Unnecessary Fuss

Wednesday, 15th September 2010

Noticed anything unusual about the people you passed in the street this week? The faces wreathed in relaxed smiles, the skip in their step, or, should you engage – their willingness to make plans, meet up, catch up, or get down to some work. There’s nothing in the water, not everyone is behaving this way, but the ones that are almost certainly share a common jubilation: their children are back in school. Yes! Corralled and safely fenced between 8 and 4; out of your home, your hair, your wallet and off the sofa. No longer the day nanny, you can eat the lunch you want instead of pandering to their fussy tastes.

Having emerged from six weeks of fairly consistent disagreement over menus, I empathise with those who end up producing double dinners, with children eating first and parents following later, longing to unwind in the evenings without their kids. A survey by Red Tractor, the assurance organisation that monitors British meat, found that four in every ten mothers made something entirely different to eat themselves, once the children had been fed. At the time it feels like the answer, but in the backs of minds is the admonishment that if we don’t eat together, the family will not stay together.

Yet collapse, if it happens, can’t be blamed entirely on not sharing a table. There are a dozen different ways to unravel family unity. As this week’s liberated parents of school age children know, letting someone else make those mounds of lunchtime mashed potato and buckets of pasta gives everyone a much needed break, not household breakdown. Added to this is the likelihood that children fuss less when away from parents. So says the School Food Trust, an organisation set up to oversee improvements in school meals, claiming that over 80% of children who eat school meals experiment, trying new foods.

The SFT surveyed 1000 families, but it must be said that it is in this expensive quango’s interests to make claims about the achievements of rehabilitated dinner ladies after the Jamie Oliver fiasco. The SFT sets the standards for school food; peculiar ones at that, with out-dated nutritional advice and carb-heavy menus that feature fattening sugary puddings and pizza. There is little experimentation in their sample “compliant” menus. It would save time and taxpayers’ money to pull a decent cookbook down off the shelf and cook simple seasonal favourites – one of Jamie Oliver’s for example. But I thought they already did that…

While the authorities turn student nourishment into an industry, those parents that care how their children eat agonise. Meanwhile our kids are laughing all the way to the nearest place to buy a packet of potato crisps, enjoying the power they possess in this game. Left to their own device, uncontrolled, minds uninhibited by their peer group – and hungry – they eat the most extraordinary things. Very young children will happily eat octopus, black pudding and mussels but if you point and proudly tell others what eclectic eaters yours are, an older child’s wily mind discovers a new sport. “Not so fast, mum,” thinks the pocket manipulator, and the next pot of moules marinières lies abandoned, uneaten.

A friend of mine cooks no-nonsense, one-pot food for nearly 300 children every day in a Yorkshire school. She reminded me that a child without an eating disorder will never starve itself, and not to discuss a child’s eating habits with them, or in front of them, unless you have real cause for concern – and that does not mean an unfinished plate of peas. In the end it is hard to know who makes the most fuss, the children or the organisations that constantly survey them. As for me, I greet this first September Saturday refreshed, having claimed back my weekdays. I’ll cook as many dinners as anyone wants.


Author: Rose Prince



Comment by Sue on 20th September 2010 http://thequincetree65.blogspot.com/

Yes,yes, thank goodness it is September again. Thanks to the sage advice of Joanna Blythman in her book The Food Our Children Eat which I bought at just the right moment when my now 15 year old was a baby, I have never gone down the separate meals for children and parents route. We all sit down together and eat one meal. The choice is ‘take it or leave it’. It is easy to be smug when your children aren’t fussy. Have I been lucky or have I somehow managed to teach my children to eat well? I’m not sure. I gave your new book a mention on my blog by the way. I read it from cover to cover agreeing with every word. I made the lemon tart for pudding last night and it was sublime. Thank you.


Comment by mietwagen mallorca on 18th October 2010

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time. – Kris


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