Intro: My Family Food Journey
( Rethinking the food rules I didn’t even realise I was living by… and passing on.)
This series of blog posts is particularly close to my heart as it has been a long, gruelling and confusing journey with food that I have had. Finally aged 36 I have a very happy, healthy relationship with food and eating. I cannot tell you how refreshing & freeing it is to be able to say that. I never imagined that I would or could feel this way about food. I now know where I stand with it and what’s best for me, my body and my family; confident and clear in the message I believe in and am passing on to my kids. I’ve found our groove. I know where the boundaries and balance is too! It works for us. It may not be right or work for you, but, just in case it does, I wanted to share a little…okay, a fair bit over the next few weeks about this, in hope that it may help others too. What an unexpected miracle and gift it is to be able to say that! This blog post is a little background to this topic & those changes we made, which I hope can be of use to others who feel the same way and can glean any direction/ inspiration from the journey we have had. Before I delve into those, in a series of food related posts I’ll be blogging my way through, let me unfold a little on this topic first in this, my introduction.
Although the initiation of this improvement with food and eating began with the birth of my first child, my daughter, 9 years ago, these changes in attitude, outlook, understanding as well as changes in choices and habits were very gradual, subtle and incremental- developing throughout the years. It continues to develop, even to this day. Small, friendly and freeing changes. There are still things that I catch myself doing and question and correct accordingly- should it occur to me that that needs to happen. It’s a continuous journey, is what I guess I’m trying to get at!
The results of the changes I have implemented are not only a healthier, happier relationship with food and it’s role in my body, but also created such a stress free environment in my home- particularly in regard to feeding the kids, but equally in what I put in my body and how I feel about that! I don’t know about you, but both those issues used to be a huge stress to me! I often caught myself yelling at my kids over how or what they wouldn’t eat, and feeling so frustrated I could pull my hair out, as well as feeling guilty or confused or not too sure about how I felt about what I had eaten…sound familiar to you? I hope that at least some of you are nodding and raising your hands in an ‘Amen to that sister’ sort of style, because like I said in my 1st blog: it is a relief when we see that we are not alone in the struggles and things we find hard, and finding common ground with others in that struggle makes us feel more normal and subsequently more reassured. “It’s not just me… phew!”
I realised that I wasn’t too sure what the ‘rules’ were around food. As a new parent (and any new parent will likely concur) the ‘rules’ around everything are pretty daunting, but in particular food was one which raised so many questions for me, especially as most of your day revolves around it, either feeding them, or prepping for the next meal or shopping for it.
I don’t remember being fed as a baby or being weened when a little older, nor had I seen any siblings or other babies being weened to glean from observing this from others. It was all so new, even though the most normal thing in the history of man. In spite of being almost 9 when my brother was born, I wasn’t really involved in any of that and I certainly don’t remember anything about it being 18 years on since my little girl came into the world.
I do remember my mom breast feeding him and some of her pregnancy too. I now can see so clearly that I, without even realising it, had instinctively assumed that I would be the same as her- it was all I had seen, a very normal thing. We were all born so this is super normal and natural, which must synonymously mean straightforward and easy, right?
It never even crossed my mind that our pregnancies, births and breast feeding experiences could be so different, let alone the shock that came when they were indeed different.. VERY different. What a shock. I wouldn’t say it was a panic but all of a sudden my mom’s experiences weren’t ones I could use to advise myself, they weren’t relatable. Now, I don’t know about any of you, but all of a sudden not being able to just ‘ask mom’ wasn’t a nice, safe place to be. This was now down to me to figure out: my body (relating to the pregnancy and birth… and breastfeeding), my preferences, my baby, my baby’s preferences and what we had to work with. It wasn’t second nature, it wasn’t even first nature (other than knowing we needed to eat). In hindsight perhaps that is a mother’s right of passage though- forging her own way for own unique dynamic and bond as mom and for her child and their union outworked.
