Monthly Archives: January 2015

Learning to eat … as a family

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This week, we started eating all together, at the dining room table, like decent human beings.

It’s something I’ve wanted to start for a while. I’ve read so much about the importance of shared mealtimes away from the TV – what it does for family cohesion and establishing eating patterns and healthy habits in small children – but it’s just never really come together. Lil A has been eating supper at 6, usually haphazard meals thrown together. Scrambled egg sandwiches with raw carrots has been a favourite, and baked frozen fish with leftover sweet potatoes. She’s been eating her main meal at lunchtime and so supper’s always been low-key for her, in her highchair, while her dad or I cook our dinner, or send work emails, or feed the dogs, or exercise. Then once Lil A was in bed, my hub and I would scoff our food down in front of the TV.

But no. This was the week that that was going to change, hopefully forever.

I knew this would change what and when we ate, but I didn’t foresee how difficult the change would be. Firstly, getting a meal from scratch on the table by 7pm means starting at 5, especially because Lil A wants nothing more than to “help me cook” – in other words, putting her step stool in front of the counter and using her tiny whisk to stir sugar into water and then eating bits of everything I’ve chopped up. And then, once we’re all finally sitting and ready to eat, she doesn’t really know what to do with herself. Having been left to feed herself and get on with it, she’s suddenly confronted with both of us willing and able to give her attention while she eats, which, of course, means she just doesn’t eat. And after five minutes of picking, she hops off her chair – because she can.

We’ve not found the answer yet. We’ve just decided to only attempt this family-at-the-table thing three times a week, and have had to accept that, at first, she’s only going to be able to sit with us to eat for a few minutes at a time, and hopefully she’ll be able to tolerate it for longer and longer as she gets older. Whatever she doesn’t finish on her plate, she gets for lunch the next day and, left to her own devices, she’s been polishing it off. I suppose we should give her smaller portions for supper, too, seeing as she’s still getting a cooked meal at lunchtime.

But the main thing I’m struggling with is not commenting on what or how much she eats. I’ve read that this is the best (possibly only) way to keep food from being a source of guilt or reward for your kids. I don’t want her to attach as much guilt to food as I did as a teenager and young adult, and I also don’t want to use it as a reward or punishment for her. I don’t want her to attach emotion to it. I don’t want her to become an emotional eater as an adult. i want her to enjoy food and to respect it. So once she’s said she’s had enough at the dinner table, I have to bite down hard on my tongue and quash my instinct to say “No, you haven’t. Just one more bite”, or “How about you just finish your carrots, then you can watch TV?”. I’m trying to get better at simply making sure that everything on her plate is healthy, so that no matter what or how much she eats, she’ll be getting something good. Toddlers are really good at knowing when they’ve had enough to eat and eating only when they’re hungry, and I really don’t want to mess with that. When we leave her to eat by herself and get on with it, I’m confident that she eats as much as she needs, but with eating at the table, I’m worried that she’s just saying she’s had enough because she’s got bored with sitting still. So I need to keep reminding myself that she’ll eat if she’s hungry, and that she will probably finish her food the next day when she gets her leftovers for lunch. It’s hard, though! So many of us were raised under the “you can’t leave the table until you finish your food” philosophy that it just comes naturally to try to encourage your kid to eat more than they would otherwise.

As far as what we eat goes, so far, we haven’t had to change very much, actually.

If you’re curious or want some inspiration for what to feed your tot (especially if you eat the same food, don’t want to eat too much meat, and don’t want to overload on carbs at night), have a look at the dishes we’ve made so far – they’ve all got Lil A’s approval. And that’s not easily won – she’s two-and-a-half and very particular about what she eats!

Spinach, mushroom and feta crustless quiche

Quinoa taco bowl

Jack Monroe’s spaghetti puttanesca

Greek fish tacos

Italian Chicken Caprese

And here are the resources I like to use to find tot-friendly family food:

Dinner vs Child on the Food52 blog (makes for pretty hysterical reading and has great ways to introduce complex flavours and “exotic” dishes to kids)

Jack Monroe in the Guardian (a bonus is that her recipes are also really budget-friendly)

Feel free to follow my yummysuppers board on Pinterest for some free inspiration – I cook 80% of the dishes I Pin onto it, and lately they’ve all been appropriate for family dinners. I’m not ever going to be dedicated enough to be a food blogger, but I think I’m getting to grips with the (relative) “art” of knowing which blogs to visit and which recipes to recreate.

Anywhere but here

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I haven’t blogged for months and months, mostly because of some Interesting Life Developments that diverted my attention. I’ve had so much going on in my brain, so many thoughts about Living, and none of them have been coherent enough to shape into a single post.

