This Hackney Mum on the Importance of Family Meals

Rachel Boyett, known on Instagram as This Hackney Mum, makes brilliantly creative meals for her kids. This morning, we talk about the importance of family meals – together, at the table – and raising your kids vegetarian…

Rachel Boyett lives in Hackney, east London, with her partner and their two kids: Felix, 22 months, and Juniper, eight-weeks-old

What were mealtimes like for you growing up?
My parents were real sticklers for eating round the table. At the time I wanted the freedom to eat in front of the TV but now I am really grateful that they were so strict about it as I have lots of happy memories of being with the family at mealtimes. I have two brothers and a sister, so mealtimes were always chaotic and noisy.

My mum has never really been into food so the food itself was always quite simple. We used to have a fair bit of convenience food (vegetarian convenience food in the 80s was a bit of a lottery…) and once a week something called “gunk” (which was basically a bean casserole with rice).

When did you develop an interest in cooking/preparing food?
My dad’s family is Jewish so on Jewish holidays my aunt and grandmother would produce these amazing spreads. My sister and I definitely inherited a love of food from my dad’s side of the family. We used to play Ready Steady Cook on Saturday afternoons (and generally pretend we were in cookery shows). Every year my sister and I choose a vegetarian cookery book to buy each other for Christmas (which we buy in advance of Christmas and then discuss in order to pull together a Christmas menu).

For me cooking is a great way to relax after a busy day.

Do you work with food, or is it a hobby?
Very much a hobby!

Did having kids change your attitude towards mealtimes/eating?
It has made me appreciate my parents’ approach to mealtimes so much more. As much as possible, I try to eat with my son and 99% of the time he eats at the table. I really want him to know that eating is a social occasion and should be enjoyable.

Having children has made me think much more about a vegetarian diet. I have been vegetarian from birth so take it for granted that I eat a balanced diet but having children has made me think about food groups for the first time. For example I eat loads of pulses and beans but I struggle to get my son to eat them which is why I’m forever adding nuts and seeds to things to ensure he gets some protein.

I’m also a lot more conscious of my own bad habits. For example I put ketchup on loads of things and now – surprise surprise – my son wants it (hence the homemade stuff)! I’ve also got a shocking sweet tooth. All these things I try and cut back on in front of him (I don’t want him to see me eating things he is not allowed). However, on a bad day you can find me with my head stuck in the fridge secretly wolfing down chocolate….

Did you develop fun/colourful food to avoid fussy eaters?
I want to make sure my son tries and eats a huge range of foods. So I did originally think a fun presentation might encourage him to eat more. Sadly though I think fussiness is a lottery! Despite all these efforts my son would be happy eating bananas, yogurt, pasta and bread – all day every day!

But I like to continue offering so that when he decides he wants to try something it will be there. I’m pinning all my hopes on my daughter (who is eight weeks old) eating everything when her time comes!

Any other comments on family/food/mealtimes/eating…
Feeding a toddler can, at times, be the most frustrating thing ever! There have been so many occasions where I think “why on earth do I bother”. But overall, I hope that he inherits my love of food and cooking and sitting down as a family and eating which is the most important thing for me.

For food inspiration, follow This Hackney Mum on Instagram: @thishackneymum

Tomorrow, we’ll share seven tasty, colourful, creative meals from This Hackney Mum that you can try at home. Prepare to be dazzled…