I took the advice and made choices and decisions from options & suggestions made by, yes my mom, but also midwives and subsequently the heath visitors about how often to feed and when to ween and trying to pick up on the signs. Then came all the choices: breast, bottle, both, which bottle, which teat on the bottle, one boob at a time, or both in a sitting, which position to feed them (who knew that much like sex, we also have names for the positions we feed our babies…. yep), whether to dream feed or not, or top them up with formula (to fill them a little more and push them to sleep through the night so they didn’t wake from hunger (mainly to give you that desperately sought after longer-than-4-hour sleep stint), not forgetting to feed long enough on a boob to make sure the baby isn’t just getting the ‘drink’ part of the breast feed (fore-milk) but also getting the “hind milk” (the heavier more ‘meal’ part of the milk feed), never-mind trying to remember which breast to feed from next (I still can’t remember if the safety pin I attached to my bra (mom’s suggestion) was there to remind me which boob I last had fed from, or was next to be fed from…ah, memories… (not how I felt at the time)).
Then came: when to ween, how to ween (baby led or other), how much to feed, what to feed and at what ages, jars or pouches… or home made, organic or just any fresh, or a good mix of it all, with a spoon or fingers, where to, how often …. Who would have thought it could be so complicated, and so many opinions, strong ones too (insert emoji- the one with the eyes-wide-open in shock one).
Those choices and decisions I found overwhelming. I remember wondering how this normal, natural thing was so complicated when tribes and villages do all this without guidelines from health care professionals, essentially strangers and other moms to learn from and finding their own way…. Much like with being so separated from where our food comes, and how to prepare it becoming a lost skill to pass down in a “natural” way, so too has birth and even how we view and deal with death…all so normal and natural yet we are so separated from it. Just one of those bizarre cultural things that have happened. Let’s stop assuming that because it’s natural, that we automatically know much about it. It’s through asking questions that kids learn and so too as adults that is the way still to learn… asking questions. But certain things I feel should be more accessible and less assumed to be known/ skills to be possessed.
These revelations and changes are not things that have occurred to me because I have a degree or any sort of qualification in nutrition, or psychology in eating- because I don’t (although because of this passion which has bubbled up in me I absolutely would LOVE to do a nutritional qualification). Which actually brings me to my next passion/ heart felt desire and frustration which is that of feeling let down that I didn’t learn that stuff (name stuff which I have learnt as an adult about food and nutrition and guidelines, even food processes, packaging and labels) at school. So much of this I wish had been integrated into my education. It would have been such a wealth of information. It is such a vital part of us, we all need to eat, and we will all, at some point, need to know how to feed ourselves and how to prepare that food, and be the person going to the shop to make those choices of what we are buying.
Nowadays it is sufficiently convoluted and separated from us that education is required on it (this food subject in it’s many forms). It’s not just something we can learn from our parents/ grandparents as much as was the case 10-20 years ago, because many of them now also don’t possess the knowledge to be able to pass that information or those skills down (and even if they do, not always the time to do so). Manufacturers, in years gone by, have not always been transparent about the chemicals, processes used, so those generations have not been able to even find out for themselves let alone inform their kids about it. Nor would the idea have even entered their heads that less than ideal practices were being used to see the need to look further into it; they trusted the food manufacturers and supermarkets. Not only that but the distribution of information to even get any information (good or bad) was less easy then. [Just the other day my son asked me how chocolate was made, I was aware of how lucky I was to be able to hop onto YouTube for a quick, informative, video explanation. Amazing! I didn’t know but thankfully my lack of knowledge didn’t hinder him getting an accurate answer.]
As the years went on we began to hear more about the processes and chemicals used in food manufacturing and production etc, we started to ask questions, labelling became more relevant and legislated. Particularly in recent years there has been a massive spot light shone on food, education of the processing and rearing practices used and all the above. Even our adverts are starting to use our recent demand for quality, good practice & health. Look at the Lidl/ Aldi tv advertisements where the ad is specifically there to inform the consumer of the fishing practice used (for example). It demystifies, and reassured the consumer of where there product comes from, and how it is obtained. Another example are Birds Eye peas, possibly the first of this trip of ad, where in the advert they reassure the consumers of the freshness of the pea and inform about the freezing process. Knowledge! Even Mc Donalds is doing it!