But the only thing worse than a shitty blog is a neglected blog, so today I’m going to try to write about one of the issues I’ve been absent-mindedly dwelling on in the last few months. Not the quandaries of a second pregnancy (I’m halfway into mine, despite believing I’d not be able to get pregnant again, and not knowing if I even wanted to), about which I could wax lyrical; not about an imminent change in the texture of my workdays (after the baby, I’m resigning from work, and starting as a freelancer, so for the first time in my adult life, I won’t be on anybody’s full-time payroll); and not about my husband’s abrupt about-turn into taking leadership of a start-up and what that will mean for our family of three-nearly-four.

It’s about something a lot more general, but it’s also something I’ve got more questions than definitive thoughts about: staying in South Africa. (Edit: It irritates me when bloggers preface posts containing their personal opinion in this way, but I can see why they do. Reader, please know that if you are thinking of emigrating, or have emigrated, and I know you as a friend or family member, this is not a post criticising you or your motivations to leave. It’s more a statement on my experience of the politics of what it means to be a white middle-class South African in this day and age, using as a launchpad the instance of recently hearing that a friend – who is not a social media connection, so it’s probably not you – and her family are in the process of emigrating, and my feelings when she told me. It’s not about you, or anyone in particular. Thank you.)

I had to ask myself this question a few months ago: Why is it that when friends tell me they’re emigrating, the first thing I feel is betrayed? I wouldn’t feel that way if they were moving to a different city, so it’s not because they’re leaving Cape Town to live somewhere else and thus denying me their company.

And then: Do people in other countries feel this way when their friends emigrate?

Or do I feel betrayed at news of friends leaving South Africa because of where we’ve been in the last 20 years, the narrative of the Rainbow Nation – the idea that we’ve built this amazing, brand-new, free and open and wonderful society together since ’94, and you don’t get to just opt out of that? Even though we all know by now that the Rainbow Nation narrative was just that – a tall tale, a yarn – and that the majority of South Africans are poor, and desperate, and dismayed with all the things that haven’t happened in 20 years … Or is it because it makes me question my own choices, because it casts aspersions on my own satisfaction with our life here, because it makes me feel inferior for thinking that this is an incredible place to live?

It could be a little bit of all of those things. But after a while, I started to realise that the reason I feel betrayed is this: I feel like my friends, middle-class white people who leave South Africa because they’re dissatisfied with the way they live here, are just being ungrateful.

Because as a middle-class white South African, I know that we live a charmed life. We must be the most privileged group of people anywhere in the world. The end of apartheid did not mean that our lives changed – we never needed the stockpiles of bread my mother kept in the freezer, or the tins of beans she collected in case of war; we kept our sturdy homes and our schools and our private healthcare and our beach houses and our dignity and the respect of others, at least overtly, and hell, even our cars and books and electronics and TVs; we got to keep all the things we’d denied so many people. One of the only ways our lives changed was that now we could feel better about ourselves; our white guilt could start to be erased. We’re all equal now under law, right? If I succeed, it’s because of the work I’ve put in myself. I’ve worked hard every single day of my  life, and so I deserve everything I’ve got. The poor are the way they are because of bad decisions they’ve made. It’s basically their own fault. This kind of thing is easier to say now than it was for our parents. Of course, it’s all utter bullshit, but it’s so easy to adopt this attitude these days. If anything, since the end of apartheid, I feel like white middle-class South Africans have actually become more privileged.

So I look at my friends who have big houses and comfortable suburban lives and medical aid and every convenience they’d have in more developed countries (and, in many cases, more than they’d have overseas) and listen to them say that they’re leaving “because of the crime” (never mind that they’re safer in their suburbs than 99% of their fellow South Africans, and that the reason they feel so vulnerable is because so many people have so much less than they do, and maybe the best way to address this would be to start trying to solve it, like making monthly donations to organisations that give people a head-start in getting an education, finding work, learning skills) and “for their children”, and I just think – how can you be so ungrateful? What kind of life will you live in the UK, in the States, in Australia or New Zealand, that would be better than living here, right now? Tell me – what tangible or intangible privileges will your children have there that they’re not getting here?

And I’m coming up blank.

I love it here. I hope to never leave. I feel lucky and privileged and guilty every day, and in my own ways I’m going to keep trying to correct the terrible things that have happened and keep happening to put me and other people like me in this position of privilege.

But I can’t say any of this to people like me who are desperate to leave. The irony is that the reason they can choose to leave is their privilege – their other passports, their education, their resources, all the things that being white and middle-class in South Africa has allowed them. But the poor, the ones whose lives are really rotten? They’ve got nowhere to go.