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Getting your child to love school dinners & helping fussy little eaters

We've posted quite a bit about how to encourage fussy little eaters to become more adventurous, and ways to inject some fun back in to meal times, so thought it useful to pull all of that information in to one place for you. For some new school starters this is the first week of having school dinners, and it can be stressful for them not knowing what's going to be on offer, and also for the parents when leaving them in the hope that they won't go hungry. So, here are our top tips...

Helping with school dinners & blind taste testing:

Currently every child in the UK, in a government funded school will receive free school dinners up until the end of year 2. You may also be entitled to longer if you fall in to any of these categories

Ask your school if they have a menu of what's going to be served each week so that you can talk your child through it and get them used to some of the flavours or ingredients that they might not have tried before - a description and reward chart system is a great way of getting them to try something new, so that you can tick of what they've tasted, and to remind them of its flavour. WARNING!! NOT ask them 'do you like this yes or no?' that's a sure way for them to spit something out before they've even had the chance to actually taste it, and you'll have a constant barrage of 'no's'. Instead ask them these two key questions and note them on the chart...

1. Explain the texture for me - is it crunchy? soft? hard? chewy?

2. Explain the flavour for me - is it sweet? sour? bitter? salty? hot (as in 'chilli' hot)?

Let them taste it three times - first time for texture, second time for flavour, and a third and final time to see if they can identify what the ingredient actually is "so what do you think this is?"...the reason for this, is that it can take a child up to 7 tries of an ingredient before they'll become used to its texture and flavour and decide that they do in fact quite like it. Once they've tasted it, and you've taken off the blind fold leave a little plate of the ingredient in front of them so that they can continue to pick at it and taste if they'd like to.

If they have identified and played along, then please please try to contain yourself from saying "WELL DONE, you DO like apple now!"...this again will be a sure way to turn them straight off of it. Instead, focus on the chart by giving them a reward sticker for having described its attributes, and either move on to the next thing, or carry on with whatever else you're doing - the sticker is reward enough, and you don't want to make a fuss or big thing about them trying new things so that they continue to see it as a game. Also, set up a chart for yourself, and let them blind fold you, and do the same - they will be in hysterics, and you'll be fed some random things, but it will all be good fun and it will take the pressure and stress away from the task.

Here's a short video of 4 year old Sidney and me doing some blind taste testing, along with some other tips about 'Friday nibbles' which are also a great way to get your child involved in trying new things.

Healthy snacks and ideas:

Whether you have to send your child in to school with a snack, or you just want some tips and ideas to make some new things at home for them (and you!), we have a recent post here with some ideas for nutritious snacks

How to get them involved in the kitchen: Kitchens can be a dangerous place - hot ovens, sharp knives, heavy objects...but with your support and guidance, it can also become a fun place. By getting your child involved with helping to prepare food, they'll be more likely to want to try new things, and they'll feel proud of what they've helped to put on the table...they certainly don't have to have cooked a whole meal from start to finish, instead it can be as simple as getting them a child friendly safe knife - these dog ones are fab! (see our video on helping kids to use a knife) and popping them at the table to chop up one of the ingredients for you...chopping mushrooms can take them the whole time that it takes for you to get the rest of a spag Bol ready - they'd have sat nicely, be willing to try something, and you'd have had a pair of helping hands in the kitchen. Here are our top tips for cooking with kids plus a video with Holly and me showing how to make moroccan meatballs with cous cous together in the kitchen

Fussy little eaters: Here's a link to an old but great post from us about dealing with fussy eaters. Packed with even more tips and tricks to try.

Join us at The Cooking Shed:

We'd love to see you and your little one at The Cooking Shed - why not join us for an adult and child cookery lesson? We will be adding some new classes for the autumn/winter term over the next week. You'll get to learn a new family recipe, they'll get to try some new things, and you'll both get to see how you can work together in the kitchen to create something truly of all you'll leave with dinner sorted for the whole family to enjoy :)

So hopefully you now feel armed with tons of things to try...good luck, have fun, and most of all...don't give up! Just the very fact that you're still reading shows your care, and that you're doing a great job. If you have any questions, or need some advice then please feel free to comment below and we'll be happy to respond and try to help.

Regan & The Cooking Shed crew x

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