We almost always sit at the table to eat together. On a rare night, we might sit in front of the television, but I hate it when we do.
As soon as kids are capable of sitting up at the table, they’re capable of learning manners, learning etiquette about eating and just chatting. With two boys, I am conscious of keeping the conversation going, so chatting around the table is really good.
My kids have gone through fussy phases. My approach was, and is, they had to taste everything on their plate, but they didn’t have to finish it. I tried not to make too much of a song and dance about it.
I don’t ban them from eating sweets. I’d prefer they learnt to have some self-control rather than going crazy when they’re at a party. I never buy lollies. Never. I sometimes bake muesli bars or muffins which have some sugar in them, but have wholesome ingredients as well. Occasionally, I give them a bit of dark chocolate or buy them an ice cream at the beach.
My son recently tried soft drink at a party and turned it down because it was too sweet.
I try not to put sweets up on a pedestal. Instead, I try to make more fuss over healthy things. So I might say, “We’re having a yummy seafood pasta tonight!” Or “Mmm, we’ve got a fresh pineapple!”
We don’t have dessert every night. My youngest has a sweet tooth, and every night he asks if we’re having dessert. I usually say, “No, but you can have a piece of fruit or yoghurt.”
I’ve taught them about nutrition right from an early age. I’d say, “This is bottom food” or “This is brain food”, and as they’ve gotten older, that conversation has become more elaborate.
At dinnertime, there is always a salad on the table. We might have seafood or meatballs and rice, or it might be chicken schnitzels where I make the crumbs myself. The boys’ favourite is probably fajitas with wholegrain tortillas, chicken, avocado and salad. It’s fun for families sitting around the table, and everyone can make their own.
In their school lunch boxes, there might be one packaged thing, such as a Freedom Foods cereal bar, a packet of popcorn, or a packet of brown rice crackers. I quickly throw together a sandwich or wrap with leftover chicken or tuna with some lettuce. They also have a sliced apple and cheese. Sometimes, I give them natural yoghurt which I put into a small tub with a few slices of fresh fruit.
For an after-school snack, they might have toast and nut butter with a little honey — that’s a favourite. Or beans and cheese on toast, or cheese with wholegrain crackers. Or it might just be fruit salad and yoghurt.
Glenn Cardwell and his wife have three adult children who no longer live at home with them.
Some mornings, I cycle 50–60km, so breakfast is big. I mix up a few cereals, add in some oats, seeds and nuts, top it with Greek-style yoghurt, and then add milk.
An hour or two after breakfast, I’ll grab a banana and whack it into a piece of bread. (I tend not to eat lunch.) Snacking is not a downfall; it’s my ‘upfall’. I don’t eat biscuits. I just ate a nectarine, but I don’t think of it as ‘snacking’; I was just hungry. If I’m hungry, I might have a leftover pumpkin muffin, or canned salmon on a piece of bread with mayonnaise.
Dinner times are fragmented. We both lead unpredictable lives so it’s whoever is around who cooks.
I probably cook 80–90 per cent of the meals. But it has to be done in 30 minutes. It may be a salad and vegie burgers or salmon. Or a curry with light coconut milk. I make lots of pies, frittatas and vegie burgers, so if you don’t eat them straight away, they’re OK cold.
I don’t ever eat dessert. Every couple of months, I might make a fruit cake or a chocolate cake. I sometimes drink a glass of wine while I cook, but not while I’m eating.
Nicole Senior is married with one son, Finn, 3 1/2.
Having a pre-schooler in the household, I’m conscious of imprinting habits, attitudes and information that will set him up for life.
Meal times are sacred. Everyone sits down — and with a pre-schooler, I know that’s a challenge.
But I want us to sit, talk, share and discuss.
I’m not a restaurant. I don’t make special meals, we all eat the same. But I try to be cool if Finn rejects a food. Neophobia — a fear of the new — is very normal in children. I have a little rule that he must at least try it. If it’s a mixed meal, he can pick at the stuff he does like. If he’s not into the meal at all, then when we are all finished, he can have a glass of milk, some yoghurt or a piece of fruit.
