Feeding our young

Children learn to and enjoy eating healthy, particularly vegetables and fruits. Picture: www.parentingwithpresence.net

EVERY so often someone comes up with a new diet to keep people more fit and healthy.

Among them has been the caveman approach to eating, often called the Paleo diet, which is all about raw foods and nothing that has been refined, canned, chemically processed or heated above 48C.

Think raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits and some sprouted grains. Out of the picture is pasta, salt, flours, sugars, juices, and anything processed or pasteurised. That puts my pantry out of business.

The Paleo diet came to my attention during what we euphemistically call mealtime down in Darkest Flagstsaff.

I have always run a fairly flexible table — cooking by the pot rather than the individuals because I never really knew who or how many were going to rock up. What was left over, if anything, was transformed into lunches and more rarely, hearty breakfasts.

That was because the workers had little time to eat in the mornings and in any case, I am not a fan of food on an empty stomach. Gotta get that caffeine fix first.

Children, however, were doled out porridge, pawpaw and toast according to what was available. School lunches were concocted of such healthy stuff as peanut butter sandwiches, roti parcels, sliced fruit and some treat such as a biscuit to encourage them to open the lunchbox.

I have spent much of my adult life tipping rejected school lunches into dogs’ dinner bowls.

I read somewhere that some schools in overseas were sending back home to parents the children’s school lunches they considered inappropriate or not healthy enough. We aren’t talking packet snacks and lollipops here, but solid food, maybe heavy on the carb side.

I think my reaction would have been to shove it up teacher’s nostrils. Clearly those schools had no idea what it is like to persuade a child to eat at all.

It begins in infancy, and trust me, I have read all the books about baby and toddler nutrition over two generations.

Most of them seem to assume the child will actively eat, once it has finished slurping its mother’s milk over what seems a terribly long time if you are the mother.
I don’t say the littlies are not interested in food, it’s just that the idea of putting it in the mouth doesn’t seem to catch on.

I have seen small children smear everything from cereal to banana to blended cabbage and potato in their hair, on the table, on their clothes, on the person next to them and spat out as far as the refrigerator on the other side of the room.

It makes you suspect that infants have a special ability to absorb nutrition through the pores of their skin, as they seem to flourish without actually eating.
When children become old enough to talk — as in endlessly argue and ask “why” four thousand times an hour — they pay more attention to their meals.

They develop an amazing range of dislikes and raging disbelief that you are trying to make them eat, for example, eggs, tomatoes, pawpaw, beans, pumpkin, brown rice, anything green and any food that touches any other food on the plate.

That they may have eaten it in the past does not mean they could possibly let it pass their lips now.

I partly blame the advice to let the weaning infant pick what it wants to eat from a selection of suitable mushy stuff arrayed on the table before it. That the babe selects only banana for meal after meal on end is apparently not a problem, it probably needs the potassium.

Older children want to know why they can’t have meals they actually like, such as cupcakes, cucumber skin and Chinese lolly. After a while this begins to sound like a balanced meal to hard pressed cooks.

The resident youngsters are now of an age where I try to involve them in selecting the week’s menus, suggesting the sort of food they might actually like to eat (that isn’t chocolate, breakfast crackers without butter or mango skin).

It’s easy for the three-year-old boy. He wants pasta. Just pasta. Every meal.

The five-year-old girl is more imaginative, but the food fantasy of hearty stews, tasty curries and stir fry vegetables never impinges on mealtime reality.

We sit at the table, the children fall off their chairs and wander away; the food is served, they poke it with fingers and forks, spread it far and wide, complain they don’t like it today even if they said they did yesterday and drop bits of it under the table for increasingly chubby dogs while demanding drinks of water.

After they spill their water all over the table they insist they’ve had enough and want to take their plates to the sink. Enough of what we don’t know, but we too have had enough — of them.
I feel we reached a new low this week when we found a gobbet of dinner stuck to the ceiling. I’m considering the rather rough and robust Paleo diet, if only on the grounds that it probably won’t smear the ceiling.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.