Jamie Oliver is heading up a new day to mark on our calendar’s: “Pack your parent’s lunch” day, and it is tomorrow! Outside of Jamie’s recipes (which for the most part I love!), there’s not a lot about what Jamie has to say on food and food education that I agree with – but I quite like this “Pack your parents lunch” day idea.
Jamie says he wants all Australian families to participate in hope it will open up conversations around “healthy eating”. And that’s where my like for this idea ends. Because as I understand it, Jamie Oliver’s idea of a good family conversation around food and eating would involve discussion around “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods, and about if and how often particular foods should be eaten. Whereas I believe that such conversations with children will be, at best, pointless and more likely begin to set them up for a future of unhelpful eating patterns and feelings around food.
That said, my three and nearly five year old children are excited that tomorrow they will be in charge of making my lunch. They have told me that I need to be playing and then they will say “Hey kid, lunch is ready” and I am to come to the kitchen (I promise I never yell “Hey kid” so I’m not sure where that’s coming from!). We will then have lunch and our conversation will be about whatever comes up. Most likely negotiating the afternoons activities, or sibling rivalry over who drank their water fastest, but it definitely will not be about how “healthy” whatever they choose to serve is.
Research shows that until age 11 or 12, lessons about healthy foods, food groups, and “sometimes” and “everyday” food rules don’t resonate with children, and that teaching these can actually make them fearful of foods and feel bad about their eating and weight. Alternatively, if adults do their job of continually providing children a range of foods matter of factly and without pressure or coercion, children joyously learn to eat a wide variety of foods in amounts right for their bodies, without them having to think about it. Ellyn Satter, world renowned dietitian, family therapist and child feeding expert says that if adults do their jobs in providing regular and varied food then “for a child, learning how to manage eating is like learning how to breathe. It doesn’t arise”.
So why do I want to swap roles for lunch on “Pack your Parent’s Lunch Day”? Two reasons: Firstly, because while educating children about food is not something I believe in, having fun and being silly with children is something I strongly believe in. I think it’s going to be great fun to allow them full reign in the kitchen and see what they create (cleaning up the aftermath not so much fun). Secondly, I hope that it will teach me a bit about how I am going in doing my adult job in feeding my children. We follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (for details on this you can go to Ellyn Satter’s website www.ellynsatterinstitute.org) and have done so since my children were born. I’m hoping to see that they will serve a range of foods for lunch and allow me to choose what and how much I eat, from whatever they put on the table, without any pressure and that we can have a nice meal all together regardless of the food in front of us. Here’s hoping! If not, then I might get some insights into things I can change in the way I feed my children, to continue to help them grow into happy, intuitive little eaters. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Why not give it a go in your family too?
Happy feeding and eating!
Leah Henzen (Psychologist)
Lakeside Psychology, Victoria, Australia.