Fussy little eaters
Every parent has been there – whether you have a ‘good’ eater or a ‘fussy’ one, we all know and understand the perils and pressures that come with meal times and trying to get our children to eat a wide and varied diet. Here are some top tips gathered by, heard by and shared by The Cooking Shed on making meal times and food something that becomes a joy in your home rather than a chore.
Give thanks, not praise! I’ve seen far too many parents jump on their child as soon as they pop something healthy in their mouth “OH MY GOD, well DONE darling!!!”…not only does it scare the child half to death and make them jump out of their skin, but it also draws attention to what it is that you want your child to gobble up – meaning of course that from then on, they’ll do the complete opposite just to spite you and prevent you from embarrassing them again with your cries of pleasure.
Let your child eat their meal – don’t try and draw attention to any specific item on the plate, other than to comment as you normally would about your own food “mmmm, I love cucumber, what’s your favourite thing about dinner tonight?” for example rather than “EAT YOUR CUCUMBER!!” Once they’ve finished their meal and are about to get down from the table, then thank them for sitting nicely or trying something new.
By growing something from seeds, it not only helps to teach your child about where fruit and veggies come from, but it also teaches them patience!
Don’t use chemicals/pesticides on your home grown crop, and keep them stored up off the ground…I’ll never forget seeing my 2 year old crouched down on his knees trying to pluck a strawberry from the plant with his teeth once he realised it had turned red – they’ll very rarely hang around to let you wash the first crop!
Eat as many snacks as you like before your dinner
Sounds like a bonkers statement?...we’re not talking crisps or biscuits here. Invite your child to sit at the table as you’re dishing up dinner and pop a bowl or two of some healthy snacks to keep them quiet – chopped cherry tomatoes, cucumber spears, florets of broccoli… essentially the nutritious bits of the dinner that would normally end up being left on their plate. By putting it on the table before, they’re more likely to eat it because a. they’re hungry, and b. they see it as a little teaser to the main event without you putting pressure on at the end of the meal once they’ve become full, agitated and just want to “GET DOWWWWWWWWN from the table!”.
Simply use the veggies/salad items that you’re going to be putting in to the dinner anyway so that you’re not creating extra work.
In our house, every Friday we kick-off the weekend with ‘Friday nibbles’. We sit at the breakfast bar or in the garden if the weather’s good, share a drink (water with ice and a slice for the kid, G&T for us!) and pop nibbles in to bowls tapas stylee. Every week we’ll add a different/new food item to the nibbles. It’s when we’re the most relaxed, our child’s willing to be the most adventurous with his food, and when he feels like a grown up, so wants to do as we do.
Ensure you have a good balance of healthy as well as treat based stuff. Bread sticks, homemade hummus or yoghurt dips, chopped cherry tomatoes, olives, (capers upon request of our son!), and a v small bowl of crisps or popcorn. Follow the hashtag #fridaynibbles for inspiration and weekly snack suggestions from The Cooking Shed.
Shop til you drop
If you haven’t checked out the Orchard Toys ‘shopping list’ game yet, it’s well worth a go (ages 2-7yrs). It helps kids to identify ingredients, and teaches the concept of gathering and looking for items from the shopping list to pop in the trolley – something that you can then carry in to the real world when you go to the shops. Get them a little shopping basket that they can take with them to the shops and a small list of items that are theirs to find from each isle you’re hoping to visit.
Let them pack and pay for the items on their list to help teach them the value of money at the end of the shop – it’ll also make them feel proud when they get home to talk about the ingredients that they ‘bought’ to add in to the family dinner. Ensure you allow a little more time for your shop so that you’re not getting frustrated/annoyed if they’re taking their time to find things…this won’t work if you’re in a rush!
Eat together, learn together
It’s important not just to learn table manners, but also to get kids trying new things. Imagine if you sit down to a meal with new food items on a plate that you’ve never seen before…do you eat the whole thing or peel off the outside? Pick it up with a fork or your fingers? Is it sweet, sharp or earthy?....the first time you try something new, it’s always easier and more encouraging if someone can help to guide you through what to do and what to expect. Sometimes an ingredient that you know your child has tried a thousand times can simply be cooked or presented in a different way and so appear as something new to your child – by being able to simply watch you and replicate how you’re eating something without having to be told/directed by you when you’re running around doing other things as they eat can have a huge impact on your child eating and trying new things.
Even if you only manage to sit down to a meal together once or twice a week, ensure there’s something new to try as a part of that meal. Pairing your fussy eater with a child who’s adventurous with food is another great way to get them trying new things.
Cooking with kids
Children are not only capable of making cakes or biscuits…if they can knead and mix, they can make pretty much anything with your help and encouragement. By cooking together and giving them a job to do, not only will they feel a sense of achievement and learn a valuable life skill but they’ll also be more willing to try and eat what they’ve cooked.
