It’s time we all pledged for our children’s future
Food educator Amanda Grant explains why 24 October could mark a landmark step for our children’s health
In my 16 years as a working mum, and 20 years working with children and food, I’ve learnt just how crucial it is to teach them how to eat well. From the 10 year old I met in a classroom who had never seen a tomato, to the obese child who made me wait all day following my talk in school assembly to meet his mum to talk about their diet, to the toddler who was being fed Wotsits every day for supper. I feel like I’ve seen many of the challenges so many families seem to face. It has shown me that we can’t take our children’s attitude to food for granted, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables.
Food is essential to life, and to living well. As well as providing nutrition, it can be a source of both pleasure and pain. And teaching our children about it as early as possible is the key to making sure they’re set on a path towards enjoying eating and making food, and knowing how to make healthy choices.
Parents are the first port of call for learning about food – Dad showing the kids how to make breakfast or Mum cooking a family lunch with a bit of help from small hands is a wonderful way of connecting and learning.
But we also have a collective responsibility to make sure the messages we give are the right ones. Even casual words (‘naughty’, applied to food, being a particular culprit) can have a big impact. When messages about food are all around us – and your children have to make choices about food every day – we all have to take care with how we talk about and act around it.
This is why I so wholeheartedly support the Food Foundation’s Peas Please initiative, and the kids pledges it’s asking influencers to make at its summits in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh on 24 October. From broadcasters to restaurants, the pledges are simple common sense – small changes that collectively could add up to a big difference.
The Food Foundation is asking broadcasters to give veg a good image in kids’ TV, via guidelines for their producers. If we can erase smoking from TV shows watched by children (smoking scenes in vintage Tom and Jerry cartoons were removed after complaints to OFCOM), surely showing fruit and veg in a positive light isn’t an impossible goal?
Restaurants are also being asked to chip in, making sure kids’ meals offer at least two portions of veg. And this doesn’t have to mean piles of broccoli and peas – there are so many ways of prepping vegetables that will show children how versatile they are and encourage them to want more.
Even the Departments of Education and Health are being asked to pledge that they’ll start making changes. If it takes a village to raise a child, schools and local authorities must be the first to step up and offer to do more when it comes to changing children’s and parent’s attitudes towards healthy eating.
Steps are already being made – current school food standards issued by the Department of Education state that at least three different fruits and three different vegetables should be made available in school meals each week. But a lot more can be done to enforce best and better practises.
A shocking all-party parliamentary group report released in April this year revealed that the school holidays leave 3 million youngsters at risk of hunger. Meanwhile, only 1% of school packed lunches meet nutritional requirements. These figures show the key role schools and educators have to play in both feeding children and giving them the tools to feed themselves.
As well as encouraging others to pledge, I’ll be pledging too. In my career, I’ve worked with influential national food magazines to help make cooking with children fun and accessible to all, and written 10 cookery books for families and children. I was also on the committee for the first ever children’s food festival, where I set up and ran cooking workshops with food writers from all over the country; spoken on the radio and worked tirelessly in schools to help improve school meals; and am currently working on new projects to encourage children back into the kitchen.
Instead of being seen as something we do when we’re being ‘good’ or on a health kick, enjoying vegetables should be integral to children’s lives – something they do automatically, with as much pleasure as grabbing a chocolate bar. A difficult goal, perhaps, but not one we should give up aiming for before we’ve even begun.
I’m hoping to see the Peas Please pledges rolling in on 24 October so that together we can ramp up the impact we’re making on children’s health – an impact that could influence how they eat for the rest of their lives.
Follow Amanda on Twitter amandagrant_com, Facebook and Instagram @amandagrantcooks