This month’s That Mama is Australian mother of 13, Tammy Hitchens. She knows a thing or two about kid-friendly recipes and cooking for picky palates!
Preparing meals for kids is one of the most universal struggles parents can face — imagine having to please THIRTEEN different palates! With children ranging in age from 2 months to 25 years old, Aussie mama Tammy Hitchens has pretty much seen it all — and she makes it look both easy and delicious with her Facebook and Instagram accounts for The Home Hawker! Sharing wholesome, nutritious, and highly economical recipes, she is truly an inspiration to those of us looking to simplify things in the kitchen. We sat down with Tammy to hear more about her parenting journey and were so wowed by her unflappable, down-to-earth nature. This is a must-read for anyone in search of realistic, no-nonsense parenting advice, mama!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m a full-time, home-educating mother from Australia. My older three adult children live and work in Australia and the remaining ten children have lived with us in Singapore since 2014. Our youngest two children were both born here.
I’ve always loved cooking and I started The Home Hawker as a challenge to myself to explore the best food options that Singapore has to offer whilst trying to keep to a strict budget.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Before babies I was a student; I’ve since worked home educating all of my children and done additional work at times as a tutor and in stadium and entertainment venue work.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
The sheer momentum of a large family and the responsibilities and activities the children all participate in keep me on track.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
I’m definitely a very spiritual person, I know who I am and whose I am. Being a large family mother does tend to mean people don’t expect as much of you but I try to volunteer for roles within communities I’m involved in so that I can invest in others and remember the bigger picture of the world I live in.
How has having children changed the way you define work?
I realise that so much of the valuable work done in the world from within families and communities is not paid work. I’m often asked “do you work?” and whilst I used to answer no, my standard answer now is “I absolutely work, but I’m not currently in paid employment”.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Where to start? Definitely believe in keeping things as simple as possible. If clothing is getting out of hand, simplify down to a minimum and only a set or two of shoes for each person. Always try to be thinking ahead regarding important things, build your weeks and days around those things and let priorities fall around those.
As far as most things in life and home go, I like to stay proactive, not reactive; a little bit of time spent in maintenance regularly saves having to do huge tasks later. Of course, like anyone, there are times I can’t do this perfectly but it’s a good principle to aim for as a standard.
What is your favorite thing to cook for your family? Any time-saving tips and tricks for mamas who like to cook?
My favourite thing to cook for my family is anything involving a salad: Caesar, rainbow or just a make-your-own platter, it takes very little time to quickly cut all of the components and you can add proteins. It’s healthy and we all love it.
I always prep for dinner in mid-morning or when the babies are settled so that I’m not doing the bulk of the work late in the day when children get cranky. I love using a slow cooker that I can set in the morning and leave to cook during the day.
What are your strategies for dealing with picky eaters?
Some of my children have gone through a picky phase and I had at least one child who is now an adult who would never eat pureed or mashed food, even to this day, because there was a sensory issue, which can be a valid condition that needs to be taken into consideration.
I was taught as a young mother that children will try to exert control three ways – through toileting, sleep or food – and to not get too wound up about it or your child will know they have something they can manipulate you with. Keep trying to form routines and lead by example by having them eat with you and make sure you are enjoying your own food (if they see you being picky with your choices they will not understand why they can’t be). And always make an effort to make meals look somewhat nice and special.
The worst mistake you can make is to give the issue a platform. I try to not focus on what they aren’t eating and work around good choices; if your child is only eating baked beans, chicken, blueberries and avocado they are not going to suffer. It may seem obvious but if your child is only eating certain processed foods you need to consider not forbidding them but stop having them available at home.
Eating is such a social behaviour; in cultures where children are part of communal eating picky eaters are not as common. Over the years I’ve had many friends and neighbours tell me that their children only started eating certain foods when they weren’t pressured but were simply around a table with all of my children and saw them eating something. It’s an example of positive peer pressure.
I wish I had more time for…
People. I know so many amazing people and wish I could spend more time with them.
I always feel saner after….
I get some sleep.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
East Coast. The size of house you can get for much less rent is a huge benefit for our family. I love East Coast Park and the Park Connector network for bicycling. We are close to the amazing Changi Airport as well for rainy or hazy days for the children to play or for my husband’s business trips.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
Free water play activities at places like Gardens by the Bay and Palawan Beach at Sentosa. We love bike rides along the East Coast.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
We rarely eat out with the children but love the Shangri-La Rose Veranda high tea.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
We’ve never had the opportunity to travel outside of Singapore; accommodation is not readily available or affordable for a large group.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Do the little things together, and be kind.
Favourite date night restaurants?
We tend to make date nights an active experience with lots of walking or bike riding, so meals out are less fancy for us and tend to be simple local fare from hawker centres.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Know that the days are long but the years are short, and remember that your children are not just chapters in your book, they are their own book being written daily. Children are very much like a garden that needs constant weeding, watering and staking for the good things to flourish; no gardener gets a great harvest from complaining about the reality of the tasks needed.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women:
Never feel bad about needing rest time after a new baby! When I had my first few children, some older mothers close to me used to compel me to be part of some sort of generational competition, implying I should be working at full strength in all household and community duties within days of giving birth and not even be tempted to feel tired because “in Asia the women have their babies and throw them on their back and go back to working in the rice paddies”. I wish I could go back and explain to those ladies that they were so incorrect — all traditional cultures have a confinement period where a community of women support the new mother to rest and get her feet, with many experienced cheerleaders on hand to offer advice and help when needed.
Comparison is the thief of joy; you are not in competition with other women! We tend to look at other mothers with either intense criticism or envy; no one has it all together and everyone struggles with insecurity and imperfect children. Keep your heart firmly set on being content with your own family situation.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Mornings. I am just not a morning person.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Years ago I was taught to have “love feasts” for our family, loosely based on traditional Shabbat meals as featured in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. It is an opportunity to prepare a beautiful meal for your family and reflect on gratefulness for what we have. The father eulogises the mother in front of the children and then the parents bless each of the children, telling them the things they appreciate about them. This can be weekly or just whenever you can manage, but it takes a family dinner to a whole new level.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
All the tasks I’ve forgotten to do or didn’t have time for, the positive words I haven’t said to my children, the negative things I did.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Like any mother, when all of the children are finally asleep and there is perfect peace.
Thank you so much to Tammy and her kids for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. And a huge shoutout to Kerry Cheah of Red Bus Photography for the gorgeous snaps!