I plan for dinner. If I’ve got dinner worked out by lunchtime, I find I can relax a bit. I tend to buy ingredients that look good and are in season. We might have burritos with wholegrain wraps, or we might do a barbecue with a salad, or a pasta dish. If we do a stir-fry, I mix up a combination of white and brown rice. (My husband doesn’t fancy brown rice, so we’ve come to a bit of a compromise!)
We always talk about food in a positive way. When we’re eating meat I might say, “Did you know this will make your muscles big and strong?” or “Milk and yoghurt is good for strong bones” or “Bread gives you energy to play!” This way, Finn gets the idea that different food is good for the body in different ways.
I try to respect the pre-school appetite. We know that kids at his age eat to appetite, so I don’t demand he finishes things if he has had enough. Also, I tend to serve him smaller portions, and then I’ll give him more if he wants more. If he doesn’t eat a meal, I may recycle it into mini frittatas, as I know he likes eggs.
We also talk about the sensory aspect of food; colour and crunch, and whether it’s sweet or sour. I won’t ever talk about food in a negative way and say “that’s junk” or “that’s bad for you”. I just say, “Some foods are everyday foods and some foods are sometimes foods.”
I’m relaxed about sweet ‘sometimes’ foods. I keep them to a minimum, but we do have ice cream from time to time, and my son has wholegrain cereals with a little sugar, and he likes some flavoured milk.
But, at the same time, he knows that lollies are sometimes foods and I will put them away where he can’t see them. I think if you make too much of a big deal about those kinds of foods, they become even more desirable.
I also don’t talk about my body or anybody else’s body in negative terms. If I can imprint that upon him, it will help him have a positive relationship with his own body and also respect for others.
It’s a tough gig (monitoring what you say) because it is insidious in our culture to be judgmental about body shape.
Catherine Saxelby is married with two adult children. Her daughter Georgia, 25, lives at home and is vegetarian.
Georgia is a vegetarian but my husband David and I are not going to give up meat. With Georgia sometimes being home, or coming in late, or sometimes bringing a friend, I try to be as flexible as possible with dishes.
So I use my freezer a lot and I always have a reserve of vegetarian basics in there.
If I’m cooking lentils, I will cook two cups and freeze one; same with quinoa and rice. I’m even experimenting with chopping and freezing onions — because just about every recipe starts with a chopped onion.
I come up with sides that can also be vegetarian mains. For example, I’ll cook brown rice with lentils and other vegetables, or make onion with capsicum and corn niblets; or maybe baby spinach with mushroom. David and I will eat that as our vegie side, along with a piece of grilled meat, while Georgia can have that as her main with a barbecued mushroom on the side.
After dinner, David always has a piece of milk chocolate with hazelnuts. I don’t, because I’m not that into chocolate, but I have a glass of wine each night.
I ran a pretty relaxed kitchen when my kids were growing up. I never used to buy soft drinks or those little bags of salty chips that come in multipacks. I would have standard, normal food; regular milk and cheese, and plenty of fruit and veg that the kids could make into healthy snacks. I didn’t have many strict rules because I didn’t want them to end up with disordered eating. Nor did I make any comment about body shape. Fortunately, Georgia didn’t crash-diet. She has a very good attitude towards food and to her body.
I would never make any comments to a teenage girl about her shape. And I would say to other mothers, never let your daughter see you on a diet or restraining your food — the research shows that’s an example they absorb.
I don’t buy junk food or have it in the house. And I don’t keep a lot of snacks in the cupboard. For a lot of people, the downside of working from home is that food is available all the time, so there is more of a tendency to grab snacks.
If you work from home, try to plan your snacks — maybe cheese and biscuits; a tub of yoghurt or some fruit, and then portion it out in advance into single serve containers. That way, you avoid taking the whole biscuit pack back to your desk and grazing through the lot.
Because I work from home, I try not to eat at my desk. I eat meals in the kitchen, and that change of scene prevents mindless snacking. It’s important to have set breaks and leave your desk environment.