A way of living

When my children were young, we had lots of picnic. We almost never left the house without a picnic basket for a very simple reason: we didn’t have that much money, and even tea and cake in a cafe cost a lot when there were so many of us. So we never ate out. We ate lots of cheese sandwiches on fields, in parks, grasslands, meadows, forests and seafronts all over England and Europe. We picnicked on beautiful sunny days but we have also picnicked under grey, drizzling skies, sitting on horse blankets, eating soggy cheese sandwiches.

Whenever I was too lazy or too rushed, I’d just buy stuff from the delicatessen or supermarket and make up an impromptu picnic.

Apart from the cost-savings, the upside we found was the fact the kids never whined about being ‘hungry’ whenever the saw or smell yummy stuff. They never pestered us for candy floss or burgers. Because they know my response: “Let’s see what’s in the picnic basket if you’re hungry.”

So now, the kids are grown. We can afford to eat in cafes and restaurants on our trips. But old habits die hard….it has indeed become a way of living, something that I really cherish. That’s us today, bumping along on the country roads with a picnic basket and horse blankets in the backseat.


Teaching children about the world

When my children were young, they used to make home videos about the environment, write plays about the natural world, climb, hike, swim and play with Nature, and people would often comment, “Wow, didn’t know you all are so green / into the environment / pro-Nature/ etc.”

Well, we are not exceptionally green / into the environment / pro Nature / etc. No more than we should, and we were merely passing on a love for our world to our children. Just for fun, whilst I was at University and juggling small babies (no nannies or helpers) I did a project with my young children in tow on paper recycling because it bothered me so much. I took my children to the paper mills and recycling plants, and told them never to waste paper. Published by my University, that academic work is still knocking about in the world. Here it is.

It is so important to begin teaching children environmental stewardship from a very young age. To know is to love, and whilst they are still tiny, children still have the eyes to see magic in its full glory. This is the best time to fall in love with Nature and understand its complexities. And once you understand Nature, you understand life.

It doesn’t make them crazed tree-huggers (though what’s wrong with that? The world needs more tree-huggers in fact). Here’s an example. I was complaining to my daughter G that I hate all these packaging. We recycle with militant zeal and avoid as much packaging as possible, yet we end up with tonnes. It drives me crazy.


G quipped, “Mum, have you thought about this? Manufacturers are not your enemy. They want to lower their packaging costs too, but they have to get their products to consumers undamaged. So be it strawberries or a television set, packaging is needed. I’d say they use the minimum they can get away with to save costs on their side.”

This debate raised another point for us to take onboard, which is buy local as much as possible. Apart from the need for less packaging, we are actually support the smallholders against big multinationals. We are saving local businesses and the environment when we buy local, even if the products cost slightly more.

I love this book that we are reading as a family this summer. It shows the interrelationships between all living things.


And here is a sweet little video G made when she was about six.

Love the world you live in, and share the love with your children, too. They are the inheritors of this planet.

Six ways of raising unfussy eaters

My childhood home had too much food. My Ma is addicted to food. She uses food to celebrate and she uses food to commiserate. Food, food, food. At 48, I still feel jumpy if there is no food in the house. I am suspicious of women who can’t cook. I don’t believe that people can be genuinely happy without proper home cooked food. Yeah, inherited prejudices. And oh, my kids can push my buttons so easily when it comes to food.

Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with food and we unconsciously pass that on to our children. To compound our inherited problem, small children are pretty smart creatures who learn from a very young age that they can use as a blackmail tool. Does ‘if you eat another mouthful, you’ll get ice cream’ sound familiar to you? I was guilt of saying this once to my eight year old son Kit, “If you don’t behave, you won’t get another cup of Ribena until you’re 20 years old.”

This is what I have learned from my 30 years of bringing up five children:


I am a great believer that children should eat the same food as adults, with some modifications, of course, viz-a-viz salt and spices. Eating is a natural part of family life and I love this old adage, a family that eats together stay together.


Eating should be a celebration, not a battlefield. Even if you are eating simple takeaways (seen here), make it a lovely experience.

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Involve children in the food preparation process. Make it child-play. Even boring food can appear interesting if (1) they enjoyed making it and (2) it looks funky.

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There is so much to learn and it is all very fascinating. Even for parents. And learning about food is wonderful thing to do because you learn about staying healthy and taking responsibility for wellbeing. I think the best way is to actually grow something, even if you don’t have a garden. Container gardening works very well for growing herbs.

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Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it gives children the opportunity of finding their own way to loving food. My daughter makes the most disgusting concoctions which she tries to get us to drink, expounding on the health benefits of her lethal sludges.

You could try new foods together, explore together. It is about you, too, after all.

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It’s about respect. If I respect your wish not to eat mushroom, you have to respect mine and eat carrots. I suggest having a “NO NO LIST” – allow your teenager to list six things that they have amnesty from. In return, they have to respect you back and eat what you painstakingly cook for them. It is a two way thing.

Bon apetit!