See Regan’s top tips for cooking with kids
If you're unsure as to how to cook with your child, or need some support and confidence yourself, why not try an adult & child cookery lesson at The Cooking Shed?
Have your cake and eat it
If your child kicks off and obsesses because they want to eat their dessert first – just let them! Obviously don’t go giving them a giant man sized portion so they won't eat dinner, but a small taster to get their mind off of obsessing and focusing on the prize rather than the main event won’t make a blind bit of difference to their health – it’s all going down the same hole…they were always going to have the dessert anyway, and you can keep back a bit more for them to have at the end of the meal so they don't pinch yours if you like.
Keep desserts out of site and out for mind if you don’t want your child to be focused on that before they’ve eaten their dinner.
“Just one more mouthful and then you can have an ice cream”
We’ve all been guilty of it – trying to bribe our children in to eating their dinner with promises of delicious desserts, or better still not getting them until they’ve polished off their sprouts…and deep down, we know that’s wrong – right?! It really is. Dinner, vegetables, salads or anything else that we perceive to be the nutritious part of a meal shouldn’t be treated as a poor cousin to a bowl of crumble and custard – it’s like giving your child a target to focus on that will just escalate with every meal. Don’t let the sweet stuff be seen as a prize – perception is everything.
If your child wants a chocolate biscuit at 9 o’clock in the morning, let them have it…but then don’t let them have another one later in the day. We condition and train children to eat three set meals a day and save the sweet as a reward to the savoury. It’s not natural, it’s just something that suits our busy working adult lives – so until they need to step in to the 9-5 role of a sheep following the flock, let them explore their taste buds, develop their palette and eat when they want. Sometimes you fancy a bit of sweet jam on your toast, and sometimes you fancy a bit of savoury marmite (unless of course you’re a hater!) so, let them do the same – it will prevent them from obsessing over the sweet things and simply seeing them as rewards or treats.
Play with your food
We shouldn't forget that food is a source of energy and needs to be respected, but at the same time it should be enjoyable. Picking up, feeling and playing with food is all a part of learning its make-up, so don't discourage babies or toddlers from having a good feel...hell, if they want a yoghurt facial, let them - just keep the baby wipes at the ready.
A great thing to do with kids of all ages is to get them closing their eyes and telling you what they think something tastes like as you pop it in their mouth...not only will they enjoy it, but they'll begin to learn the difference between 'spicy, savoury, sweet, sharp...' and you'll get to learn a bit more about what they do and don't like.
Don’t give up!
Infants have around 30,000 taste buds spread around their mouths – by the time they become an adult they’ll have lost two-thirds of them. Bear this in mind when you’re getting them to try new things, and recognise that in a couple of weeks, months or even years time, their taste buds will change - something they didn’t like today might be liked tomorrow. Don’t ever say in front of them things like “oh, little Jonny doesn’t like carrots, so he won’t have any of those thanks”.
Keep putting things on your child’s plate. If they tell you they hate cucumber and you’ve cooked a meal with it on the side, still add it to their plate, and let them know that if they don’t want it, they don’t have to eat it – one day they’ll give it another go and they might just like it. This is particularly relevant with weaning babies – teething can change the textures and flavours that babies experience. Higher levels of saliva in the mouth, sore gums and tender teeth can mean that one day they love raisins or carrots and the next they spit them out, but you may find that a few days later once their teeth are through, they go back to loving them.
Here’s an interesting article about kids and their taste buds from The Guardian
Try cooking it a different way
Mushrooms boiled can taste so different in flavour and texture to mushrooms roasted or fried – as do so many other ingredients. If you child objects to an ingredient, simply try cooking it a different way and getting them to try again.
A high proportion of children don’t like potato or bread at a very young age – it’s a texture thing. Try different forms such as crusty rolls, or wraps, mash or rosti’s – and if they still don’t eat them, don’t panic…carbs aren’t the essential part of the meal, just ensure they’re getting them through other means. A healthy balanced diet overall is what matters.
Don’t overfeed! Remember when you visited the health visitor to check your child’s weight and they told you that they only needed to be eating the same amount of food as the size of their fist?!...yeah, that.
Your child will tell you when they’ve had enough…unless of course it’s chocolate birthday caterpillar cake, then they’ll just keep going. Ensure your child has a healthy diet, and if you’re worried about weight, pop along and see your GP or health visitor for a weigh in and some help and advice - there's nothing better than peace of mind.
If all else fails...hide. If your child just downright refuses to eat any veggies or fruit, then simply try hiding them. Think apples, pineapple, strawberries, kiwis blitzed in to a juice and then frozen as lollies, or veggies blended in with your spag bol tomato sauce.
If your child likes hummus, try roasted and then blending in some carrots or parsnips - they'll sweeten the flavour and get them eating veggies without even realising.
Fancy taking some adult & child cooking lessons over the summer holidays? Find out what's going on at The Cooking Shed.