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  • Hannah Rosalie

My Son Thinks I'm Weird

Cereal is not for breakfast

Last weekend, Sunday morning in fact, 8am, I had a debate with my twelve year old. Actually, it was with the whole family in the end. And when I say debate, I mean argument. It began over a bowl of Sainsburys hoops. My nine year old joined in and just when I thought progress was being made, they both looked to my husband who had innocently stumbled downstairs for breakfast. Who inadvertently sided with them.

"Mama says hoops are not for breakfast!"

Since the boys were tiny we have generally not eaten cereal for breakfast, never really had it in the house, except for the odd box purchased by my husband for late night snacks. But, as the boys rapidly approach teenage, I have taken a moderated stance and allowed flexibility in our generally wholesome lifestyle. So they don't feel too 'weird'.

"Mum, you're not normal!"

I know.

"Cereal is not food and it's not for breakfast, choose something else" I say. And so the debate went on.

Cereal is 'not food' along with the many other ultra-processed foods which we don't keep in the house. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that ultra-processed foods or UPFs lead to far reaching health problems, obesity and gut issues.

I'm often in awe of my eldest. He has a brilliant mind and makes a fantastic arguer. He begins to quote statements from the box. "High in fibre" "Made from wholegrains" "Can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle".

My 9 year old asked Alexa, who duly tells him that breakfast cereal is a healthy choice.

I feel irritated and exasperated.

We have long been trimming UPFs out of our regular shopping for a variety of reasons from trying to reduce our plastic waste (much of which ends up in marine ecosystems) to simply wanting to know what's in our food and where it has come from. Alarmingly, development of UPFs is now leading to repurposing by-products of both the food and agriculture industy. Extruded products such as breakfast cereals and pasta have been developed by researchers using agricultural by-products.

The argument continued.

Eventually, mainly on grounds of sugar consumption, I won. But the victory was small and at twelve, I don't expect to win for long.

It used to be all about sugar for me. When I started Barn Cottage Nursery in 2016 I knew it had to be sugar-free. Now, it's all about UPFs. And a bowl of Sainsburys hoops last Sunday represented everything that is wrong with global food production and marketing in a world which sometimes seems set on persuading my children to take part in a global system that serves no one but high-profit multi nationals. I recently read about food-tasting for new products and when set before the tasting panel, foods were selected not on which tasted best, but those which made the taster reach for more.

UPFs have been creeping their way into our diets for decades. They have become so ubiquitous that many are easily disguised as 'healthy' and the official NHS Eatwell guide still classifies low-fat margarines and packaged cereals as “healthier” options. Processed weaning snacks are another minefield.

There’s a huge difference between a cooked carrot and a bag of industrially produced, carrot-flavoured veggie puffs aimed at toddlers, even if those veggie puffs are cynically marketed as “natural”.

So rewind 9 years and I have a picky toddler and a weaning baby. Like many new mums I'm a little bit food obsessed, cooking up lovely homemade meals ready to be thrown from the highchair. Despite my son's dislike of mixed up foods, anything with tiny bits of green in, anything without cheese on, I plough on regardless. Around this time I remember watching a documentary. A family in India were sitting and eating around a huge cooking pot. A small child, probably around the same age as my son, was eating the family food. It was mixed up, had bits of green in it and didn't have cheese on top.

It was a turning point for me as I realised that our family, our community and our wider culture as well as our genetics defines our dietary preferences. Children were not born eating 'only chicken nuggets'. It's a process that we are part of. I was fascinated by the concept.

It led me to question what child-friendly food is for, and why we choose to feed children a different diet to adults. And when does an adult diet start anyway?

At both Seasons and Barn Cottage we serve simple home-cooked food and broadly we look after two types of child. One who will eat anything and one who is more discerning. At Seasons, there is a third child, first noticed by our educators as we welcomed our first cohort of 'Barn Cottage 'children across. A child who is discerning at home, but will enjoy a range of foods at nursery.

We noticed something fascinating. "Barn Cottage children eat well". Parents noticed it too 'they would never eat that at home'.

I was so excited to start to see this shift. Evidence that when children are introduced to a tasty wholefood menu and eat in a group or community, consistently, without pressure, we were creating a culture. A Barn Cottage culture that children, and educators, began to view as the norm.

Children joining at age 3 direct to Seasons were certainly warier of the menu. Over time however, we have seen them adjust too, as they begin to learn the culture and community of Seasons. A culture that surrounds them with choices founded in a respect for our environment, ourselves and each other.

At Seasons and Barn Cottage, we like to keep it simple. Fresh vegetables, whole grains, pulses, houmous and sauces made from roasted vegetables, seasonal fruit and at Barn Cottage homemade wholemeal bread. We work closely with families to make sure there is something each day their child will enjoy, even if it means keeping pasta to one side 'unsauced' or providing fresh bread and butter with each meal. And we trust, that in time, they will adjust and take their first steps to enjoying wonderful 'real' seasonal food.

And if you are wondering, no, my children certainly do not 'eat everything' and they love a takeaway pizza, but I passionately believe that instilling a culture of respect around food, it's journey to our plate and our place in the world as custodians of the planet for future generations is all wrapped up in the food we choose to eat. And this is something I hope they will carry with them through life.

Even if my son thinks I'm 'weird'.

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