They call it the battle of the matriarchs — one that’s been tested to the limit over the summer holidays when working mums have turned to their own mothers for help with childcare.
But just what has your little darling been eating when Granny’s in charge? Are they happily wolfing down their five a day? Or being indulged in a stream of E-numbers and sugary treats? And in an age when children’s nutrition is subject to greater scrutiny than ever before, who has the right approach?
Here, three working mothers of young children go head to head with their own mums to argue who really does know best when it comes to meal times…
MY DAUGHTER GIVES HER BOY FAR TOO MANY TREATS
Lucy Hamper, 37, is a property developer and part-time model. She is single and lives in London with her son, Carter, nine. Her mother is Penny Hamper, 62, a receptionist, who is divorced and lives in Hertfordshire.
Piled high with crisps, chocolate and sweets for my son, Carter, the tuck cupboard in my kitchen goes against everything my mum believes in.
I can still hear her gasp of horror when she first looked inside the cupboard and learned it was all for Carter.
Lucy Hamper, 37, is a property developer and part-time model. She is single and lives in London with her son, Carter, nine. Her mother is Penny Hamper, 62, a receptionist, who is divorced and lives in Hertfordshire
Although I’ve always been conscious of feeding my son nutritious, healthy food with plenty of vegetables, pasta and lean meat, it’s not realistic to be as strict about treats as Mum was when I was a child.
She’s always been into clean eating and when my sister and I were kids we weren’t allowed red meat, anything cooked with oils or salt and certainly no ‘tuck’.
There weren’t any snacks and family meals were usually a piece of fish with boiled potatoes and two vegetables, plus an apple or tangerine for pudding.
Unsurprisingly, going to my paternal grandma’s house for tea, where there were hearty stews and casseroles on offer, left Mum pulling a disapproving face and my sister and me in heaven.
Ultimately, Mum’s strict regime has stood me in good stead because I naturally make healthy food choices. But when I had Carter, I was adamant I’d have a more relaxed attitude to his diet.
I wanted him to enjoy healthy food, but also for him to know that, as long as he eats his meals, he can enjoy treats in moderation.
Because Carter is sporty and plays rugby, when he gets home from school he’s always ravenous. I’ll give him carrots and hummus as a snack, but if he wants a packet of crisps, he can have one.
Where’s the harm in that? I’m teaching him a healthy attitude to food. It’s not something to obsess over or turn into an enemy. I’d love to see Mum, just once, tucking into something with merry abandon. She even tuts when she sees me using butter in sandwiches, or oil to brown some onions.
Carter never complains when he eats at Mum’s, but dives straight into the tuck cupboard as soon as he gets home, which tells me everything.
LUCY SAYS: Piled high with crisps, chocolate and sweets for my son, Carter, the tuck cupboard in my kitchen goes against everything my mum believes in
I was a bit of a hippy chick in my youth and wouldn’t allow anything unhealthy in the house. I still don’t.
Even when Lucy had friends round I would offer them water — or barley water at the most — to drink instead of fizzy pop, which they all found very odd.
My mother-in-law used to accuse me of not feeding Lucy and her sister enough, but I ignored her because it was nonsense.
Although I’m pleased Carter is active and isn’t a greedy boy, and also that Lucy does cook healthy, balanced meals for him, I despair of that tuck cupboard.
Mostly I worry about the damage it will do to his teeth. I’ve spent a fortune having mine repaired, a legacy of being rewarded with sweets as a child.
When Lucy and her sister were little, instead of sweets I’d treat them with a trip to the park. Now, as Grandma Penny, I’d rather play football or read a book with Carter as a reward when he’s been good.
He never complains when I feed him salmon with new potatoes and broccoli. However, I have had to concede that kids like sweet stuff, and if he whinges enough for a treat, I’ll sometimes give in and allow him one biscuit or a tiny bit of chocolate.
GRANNY’S FED HER BISCUITS FROM TEN MONTHS!
Laura Adams, 33, is a sales executive who lives in Orpington, Kent, with her husband and their two-year-old daughter, Eadie. Her mother is Sue Williams, 57, who works for a motor company, is single and also lives in Orpington.
Mum’s nonchalent approach to Eadie’s food has caused tension over the past two years. I thought she’d support my desire to raise her on a healthy, balanced diet with occasional treats. But almost from the moment I weaned her, Mum has been spoiling Eadie with naughty treats, giving her biscuits from the age of ten months.
Laura Adams, 33, is a sales executive who lives in Orpington, Kent, with her husband and their two-year-old daughter, Eadie. Her mother is Sue Williams, 57, who works for a motor company, is single and also lives in Orpington
Now, the moment Eadie sets eyes on Granny, she makes a beeline for her handbag, knowing that she’ll find something sweet inside.
When Mum has her to sleep over, I’ll pack a tub of pasta and vegetables for Eadie’s tea and give strict instructions that she must only drink water, no juice, and that there are to be no sweets before bedtime. But within hours there’ll be a text from Mum with pictures of Eadie merrily drinking juice and eating jelly babies, or devouring pizza and crisps. It’s very frustrating, but when I confront her she just shrugs and says: ‘That’s what grannies are for!’
She pops round most nights with something for Eadie to eat — and it’s never an apple or a carrot stick. Of course, when I try to give Eadie fruit, she says: ‘No! Biscuit!’
