Feeding children can be a tricky business, but this has worked for me. My fabulous kids are now 7 and 9 years old. I breastfed them both, they both went onto solids using the baby led weaning method (I couldn’t face pureeing), they have been fussy eaters, they like repetitive meals, we do not ‘cross contaminate’ baked beans with anything (unfortunately, they’ve inherited this from me) and today they each like different food but will eat most food. How did we get to this point?
Three strategies have worked for us; these are eat seasonally, offer fruit and vegetables first and literally, ‘tell it like it is’.
Eat in the seasonal rhythm of what is available. I am a huge advocate of eating locally and seasonally. Why? Because nature produces what our anatomy and physiologies need at the right time. In summer, soft berries and light leafy greens are refreshing and uplifting while in autumn tart snacking apples and hearty pumpkin risotto are nourishing and filling. Eating in season often doesn’t cross our minds at the supermarket. We buy the same fruit and vegetables every week. Why? Because that’s what the children will eat, that's the family routine. Change it around, as a family choose to buy and eat what is grown right now. This is easily explained to kids if you have a garden or small space to grow veg (or a veg), talk to them about planting, growing and harvesting. Children quickly understand that ‘this is the time’ for autumnal squash, winter chard, spring cabbage and summer lettuce. Alternatively, join a seasonal vegetable box or bag scheme and love the surprise every time you and your kids open your box.
Offer fruit and veg in many different guises. Some people can’t stand cooked carrots but will eat them raw, others won’t touch stewed or compote fruit but will eat it raw. I strongly dislike anything strawberry unless it IS a strawberry. If your children are ‘fussy’, try something different. Some children won’t eat cucumber, peel it and they will. Eat as a family as often as you can, it really does encourage children to try different food. My son now loves courgettes, my daughter can manage a slice. But its perseverance and mirroring eating habits that is helping. You can also pull out the big guns, “now that you’re 7 you might like to try … beetroot?”.
Tell it like it is – talk to your kids about food. Children really do understand when it’s explained to them. “It’s bad for you” is NOT a conclusive argument when dealing with anyone, let alone a smart under 10-year-old. Educate them with conversation, look at the colour, describe the crunch or squishiness and the flavour. When they’re little, this can lead to hilarious chats “Mummy, that banana is too squishy, but it tastes soooo sweet”. Great scientific analysis small person! And as they get older and start asking for crisps, sweets, biscuits and a sandwich several times a day, the conversation continues … “sweet things make your body feel really excited for ages and too close to bed time and you can’t sleep” … “sugar makes me skin feel gritty” … “salty things make me thirsty and I want more and more crisps and can’t stop” … “more than two slices of toast makes my tummy feel sore and soft (bloated)”. I never deny my children food groups because forbidden becomes highly desirable, but I do place limits and suggest a piece of fruit or veg first. Crisps in our house are considered a zero-value food as they don’t fill you up, BUT they are available because sometimes they’re a nice to have. As the children are getting older, they ask for them less and less.
Hungry children will eat. Children’s taste buds also mature as they do. Offering a wide range of seasonal food and keeping the zero-value food to a minimum means it’s not on their radar to ask for it. As we become more in tune with what is grown seasonally, it becomes second nature to eat what is available. Plus, its exciting “owwwww, plum season, plums are there sweetest when there’s a glut and then they’re gone". Tell children why, they’re young but not stupid. They get it.
Paula is an avid writer and enjoys working with food and words.