It doesn’t stop there though, even an awareness of how little we know of identifying the raw ingredients used to make common household food products has had a light shone on it. Jamie Oliver gave a great eye opener to us on this topic a few years ago. In his Food Revolution documentary there was a particular episode where he took in some raw fruits and veg into a school and was shocked to find out just how little many kids knew about the basic fruits and veg. He was in shock; and these weren’t young 3-6 year olds either. They were so used to consuming these products in an altered form. It’s easily done though, I can see the slippery slope. Let’s just take frozen chips as a basic example. Many of us have a bag of frozen chips in the freezer, but what our kids see is the read-to-cook item, as opposed to the actual potato. Just a small example, to show how this gap can occur so easily. I’m sure that especially here in the UK every child could identify a potato still and recognise that that is where a chip comes from, but it just directs you to where the larger issues lie and how easy it is to be removed from them. As a result his (Jamie’s) mission and passion shone a huge light on the gap, and started to bridge it. I highly recommend you take the time to watch some of his stuff. Programmes like ‘Food Unwrapped’ with Jimmy Doherty & co is also amazing. My initial education and hunger for more knowledge on this stuff was sparked with these shows. Every week they look about 3-5 products and unveil so much amazing and wonderful information about them all. They ask tough questions, and demystify so much too. Highly recommend. I am now able to make the informed decisions I want to. Slowly but surely I know what I’m looking for in my purchases.
The more removed we are from our food, where it comes from and what happens to it before it comes into our front door, let alone mouths, the less able we are to make informed choices about what we are eating, and what our food is. Back in the day we were very much more connected to our food, growing it ourselves, preparing, cooking, storing, preserving, processing it. So we knew what it was, and made our balanced choices accordingly. With the development of modern farming, more globalisation, imports, exports, food processes, machinery, chemicals in growing the food and chemicals added to food in the processing of them we are further and further distanced and removed from it, less able to make informed decisions, and subsequently the need to be educated about this is more important than ever.
I love how we now don’t have to grow and prep our food to the degree that past generations used to have to, and feel so blessed at the convenience of being able to purchase these items. Life is so busy, these are wonderful leaps forward, but I still want to know what I’m buying and want to understand the labels I read on the ready-prepared food products I buy. I want to be responsible still for what I’m eating and feeding my kids. This desire lead to many-a-break down in my supermarket trips though and made shopping a huge anxiety to me. So many options, so many decisions, so many labels, offset against price, ingredients and so on…but slowly as my understanding has grown this is less the case for me now. This along with the general shift in society on this topic means that food manufacturers & farmers are meeting the customers desires for safer additives, preservatives, pesticides, less sugar, more natural, less processed, more information. So this is extremely exciting and hugely positive leap forward, though we do have some way to go.
The earlier we learn about it the more second nature it becomes to us. Even if the changes don’t come yet (or at all) at least we are making educated decisions and eyes-wide-open choices. Even the recent sugar tax must make people stop and wonder why, hopefully dissuading mindless choices and encouraging people to think a little more about the choices made. Don’t get me wrong when I fancy a coke, I will have one, no biggie. Anyway, all I’m saying is, more than pythagorus theorem, which I personally have yet to use in my adult life, food science is definitely something we could value from and worth our health, ownership and it’s weight in gold having as standard in schools. Working in a secondary school which does provide food classes (both theory and practical), as a Food Technician with direct access to the kids and the teachers in the food lessons, I am so excited seeing them learning the stuff I didn’t. Another reason I am so blessed to work where I do, I see and am invested in the value these classes bring. I see the need for this education and t’s intrinsic need, the gap being filled. It excites me and brings value investing in something I am so passionate about, and so relevant!
Anyway, enough about education; let’s get back to these afore mentioned revelations which are more about how and why we eat & feed… they are logical, sensible, simple things, which is why I get so passionate about these adaptations that we have made as family: it’s easy, it makes sense. I get so excited when I hear some of these topics and mindsets being brought up and questioned also by others and hear friends echo their frustrations and journeys in the same direction! Equally I cannot help but correct others when they comment to me or my kids otherwise. I would never correct others implementing their ethos on food to their kids, and similarly I expect to be respected as the authority on me and my kids with our ethos. I’m sharing these ideas with you not to correct or judge anyone, but simply to share what we do and why, and hope it is a helpful tool to anyone who this makes sense to. It has been such a help to us and made life around this issue so much happier I hope it helps others too. So join me next week in Part 1 of My Family Food Journey, where I’ll be talking about “Why I don’t make my children eat everything on their plate”.
Written by: Nicole Allen (Coffee Cups and Cuddles)