As a parent of two amazing but at times tricky toddlers, I am all too familiar with the challenges of juggling all the demands of a busy family life. For me, when I initially returned to work I went back full time and my children were looked after Monday to Friday by a brilliant nursery 5 days a week. I never really worried about them going to Nursery. I really was quite relaxed about the whole thing I think because I knew we had chosen a lovely nursery with amazing staff who were probably going to do a far better job than I could in stimulating and socialising my children at home just myself. The only small teeny tiny thing that wasn’t quite perfect with that particular nursery we had chosen was that they didn’t provide any meals for the children other than breakfast. We were asked to make packed lunches and teas to send in for our children to eat during the nursery day.
In theoretical terms, this doesn’t sound like a big deal. It was a compromise that seemed worth making to have our children go to an otherwise excellent nursery. Then we began to live it. At first it was ok. I’m a huge foodie and a chef and everything my eldest son ate at first was made from scratch, super healthy, packed with nutrients and all that jazz. A continuation of how he ate from when he first began to explore food during the weaning stage. It all got a bit tougher when my daughter was born and at the same time my son was just approaching the terrible twos. I had heard of the terrible twos. I was expecting it. I expected it to be pretty rubbish. What I wasn’t expecting was what came along with it for us. The picky eating phase. The daily reports at Nursery handover were becoming consistently, “Harris didn’t eat much of his lunch or his tea today”. “Harris refused his lunch completely today”. “Harris is adamant that he doesn’t like pasta”. I had never heard of a child who didn’t like pasta before. “Harris put everything into his mouth, chewed it for a while and then squirrelled it away in this cheeks like a hamster before he eventually spat it all out again”.
What on earth was happening? This was completely new behaviour and seemed to come out of nowhere. He had previously been such a good wee eater who would have a go at just about anything. Here I am juggling a new baby, sleepless nights, slogging away in the kitchen at all hours of the night with matchsticks holding my eyes open, baby hanging off the boob, cooking delicious healthy wholesome meals for this devil child who either point blank refused to eat or squirreled and spat out.
The motivation quickly drained from me. Why plough all this energy into making yummy healthy meals for a child that doesn’t touch them? Soon I was back to work and we quickly fell into a cycle of sending the same ham sandwiches every day “because we knew he would at least eat them if nothing else”, some fruit or other and the best, most child friendly, no added sugar variety of yoghurt I could find in the supermarket. My poor daughter, who was now also attending Nursery, lost out because she got the same as her fussy brother even though her range of acceptable food was much broader than his. We just couldn’t cope with preparing different meals for the two children during the working week. Preparing the packed lunches and teas became a chore that was shared between myself and my partner. There was no joy or pride left in this for me as a mother. We would draw straws for not doing it. We would argue about who had done them more often in the last few days. It was a constant source of dread and unhappiness in our house. This was our lowest point.
This is where Little Lunches comes from. It comes from knowing in my heart that my children were not having the early food experiences that I wanted for them. I saw this incredible opportunity to make a change for the better but for it to be truly effective it had to be more than just about cooking the right food for my children. It’s about turning mealtimes into a different experience for the children within the nursery setting and then doing this in a more macro way with more nurseries. It’s about finding little triggers and fun ways to get the children talking about their meals with their friends across the table. It’s about turning mealtimes into a time to explore new less familiar foods in a safe environment, learn about nutrition and where their food comes from, and to experience new textures and tastes.
We started Little Lunches in the Nursery that my children go to. The journey has been amazing. Just 4 months in, Harris (the super picky son) now eats everything, including pasta! He can still push the boundaries at home with us but I worry less about it now because I know he eats really well at nursery 5 days a week. Meadow is approaching 2 and I can see early signs of fussy eating with her. I’m really hopeful that the impact will be less stark with her. Time will tell.
I frequently hear from other Parents that Little Lunches has had a really positive impact on both their home life (the packed lunch effect) and also the range of foods that their children will now eat. When you hear “we have changed the way we eat at home – we now make a conscious effort to eat together as a family as much as possible” and “there’s lots of foods I had stopped offering because my child continually refused them at home but now we have expanded the range of food we offer at home to match the Little Lunches offering” it gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling that we are doing something really great here. We are making a difference. A good one.
One of my favourite moments recently was when I had taken Harris and Meadow to a birthday party. It was one of the little boys in Harris’s class at Nursery so there were a few nursery Mum’s and Dad’s there. One particular Mum came over and said “Are you Lisa?” SO of course I said “Yes” as I wondered what was coming next (desperately hoping it wasn’t something bad). She continued with, “you are the lady who has changed my life.