Philippa Cresswell of EP Evolution discusses the challenge of encouraging children to build healthy relationships with food, what is acceptable as a cultural norm in society and how this impacts on dining out choices
With a food background and general interest in healthy eating, it was with somewhat rose tinted glasses that I embarked on my journey in bringing up two children.
When I had control (for that short period before they could talk or have an opinion of their own), having read all the ‘right books’ and with years of knowledge, I was obsessed with five-a-day, sensible carbohydrates, and low sugar/salt diet guidelines – feeling virtuous when I was batch cooking organic veggies and using grains, or finding alternative ways to give ‘treats’…
…and somewhat scornful of mothers I would encounter allowing toddlers to pressurise – and invariably – win the pester battles for crisps and chocolate. Why didn’t they just give them a piece of fruit or a carrot stick?
Then with the venture into nursery/childcare I had the aforementioned glasses wrenched from me and dived head long into the real world! The bribery of sweets/chocolate ‘if you are good’ in the supermarket, that I swore I would never do became a reality and McDonalds as a treat became firmly fixed on the radar.
So where did it all go wrong?
As a lover of food and differing experiences I was eager to share and educate my children in the exciting and constantly evolving world of restaurants, local markets and other dining opportunities, but quickly realised that for our sanity and enjoyment there had to be a huge wedge of compromise.
a. An environment where it felt acceptable and comfortable to take kids; or
b. Menu items which the children would eat
BUT Invariably a child friendly environment means easy wipe tables, the immediate arrival of crayons and colouring sheets (helpful for about five minutes and honestly not really added value) and large bottles of Heinz Ketchup – and then of course the menu…
I am not even sure why companies bother spending money printing them because THEY ARE ALL THE SAME !!!
Fish and chips, sausage and mash, chicken nuggets and fries, pizza – you get the picture, and, of course, the adult menu is limited and again fairly samey to fit the environment and need for speedy delivery of food to table. (This is a little unfair as some restaurants do try really hard – readers of previous blogs will know I am a firm fan of Bills, and Giraffe, who have had a really good go at getting the food choices right).
My real problem with this is that, as a society, it is more culturally the ‘norm’ and convenient to take children out to eat more – and with ‘THE children’s menu’ we are educating our children in a limited number of high fat, bland and poor nutritional dishes which as a result extends into our homes and schools.
My children have school meals – and trust me I have read and interrogated the menu – and to be fair it is fairly well balanced with good choices and a hot and cold counter. But which day do they all love the best? Fish and chip Friday of course.
Jamie Oliver did a great job – stuck his neck out and took the consequences for what he believed in and any parent knows it is more difficult to stick up for what is right rather than take the easy (tantrum free) option.
However I am not sure that we properly educate children in the food they are eating and its affect on their bodies. The Olympics has had a huge impact on children – our local sports clubs are still oversubscribed as a result of children wanting to be future athletes, but I hear the parents saying ‘it’s great to keep the weight off’, which makes me want to scream – children should enjoy sport for what it is and balance it with a varied diet (including some ‘naughties’).
Perhaps if we talked more in schools about food, where it is grown, seasons, cooking styles and the effect on the food we eat, all of which could be made interesting and foster a healthy approach – food doesn’t make you fat if you eat the right foods, cooked well and in sensible amounts – then it would be understood that it’s about balance.
Messages such as:
- Carbohydrates are perfect to give us energy and help support exercise
- Good intake of vitamins helps healthy and bright skin
- The impact of Calcium on our bones – strength for every day growth
- Fish – brilliant for our brain and amazing lean protein
Given to a marketer these could have amazing impact.
I was musing this with a colleague and real foodie recently and he laughed and said “I’m not sure why you are so surprised that people eat fatty foods – let’s face it fat tastes
good !” And of course he is right, but for me it is always about balance – a little of what you fancy mixed in with a wider and more varied selection. Let fish and chips be oven baked and a treat rather than banned totally – after all, who doesn’t love a chip!
And with my commercial head on that is why I struggle with hotels and restaurants who say they will only provide what will sell and so the vicious circle continues. BUT as an industry which has worked so hard to raise its profile as a career of choice don’t we have an obligation to at least try?
How hard is it to offer healthier choices which children still love? Surely with so many ingredients already on the main menu this could be offered with no wastage implication? Wouldn’t this attract more customers without impacting margin – remembering, as I read recently, that loyalty is the new discount?
How about some fun and delicious yet simple nutritional favourites on every children’s menu?
Think: boiled egg and soldiers, omelettes, stir fry, noodles, tomato based pastas – ingredients for all these will be found in nearly every kitchen. There are also sponsorship opportunities – oven baked chicken breast in cornflakes – let’s think outside the box (cereal or otherwise)!
And the industry is in part trying to help. I recently had the pleasure of listening to Sarah Jayne Stanes – chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts talking about their Chef Adopt a School programme, where chefs support a local school delivering fun and interactive lessons on food origin, through to cooking and provide a course which I intend to attend.
Children need to understand the basics to at least give them a chance at making an ‘informed choice’ and learn to enjoy food too.
Philippa has worked in the hospitality and travel industry for 20 years, specialising in brand and concept design, operations and implementation. During that time she has worked for high profile brands including NEXT, House of Fraser, Debenhams, Safeway and the Virgin group. Most recently Philippa was New Product Development Director at Virgin Trains, responsible for scoping the customer experience strategy and ensuring its delivery to support the Virgin Brand umbrella. A creative, customer centric and results driven consultant with a passion for delivering real value at all levels of a business.