Like a lot of mothers, Angela Cuming is frankly sick of Jamie Oliver parenting advice. Get ready for a rant about Oliver and the army of judgers who don’t know shit about kids who are picky eaters.
I like to keep a couple of Jamie Oliver cookbooks in my kitchen. I find them incredibly handy for banging my head against whenever I hear Oliver or anyone else from the Healthy Eating Brigade tell me I am a bad mum because my kid doesn’t eat much fruit and veg.
I have what Oliver would call a ”picky eater”. Charlie is three and rarely strays from his diet of cheese sandwiches, sausages and bananas. I’m okay with that but ask Oliver and he would have you believe Charlie is the way he is because I am one of a growing number of lazy sods too busy shoving chicken nuggets onto oven trays while swigging Coke out of a wine bottle and watching soapies on our giant flat screen television to worry about cooking healthy meals.
In Oliver’s almond milk-soaked world, the reason why children don’t eat fruit and vegetables is because they simply aren’t aware of them. He’s even launched a “Learn Your Fruit and Veg” programme because in Jamie World, once kids know where fruit and vegetables come from they will happily gobble them up.
Well yes, Jamie, in a perfect world all you would have to do is walk into a classroom and wave a bunch of celery and a bag of apricots in front of a group of five year olds and suddenly they’d be tucking into a raw beetroot and feta salad. But there’s as much chance of that happening as there is of anyone ever conceivably buying and then cooking in a Jamie Oliver-brand tagine.
And that’s because not every kid is fussy or a picky eater or whatever you want to call it simply because the adults in their life have somehow shielded them from the existence of any food other than cheeseburgers for their entire life.
I have three boys. Twins Tommy and Henry are almost two and right from the time they started solids they would inhale anything you put in front of them.
But Charlie is a different story. He’s three now and as I said he only really eats cheese sandwiches, sausages, bananas, fish fingers and did I say bananas? Right from the get go he was fussy. He’d refuse all the different flavours of baby food I’d spend a fortune on buying for him.
He’s no better now. I tried every tactic I could to get him to try new things – so did his daycare – but we’ve accepted that just like everything else in his life he will try new things when he is good and ready and there is no reason to turn the dinner table into a stressful battleground for him.
But here’s the thing about Charlie – he knows all about fresh fruit and veg. I cook it all the time and he loves trips to our local farmers’ market. He knows his kale from his spinach and his shiitake mushrooms from his portabello. He grows heirloom tomatoes with me in pots on the back deck and later this month will plant garlic with me and harvest it at Christmas time – so please excuse me if I have a hard time swallowing Oliver’s reasoning that his fussiness is due to lack of food knowledge.
Oliver helpfully adds he wants parents like me to “get tough” on so-called picky eaters.
“To love a child is saying no sometimes. It is much easier to give in but the minute you give in consistently you are in trouble,” Oliver says.
Well, Jamie, you are more than welcome to head over to my whare and say no to Charlie when he asks for his third cheese sandwich of the day. Because I guarantee you that boy would break ISIS before you could get him to try your spiralised zucchini pasta (which tastes like rubbish, by the way).
The thing is, eating for a lot of kids is a lot like their sleeping, speech development, ability to go down a slide by themselves or toilet training. Each baby and child is different, they each reach milestones at a different pace, and there is no right or wrong timetable or ways to do things.
I mean, do you not think us parents of fussy eaters haven’t ever actually thought about offering our kid a bloody salad or bowl of vegetables to see if they will eat it? Do you not think we haven’t already tried to get them excited about different foods or routinely offer them new things to eat?
What are we meant to do? Fall to the ground and sob at Jamie Oliver’s feet, relieved that finally a man we have never met, who has never met our kid, has managed to crack the code of why our kid has only been eating luncheon and tomato sauce rolls for three years and that is because we HAD NEVER THOUGHT TO OFFER THEM A FLIPPING APPLE?
And what really kills me about all this is if Oliver paused from trying to flog his cookbooks and tagines for one minute he could read the same research I have and that is scientists now believe a child’s fussy eating habits are genetic and not down to bad parenting.
Parents cop enough crap these days from people telling us everything we do is wrong so can we please not add guilt about what we are feeding them or not feeding them on top of that? All it does is heap unnecessary judgement and stress onto parents and children at a time in all their lives when things are already pretty bloody hard.
And besides, have you ever tried a Heller’s pre-cooked sausage with cheese on a slice of white bread with tomato sauce? Thank me later.
Angela Cuming is a print and radio journalist and a mum to three boys under three. You can read more of her writing at angelacuming.com.
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