Belfast Telegraph

How to serve up some fun with your children's meals

There are plenty of ways to get children to try new foods, says cookery writer Alex Hollywood, who shares a recipe and a number of tips with Lisa Salmon

Almost half of parents think their child is missing out on the best nutrition because they're a fussy eater, unwilling to try new foods. New research shows that of the 45% of parents who say their child is fussy, 67% put it down to an unwillingness to try new food, particularly vegetables (53%), fruit (39%) and fish (32%).

In a bid to encourage children to sample a much wider variety of food, cookery writer Alex Hollywood has teamed up with the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) and Sainsbury's Active Kids to launch the Taste Buddies Challenge, which features Hollywood's own recipes, plus activities and advice to help parents overcome some of the barriers faced when introducing children to new foods.

Mother-of-one Hollywood says: "As a mum, I understand the struggles of getting kids to try out new foods, and I want to pass on my experience and create some really easy recipes that make trying new foods fun for the whole family, so you don't need to be cooking extra meals just to satisfy different taste buds."

A Sainsbury's Active Kids survey of 2,000 UK parents found that the barrier to trying new foods isn't always about disliking the taste, but is often linked to its appearance (50%), smell (37%) and texture (36%), followed by taste (30%), or even an exotic or unusual-sounding name (8%). Yet more than half of parents consider their children's palate 'adventurous', and 52% agree their children would change their mind about a food they previously didn't like after trying it several times.

To get kids to try new foods, effective measures are:

  • Encouraging them to help cook the meal
  • Getting them to try new food at home
  • Letting them pick their own food at the supermarket
  • Presenting food in a fun way
  • Using food as part of an activity, eg creating kebabs
  • Using older or younger siblings as key influencers

Hollywood says taking children shopping for food helps them to become more familiar with different foods, their names and appearance.

"This is really important in the vegetable aisle with often unusual-looking fruits and vegetables," she says.

"Allow them to make some of the choices - the whole point is they get to choose something 'new'."

Getting children involved in food preparation and then eating the results together is a great way of spending family time together and encouraging kids to try new foods, says Hollywood.

"I grew up cooking with my mum and I believe teaching your kids the basics of cooking is a really important skill to take into adult life. Leaving home able to make a stew, a roast dinner and a couple of pasta dishes is a great start, and imagine how popular your kids will be at university or when they set up their own home."

Hollywood suggests parents introduce foods little and often, and shouldn't feel the need to make every meal an event.

"Just a spoonful of a new veg on the side of the plate or letting them try a taste of what you're eating - if it's different - is a great way to encourage them to explore without making every meal a battleground.

"Making it fun is much more productive than making it hard work for everyone concerned."

In addition, she says, creating traditional meals with unusual ingredients, by adding a twist for extra flavour, is also a great way to tempt kids.

"My mushroom and chilli beef lasagne, for example, uses soft tortillas instead of traditional pasta and some gentle spicing, which will help children on a journey to enjoying hotter foods," she says.

Mushroom and chilli beef lasagne

  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1tsp chilli powder, hot or mild
  • 2tsp ground cumin
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 2tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 x 390g carton chopped tomatoes
  • 400g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large wholemeal tortilla wraps
  • 30g low-fat cheddar, grated
  • 8tbsp half-fat creme fraiche

Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the onion. Cook for two minutes until starting to soften. Add the garlic, chilli powder, cumin and coriander. Stir well and cook for one minute. Add the beef, coat in the spices and brown.

Once the meat has browned, add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes and mushrooms.

Fill half the empty tomato tin with water and add this to the pan, stir well, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. It should be thick, not watery, once cooked. Season with salt and pepper and add a dash of lime juice.

Pre-heat the oven to 180c/ Gas mark 4.

Place two of the wraps in the bottom of the dish, top with half the beef mix followed by a handful of grated cheddar and a few dollops of creme fraiche.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas and beef, finishing with cheese and creme fraiche, then bake for 25-30 minutes.

For more information and recipes, visit the website

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