Making healthy food easier to swallow for fussy toddlers
If you want your young kids to eat fruit and veg make mealtimes fun, says Lisa Salmon
Mealtimes have become all-too-common battlegrounds, with nearly half of mums saying they find it hard to get young children to try new foods - and fruit and veg often being refused altogether.
It's something that can drive parents to distraction - yet children's food expert Lucy Thomas insists that simply putting fun into food is the key to making kids voracious vegetable eaters.
The mum-of-one, who runs fun food classes for children aged 18 months plus, is spearheading a new campaign, #LoveGoodFood, to show parents how to encourage young kids to enjoy healthy food.
"Most parents want their children to eat well and be healthy, and have a good foundation for a healthy diet in adulthood," she says.
"Usually that entails fruit and vegetables - but they're what children have the most problems with. A child refusing food certainly pushes parents' buttons - they're so desperate for their children to have a good diet, that the pressure is on at mealtimes."
To reduce that pressure, Thomas says, what parents need to do is make food fun away from the meal table, encouraging children to explore, touch, play games with and sing songs about food so that it becomes an enjoyable and everyday part of their life.
Ideas on how to do this are in the free Little Book Of Good Food, which has been produced as part of the #LoveGoodFood campaign run by the organic baby and toddler food company Organix.
URGH - WHAT'S THAT?
Thomas explains that eating pureed food during weaning means that when babies are eventually presented with whole food, for example broccoli, it looks so different from what the child's used to eating that it may well be refused.
She stresses that young children need to be presented with a new food at least 15 times before they might be willing to put it near their mouth.
From about the age of 18 months, children go through a period of 'neophobia', says Thomas, when they suddenly restrict their diet and want to eat the same few meals repeatedly. This usually lasts until about the age of three or slightly older.
It's an inbuilt mechanism to protect from self-poisoning, explains Thomas, who says her own daughter Molly, who's nearly two, has just changed from loving all fruit to refusing to eat any of it.
"She loved fruit - she could scoff a whole punnet of blueberries - and now she just refuses to eat it.
"But I know that she will come back to it," Thomas says confidently.
Thomas stresses that parents should join in the food fun themselves, and be seen to eat it as well. She suggests they spare five minutes to, say, help children peel a banana, or squash some raspberries and use the juice as lipstick.
FRUIT & VEG FUN
Show your child how to smell strawberries, lick them to feel the bumpiness of the seeds, and roll them gently on the table.
Cut a grapefruit in half and have fun looking at the pattern inside. Let your child squeeze the juice into a cup.
- never ask a toddler to eat, try or taste anything. Ask them to kiss, lick or crunch it instead;
- explore the different textures of foods using a juicer, blender or grater;
- don't force your child to eat a meal they don't like;
- recognise your own hang-ups about food. Do you avoid offering certain foods to your children because you don't enjoy them?;
- let them have real fruit and vegetables to play with in their toy kitchen.