Written by Niki Karatza (@niki.karatza)
"I challenge you, to go to any school and open 50 lunchboxes, and I guarantee you there will be one or two cans of Red Bull, there'll be cold McDonald's and jam sandwiches with several cakes".
- Jamie Oliver
One of the most intense childhood memories I have, is the angry look of my mother - who would always be doing some crazy magic in the kitchen - when I was refusing to eat the food she had prepared, something that was quite common! Not because she doesn't know how to cook (for a non-professional chef, her culinary skills are being appreciated by way too many people!) but just because I was so picky in what I "chose" to put in my belly, ending up even vomiting if they would push me to finish the food on my plate (well, I'm not so proud of myself indeed, and my family still makes fun of me...)
Fortunately years passed, and I can now proudly say that my distinction in food choices relies on other reasons - quite different - than only on the level of sexiness of the food in my plate.
But of course, in the eyes of a young 8 year's old skinny greek child, french fries or pizza seemed absolutely gorgeous next to a plate full of boiled cauliflower because "we need to eat healthy".
These days, an article by the famous photographer Gregg Segal came to my attention. This guy travelled around the world and photographed children with the food they would eat in one week.
Nino Khaburzahia, 6 years old (West Hollywood, California)
Left: Paolo Mendlaro, 9 years old (Catania, Italy); Right: Amelia Gavia, 12 years old (Catania, Italy)
Frank Fadel Agbomenou, 8 years old (Dakar, Senegal)
I don't know how much time I've spent starring at these pictures, simply thinking that most of the children at this age will definitely have taste preferences, but their food choice is nothing but theirs. The person who is taking care of the dinner preparation, the availability of groceries in the nearest supermarket, what friends find "cool" to eat, what is sold at school, what is promoted on the Internet, the new fast-food franchise around the corner, all have an impact of how the child will satisfy the hungry belly.
And there it comes - always from a weird corner - the science on eating behaviour talking about early-life experiences with all various tastes and flavours to have a very active role in establishing and promoting behaviours that will persist throughout a child's life. Parents should act as positive role models for what to chose to eat. Nutritional programmes should be addressed directly to them while focusing on education, other socio-economic aspects, food availability and food culture.
But to defend the weird child inside me who starves for new food sensory experiences, children should be encouraged to keep learning about the flavours & texture of food, just by the simplest and most powerful act: Playing!
There are some nice examples of supporting creative play through food design as well, which can actively guide and inspire us on how to eat more creatively. Here I put a couple of my favourite food/eating experience designs related to food play and children.
Veggie Bling Bling - Eating experience by Marije Vogelzang here
V&A’s Museum of Childhood - ‘The Edible Exhibition’ here
Nico Eats creative toolkit here
Either we are talking about parents, teachers or anyone who tries to teach children to eat healthily, we should always remember that a child's creativity is fed by our own knowledge on nutrition but also on our own curiosity and playfulness around food.
So let's simply play all together :)
Check out Gregg Segal's whole photography collection here
Follow Niki Karatza on Instagram @niki.karatza