of fresh flowers or some candles in homemade holders (pesto jars washed out with ribbon tied around the tops!).
It’s important to value the space around us; the areas we inhabit on a daily basis: Our homes, our cars and our workplace (and our children’s schools). When it comes to food, a clean, tidy kitchen and a usable table and chairs should be a priority, plus regularly re-organised food cupboards and a clean, hygienic fridge. How will our children develop a positive attitude to food and well-being if all they ever know is processed food in microwave containers, eaten on the sofa while watching television?
Mealtimes are great opportunities for family time. Even if you do have the television on, at least you’re all watching the same programme and possibly discussing news items or laughing at the same comedy. Don’t allow mobile phones, gaming stations and iPads at the table – they’re not essential to any of us, despite teenagers possibly moaning otherwise! Often Dad is the main mobile phone culprit, especially if he’s self-employed and desperately trying to make a living in these hard times. Do try to get him to pop it on silent for half an hour and enjoy the meal together, particularly on weekends.
How do you value the actual food you eat? Do you spend time choosing fresh produce, selecting the ripest, plumpest fruit and most attractive vegetables? Do you look for lean, organic, free-range, non-antibiotic fed meat and poultry? Do you buy fresh fish that is sustainably sourced? Do you select the finest whole-grains and organic nuts and seeds? The recent horse-meat scandal in the UK where horse-meat (possibly contaminated with veterinary strength drugs unfit for human consumption) was found in processed beef products (frozen lasagnes and shepherd’s pies etc.) has already led to a reduction in the sale of these items and an increase in fresh produce.
BUT…why wait for a major health scandal? Start making changes today. You don’t need an enormous kitchen and an endless supply of gadgets to start healthy cooking. If you have no skills in the kitchen at all, then consider a short training course at your local culinary college or, if money is tight, simply look on the internet – there is a wealth of short video clips teaching you to make anything from pastry to roast dinners and cakes to healthy salads.
Perhaps you have the skills already but have fallen into a seemingly endless trap of tiredness, low energy and enthusiasm and feel you have no time to prepare meals from scratch. Start small. Make one thing from scratch today. Perhaps not even a whole meal, maybe a side dish or a small lunchtime salad or a fruity dessert for the children. Keep a diary or design your own star chart – whatever will motivate you to continue to improve.
At the other end of the extreme, there are many thousands of people who suffer from various types of disordered eating (different from a medically diagnosed eating disorder). For example, eliminating whole food groups, carbohydrates or eating only ‘clean’ foods and never enjoying social events. While a healthy diet should involve lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, food shouldn’t become the enemy. It shouldn’t feel like a constant battle.
What’s important is balance. Balance between at least 80% healthy foods and up to 20% less-healthy foods – things like cake, ice cream, alcohol and meals out in restaurants where portions may be larger and richer in fat. Balance in all areas of your life: working enough to pay the bills or to gain promotion but not so much that you avoid spending time with family and friends; spending quality time with your children but not so much that you isolate yourself and destroy your relationship with your husband/partner. Balance between having a tidy house but not obsessing over every pet hair, spilt drink or un-straight cushion; enjoying your home but appreciating the need to get away from time to time, either on family holidays or simply a weekend in a hotel with your loved one. Spend more time living in the present moment, avoiding gossip and toxic relationships, and learning to love yourself from within.
So, what does food mean to you?
Until next week,
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