It’s ironic because when my brother and I were kids, Mum insisted that we ate every morsel on our plates before being allowed a pudding and we certainly weren’t given treats before bed.
But my grandparents would spoil us rotten when we went to stay, giving us chocolate and Horlicks at bedtime, and we’d always wake to find sweeties at the bottom of our beds.
I can’t deny I love those memories of my grandparents. Maybe that is what grannies are for!
LAURA SAYS: Mum’s nonchalent approach to Eadie’s food has caused tension over the past two years
Oh, how times have changed. When my children were little, we’d visit my in-laws and the ritual would begin to see how much cake, crisps and pop they could give them before the inevitable wail of: ‘Mummy, I feel sick!’
I’d shoot daggers at my husband as if to say: ‘Make her stop this.’ It infuriated me because I fed them healthily at home, and didn’t let them eat between meals or have too much sugar because of the harm to their teeth.
I made a pact with myself that if ever I was blessed with grandchildren, I would adhere to their parents’ rules. But the reality has turned out to be rather different and I have turned into one of ‘those’ very grandparents.
In fact, I believe spoiling Eadie with treats and other naughty food such as pizza is a rite of passage as a Granny, and I don’t plan to spend these precious years battling with her over broccoli.
The irony is that when Eadie was nine months old, Laura was eating some chocolate and put a little bit on Eadie’s lips, prompting me to tell her: ‘No! Don’t do that, she’ll be wanting sugary treats!’ Then a few months later it was me giving them to her.
Laura has told me off numerous times, but I think she realises I can’t help myself and that I get pleasure from giving her the foods she’s not allowed at home.
Also, I remind Laura that despite her own grandparents filling her up with junk, she’s got a really balanced approach to food, so Eadie will be fine, too.
When she’s speaking properly, I’ll make sure she understands that the likes of sweets and pizza are treats and are not to be eaten all the time.
But the truth is that Granny Sue will always offer crisps before an apple.
SON GETS SNEAKY TRIPS TO McDONALD’S
Flavia Gray, 45, owns a luxury travel company. She is single and lives in Chertsey, Surrey, with her daughter Lucy, 18, and son Joshua, four this month. Her mum is Marion, 73, a retired NHS medical secretary who lives nearby.
When Joshua arrived home with my mum the other day clutching a toy, I asked him where he’d got it. ‘McDonald’s!’ he chirped trumphantly.
I couldn’t contain my fury. ‘You took him to McDonald’s?’ I hissed at her. ‘You didn’t even ask me!’
Flavia Gray, 45, owns a luxury travel company. She is single and lives in Chertsey, Surrey, with her daughter Lucy, 18, and son Joshua, four this month. Her mum is Marion, 73, a retired NHS medical secretary who lives nearby
Mum was defensive, pleading that it ‘was only a few chicken nuggets, what harm would it do?’
I then felt horribly guilty because she looks after Joshua most days after nursery so that I can run my business — help that is priceless.
Still, I now insist that she asks my permission to take him to McDonald’s. I often say no, particularly as I recently discovered — after Joshua threw a tantrum when I gave him a glass of fruit juice — that she has also been buying him chocolate milkshakes from the McDonald’s drive-thru.
It’s no better when she does cook for him — if you can call frozen pizza, fishfingers and ice cream cooking. It’s a long way from the fresh fish, meat, pasta and vegetables I cook.
Mum’s problem is that she solves every problem with food. There were no restrictions on what my brother and I could eat as children.
I remember being upset one day when she picked me up from school so she bought a three-pack of chocolate ice cream lollies and let me devour the lot. No wonder I’ve been left with a mouthful of fillings.
I’ve always excused her behaviour because she was a war-time baby who spent her childhood on rations.
Unfortunately, Mum also sabotages my efforts to ensure that Joshua eats as little processed sugar as possible.His father was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged five, so that’s always in the back of my mind, and Joshua’s boisterous enough without sugar.
If he needs something sweet, I’d rather he had a few grapes, but Mum refuses in case he chokes.
FLAVIA SAYS: When Joshua arrived home with my mum the other day clutching a toy, I asked him where he’d got it. ‘McDonald’s!’ he chirped trumphantly
To her credit, she has just coaxed Joshua into eating corn on the cob, and on the very rare occasions when she cooks spaghetti bolognese or shepherd’s pie, he loves them.
But I feel guilty, too — about sniping at Mum, to whom I am so grateful, and also because I’m not around to cook more.
Flavia may not think so, but I am conscious of whether Joshua is eating healthily. I’m just more concerned that he isn’t hungry.
I was born in 1943 and grew up in the post-war years of austerity so I didn’t taste a banana till I was ten and my memories of childhood are of being horribly hungry. If Joshua is hungry, my instinctive reaction is that I need him to eat immediately and that’s when I’ll take him to McDonald’s. Yes, I could give him breadsticks and hummus like Flavia does, but that won’t fill him up.
That empty feeling in your stomach is horrible, and Joshua is young and active. I’d rather he was full and happy than weak and miserable.
My other problem is that when I was a girl, the only sugar in our food was what we sprinkled on it. I forget that so many foods now are loaded with sugar.
Flavia and I have friendly fights about it and she is always right, there’s no doubt. She also knows that I’ve got Joshua’s best interests at heart, but in a different way.
Still, I can’t deny that I got pleasure from seeing the delight on his little face when I bought him that first chocolate milkshake!