The Inspiration behind the "My Little Grocery" Series
FOOD. That glorious category that carries so much more weight than the four little letters that spell it. Every single one of us has subconsciously built a reservoir of powerful food associations with people, moments or places. For example, waraq 3enab (ورق عنب) will, for me, forever be extricably linked to my teta and eating it in her house in Jerusalem when we visited as children. It doesn't matter how many times I've eaten it since and how many different people have prepared it for me... my first meaningful memory with that dish happened right then and there in that very magical moment and place as a 7yr old and that's exactly what I experience every time I have it: a happy, giddy, endorphin-producing moment. I have a similar strong association with peanut butter. A simple whiff of it transports me back to the very first time I tasted it in my childhood kitchen with Mr Robinson's "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" blaring in the background as I prepared to go to school. Mind you, in those days it was a novelty! Such is the power of food. Some foods may evoke nothing at all and some may leave a lasting impression. Unfortunately, these impressions can be either positive or negative. A 1st bad experience with a certain food can forever deter you off it or subconsciously negatively impact your judgment of it for many years. Which brings me to my second point...
Children's' relationship with food is a function of what they experience around them. Looking at two extreme ends of the spectrum; a child who is exposed to frequent fast food meals and sugary snacks and drinks is more likely to want them and crave them than a child whose diet is largely plant-based and/or very balanced. I am advocating nor dismissing either extreme but it's important for us, as parents, to recognize the impact that we have on our children's eating habits, not only today but in the future. Mindful eating habits start young and the best way to instill these habits is by modeling that exact said behavior. It's hardly convincing for a 4-year old to hear that his afternoon snack is an apple when you've got a packet of chips in your hands. More importantly, do you want to force a child to eat something he strictly doesn't want to? Probably not. It's more likely to backfire and may even create a negative association and/or memory with said food.
So what's the solution? Start small, start young, start early. And if you haven't yet, it's not too late mama (or baba!). Encourage new foods, create a mixed snack plate that consists of a little bit of everything and don't give up. Our home rule for snacks is a trio-rule: fruit + salty + sweet. Imagine a pyramid. The fruit being the base, the salty snack the middle and the sweet the peak. Those are the proportions to follow. It's perfectly reasonable (and important) to enjoy the pleasure of a biscuit (or two) as long as it's balanced by other body-nurturing foods. It's unhealthy to deprive a child of all things sweet because deprivation does unfortunately eventually lead to excess. But please don't give in to their tantrums and crises at the risk of excessive sugar consumption. This may feel like the "easy" solution in the moment but long-term this will harm and severely impact their ability to regulate their emotional eating and willpower. And I haven't even mentioned the effects of sugar on inflammation. Another easy idea is to find ways of "healthifying" something they love. A chocolate biscuit? turn it healthy by using oats and non-refined sugar options for example. Ice-cream? Why not make homemade yogurt, "nice" cream or fruit-based ice lolly's together? And don't sneak the "healthy" bits in.. explain why you are doing it. Children are smarter than we think. Even if met with resistance at first, try, try again.
I find that my boys are highly intrigued by what I'm eating. They may be hesitant to try it the first time I offer it and maybe even the second but slowly something in their brain must register something along the lines of "hmmm, if mama eats it that often, it must be good" and this is how my now 6-yr old first dared to try honeydew melon almost a year ago. First an itty bitty bite like that of a mouse. I watched his sweet curious eyes roll up to the ceiling as his tongue slowly savored the taste, the texture, the newness and he declared it "not bad" (مش بطال) lol. But did he want more? "No thanks". And I said "no worries." I was secretly thrilled he had tried! With time, he started to ask for bigger chunks and more of them until he became a fully-certified honeydew eater. I have had similar experiences with my boys with rye crackers, arugula, dates, dried apricots and even dehydrated seaweed!
Food is a journey of learning and discovery for children. I've found my children to be sponges not only in the language department but also in watching me and internalizing the food choices and decisions I make. Just like the melon story above, when it comes to introducing a new food whether to a 6 month old or a 6-yr old, don't push, don't force, don't fight. Offer and give them the space and respect to decide what to do next. And model model model. You are their anchor and their guiding light and they will look up to the choices you make to ultimately guide their own.
So, why did we launch this series around food? And why did we name it "My Little Grocery" (بقالتي الصغيرة) Simply put, it was the consolidation of many moments and learnings like those above that brought the idea of the series to life:
- Primarily, a desire to make food fun and to create an appreciation and a feeling of gratitude for the food we eat as we introduce little ones to the simple notion of food chains and the origins of food. The food we eat doesn't "come from the supermarket" but from life around us. The zaatar we eat had to go through a long process to get to our breakfast table. The french toast we love was made with eggs that came from a real live chicken, and bees give us so much more than just honey.
- A desire to capitalize on that very basic, very innocent notion of children "playing shop" or "playing house" (بيت بيوت) with little toy ingredients and collecting these foods to create their very own grocery shop. Play-based learning has been scientifically proven to be the best way to transmit new ideas or concepts and our hope was that such a collection of books would be the perfect accompaniment to children's' make-believe games and a perfect opportunity for learning.
- A hope to create more mama & me moments in the kitchen waiting for a meal, baking together, eating, sharing, living... these are all incredible opportunities for learning and for introducing new concepts around measuring, counting, colors, ingredients, smells, textures, etc.
- Ultimately, it's about grooming healthy eaters by creating an intrigue in basic ingredients and demonstrating the diversity of their use, sometimes not solely for edible consumption!
Whether you have a picky eater, a foodie-in-the-making, or just a little one who loves to play chef, this colorful series filled with many educational messages, lots of wit and gorgeous vibrant illustrations is a must have on your child's bookshelf. Collect the complete series to build your own little grocery store!
Is there a specific food you would like to see added to this series? Please tell us in the comments! And thank-you for reading! x