It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Food, Meals, Food Culture

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to eat with the daycare children.

Well, a long time until two weeks ago. For the past two weeks, I’ve sat down every day. Eaten with them, corrected manners, modelled my own, chatted about the day’s events and Important Things in their small lives. Now, it wasn’t that I was ignoring them before. I did a lot of this even when I wasn’t eating with them. But, though I’d started off eating with the daycare tots, years ago when I began a home daycare, I had drifted out of the habit.

Gradually, I started doing chores as they sat around the table. Chores that I could do while supervising them, in a fairly casual, in-and-out-of-the-room sort of way. I’d start the dishes. I’d sweep the dining room floor. I’d get out the craft supplies (many of which are stored in a cupboard in the kitchen) for the afternoon activity. I could refill bowls as required, wipe spills, help a wee one load peas into a spoon … but I wasn’t sharing their meal.

Why the change? I’ve been reading Jeannie Marshall‘s “Outside the Box“, a book about food culture. She was in Ottawa not too long ago, and I recommended to my parents that they go hear her speak. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go, but one of my Lovely Clients bought the book for me! (I am so lucky. Yes, I know it.) I’ve been reading it slowly, rather than my usual break-neck speed, so that I can absorb the ideas. The ideas in the book include the difference between “food” and “food products”, something I’m familiar with from Michael Pollan‘s excellent “In Defense of Food“, and, come to that, from my very own mother.

(Was it from her I first heard, “If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I don’t want to eat them?” It may have been. She was — and remains — far from a health nut. Back then, she was a pack-a-day smoker, though she quit many years ago now. Her favourite treat was crunchy pork rinds (remember those? packaged like potato chips? god knows what was in them) but she knew, we all knew, they were damned unhealthy. For eating once in a while, not for every day. Vegetables, fruit, protein, grains — those were for everyday.)

So I’m familiar with the ‘food/food product’ distinction, and (not to put indulge in any false modesty here) I do a kick-ass job of providing food, real food, to the daycare. These tykes essentially never get food products when at my home. Essentially no packaged foods, no ready-made stuff, very little fake-food-masquerading-as-healthy, like storebought granola bars. We made our own cheese crackers last week. (NOM!)

I cook with the children, but I admit that until a couple of weeks ago, that was pretty much limited to muffins and cookies (read: treats). Crackers are still borderline treats, but at least they’re not sweet! I’ve brought chopping board and a heap of vegetables to the dining room table (so they could sit around and watch) to make a big batch of gazpacho. We talked about the vegetables, they nibbled bits of this and that, they smelled the garlic and the onion, and cheered when I slammed the garlic to get the skin off. And when it was done? They were falling all over themselves to have a taste.

But still, I didn’t eat with them. And the more I read Marshall’s book, the more I realized how critical that is to instilling in children the idea of how to deal with food. I was good at providing healthy, real food, and getting them to eat it, but I wasn’t putting it in context.

A quote from my then 11-year-old daughter springs to mind, something she said during her first term in school, having been homeschooled to that point: “It’s like they [the other kids] see learning as some sort of bad-tasting medicine. It’s good for them, but they don’t have to like it.” Was I giving the same sort of message to the tots, regarding food?

So I’ve been sitting down and eating with them, and (another idea from Marshall) not hurrying them through the meal. A meal is not a hiccup in our day, something to be rushed through so we can get on to our next Important Learning Activity (or, I wryly confess, naptime, blessed, blessed naptime). No, a meal is an important activity. It’s not just a nutritional pit stop, a filling of the gas tank as quickly as possible so you can roar back into the race of life.

It’s nice, you know? Our lunches now take close to half an hour, instead of ten or twelve minutes. They don’t eat any more than they ever did. They just spend more time chatting. And — wahoo! — less time pouting about what might be in their bowls. (Well, except Jazz. Jazz is just not a food-oriented kid, and this is not a miracle cure. But who knows what the results of relaxed, social meals will be, even for food-indifferent Jazz, long-term?)

Last week, they tried roasted asparagus and mushrooms (even Jazz!), because I was sitting at the table, eating with them. We’re having fun, we’re enjoying our food and each other’s company.

And I haven’t even finished the book yet! Who knows what we’ll discover next??

June 7, 2012 Posted by | books, food, health and safety | , , , , , | 4 Comments

I hereby resolve…

I have not made a New Year’s Resolution since I was a teenager. (Longer ago than some of you, my sweet readers, have been alive…)


This year, however, I’ve been doing a lot of very interesting reading, most recently The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan. They are fabulous, and I strongly recommend you all read them. (I hereby need to give copious and public accolades to my long-suffering, ever-supportive husband, who almost never sighs in exasperation at having his own reading interrupted by yet another “Hey, love! Listen to THIS!”)

Both books highlight, in a most tangible way, the fundamental interconnected-ness of life on this planet we inhabit. What, after all, is more basic than sunlight, soil, water and food?

And with that notion of interconnectedness, I decided to make this my year to consciously and systematically work to tread a little more lightly on the planet.

By North American standards, my family does pretty well already. We don’t own a car. We don’t own a dryer. We live in a significantly smaller-than-average (North American) sized house. We bought locally-grown, organic vegetables last summer, and will certainly do so next year. We eat meat only once or twice a week. We recycle, we regift, we re-purpose. We carry our own shopping bags for errands, our own mugs for coffee, we use re-usable bins, not bags, for our groceries. We have a single room air-conditioner, which gets used a handful of nights in the heat of summer.

There are more I could list, but you get the idea. None of these things have reduced our quality of life one bit; many have increased it. (Those organic veggies? Oh, MY, they were good! And what better way to escape the unending grind of being the household chauffeur than by simply not having a vehicle? It’s the inarguable ‘out’ in transport negotiations with lazy demanding active teens.)

(Before people launch into reasons why they couldn’t possibly do a, b, or c? I’m not suggesting you should. There are probably things you do that I don’t. That’s fine. Just so long as we’re all doing something.)

And me, I’m seeking to do more.

So my New Year’s Resolution, my first in decades…

In order to tread a little more lightly on the planet, I resolve to make one permanent, planet-healthy change each month.

Anyone care to join me? If so, please leave a link in the comments. I’d love to have company! On the first Monday of each month, we can all post about our change for that month. Won’t that be interesting? (And, potentially inspiring: we can steal each other’s good ideas!)

This month?


I am beginning a herb garden in my kitchen. I’ve ordered a few packages of seeds, which I’ll set up in pots under the nice, west-facing window. Fresh herbs, all year round! And by so doing, I reduce the number of little glass (or plastic) jars in my cupboard, I improve the quality of food my family eats, I need that teeny bit less truck-shipped produce (and all its associated carbon costs). And I’m sure the tots will be interested in this one.

The seeds should arrive within ten days. I can hardly wait!

January 5, 2009 Posted by | commemoration, food, health and safety | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments