Today I went along with the 66 kids which make up Beas reception (kindergarten) class to a local Chinese restaurant. They have all been learning about Chinese new year and brilliantly the teachers thought it would be a fun trip to take the kids to all taste some real Chinese food. Awesome!
What struck me as one of the mummy helpers however wasn’t their good behaviour or the fact that they all independently started to say ‘cheers’ to each other with their orange cordial (how cute!) It was watching each of their different attitudes towards food.
Some of them (like Bea) had obviously had noodles before and ate them up but others had never tasted them…Lots told us they didn’t like them but once they saw their buddies gobbling them down and having fun dangling them into their mouths etc, they tentatively tried them and I would say a good 80% came back for more.
This got me thinking about my kids food habits (as Bea so carefully picked out the bean sprouts from her noodles but loved the spring rolls stuffed with them!) but also about some of the other kids too and how obviously different we parents are when it comes to what and where our kids eat.
I am no expert but I love food and cooking and through the ups and downs of their little childhood attitudes to food, I seem to have ended up (so far!) with two girls who enjoy food so I thought I would share my top tips for helping your kids LOVE their food!
1 – START THEM YOUNG
There seem to be two schools of thought on feeding babies. You either go the baby purree way or the Baby led weaning way. With Bea, out I went and purchased my bibles.. Annabel Karmel New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner and her Top 100 Finger food book. I should have read the signs by my need to buy the latter book – Bea was a great eater but wanted to get involved from an early age, picking things up and getting messy. I didn’t really know if that was ok at the time so stuck to my pureed foods and made quite a clown show of each meal time to get the foods eaten. Turns out, I could (and maybe should) have given Bea all sorts of finger foods to munch her way through. With Freya, two years later, I had worked this out. Still not brave enough to believe totally in BLW I mixed the two pretty much by accident. I would have a stock of purees that I would heat up and give Freya along with some of the veggies her big sister was having with her dinner. It worked really well and she progressed quickly. I wish I had read more about BLW at the time, something like this which comes highly recommended by a friend who launched herself solely into Baby Led Weaning. Whichever way it works, my advice would be to be adventurous, let your baby try lots of tastes early and have fun!
2 – RELAX
If you aren’t really into food – be that cooking or eating it; try not to pass this on to your kids. Don’t worry if you aren’t a great cook. It really is easy to puree a carrot / pea / pear and mix them all together and there are LOADS of great books out there to give you ideas. I bought these brilliant pots to make up big batches of baby food for the freezer (I still have a separate freezer for kids foods, its more pasta sauces now than purees though) If you are totally afraid of, or short of time to be in your kitchen, there are also some amazing brands of baby foods out there which are getting better all the time at having less salt / additives etc. If you choose to go down more of the Baby Led Weaning route then there is also a lot less kitchen time preparing batches of food (but maybe more clearing up after!)
3 – SOCIALISE
I was really lucky, my sister had her little girl three weeks before I had Bea so the girls pretty much learnt to do everything together. Eating together made a huge difference to the girls enjoyment of meal times. Probably hugely down to the fact that I relaxed having a friend to talk to while we fed and chatted with our girls. If you can find a little friend to eat with sometimes I think it really helps babies and toddlers to learn about eating and makes melas fun for everyone involved! We are now out of that first stages of eating but the importance of eating together never ends. We love having family around for a Sunday lunch, or friends here for dinner after school. Eating together is great.
4 – GET COOKING
If my girls take part in the process of cooking, they love and feel so proud of the outcome. Of course we started with cakes like these but now we do all sorts of things together from these lovely wholesome Cheese Scones, spreading the butter on the bread for their sandwiches or chopping up the ingredients and whisking up an omelet or pancake batter together. Sure it is always more messy when they are involved but thats half the point. Through touching, tasting and smelling the foods they are going to eat, they are learning so much and always seem more willing to eat the result! Obviously, take care with kids handling knives. We have this clever knife from Pampered Chef called ‘My safe cutter’ it is great and simply cannot cut skin despite its sharp looking teeth – clever eh?
5 – PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD
I am actually a sucker for nice table manners. Mine don’t really have them at the moment but I know its coming! They know to try to sit still at the table, and occasionally don’t eat like savages and remember what their forks are for. To be honest, while they are this young, I don’t really mind how it goes in as long as it does! Again, feeling the food they are eating sometimes a good thing. Away from meal times, there are loads of great sensory play ideas out there for using food as a play things – take a look here and here for starters. We also LOVE our play kitchen and of course this helps with foodie fun too. Whether its a baby learning the different feel of play food (my 8 month old nieces favourite thing is to rifle her way through a play food basket) or my lovely Freya cooking her dollies some dinner, playing with your food cam sometimes be a good thing.
6 – KNOW YOUR APPLES FROM YOUR ORANGES
Shopping with kids can be the biggest nightmare, Freya is at that perfect age to moan her way around a supermarket unless she is occupied by eating or actually out of the trolley which makes my shopping time about five times longer! I know I could order it all online, but I too like to look at, touch and smell my food before I buy it. SO now when we have time, we get involved. Getting her to pick the pears or feel a prickly pineapple is not only (sometimes) helpful but also a great learning experience for her! We have two great games at home too which I really think are fun AND foodie. Both are memory type games by Orchard Toys – One is called Shopping List where kids have to collect items that are on their shopping list and place them in their card trolley – I love that Freya recognises what an Aubergine is! The other, I really like, is called Crazy Chefs. Each player gets a card with a certain dish on it like pizza, noodles, cakes and they have to collect the listed ingredients to ‘make’ their dish. They are both super simple but the girls really do now know what ingredients they need to put in a real cake as a result of playing the game so much!
7 – TASTE THE WORLD
Do you take your kids out to eat? Both my husband and I love to eat out and now that Freya is just that bit older we have found ourselves enjoying pretty civil meals out in kid friendly places. I love that my kids know how to behave(ish) in a ‘posh restaurant’ as Bea calls our local pub! I also love that they will try new foods from our plates and we have recently risked it a bit and taken them for a Chinese and for Sushi! I love that I have a 4 and 2 year old that have tried and enjoyed eating all kinds of foods. Seeing Freya perched on a stool watching in awe as the sushi went round the belt was fantastic… seeing her eat salmon sashimi and loving it was even better! If you aren’t able to pop to your local curry house, don’t panic! I guess my point with this is to encourage your children to eat healthily and see what different foods from around the world are like. All supermarkets have fresh egg noodles now which are lovely with a few veggies or perhaps you eat this kind of food a lot and a right royal British Roast Chicken would be something different for your family. Don’t get stuck in a food rut – yes, kids have their favourites, but its good for them to have different experiences sometimes.
8 – KEEP TRYING
I am well aware that I am lucky when it comes to having two kids who eat all sorts. I have a cousin whose daughter will only eat pasta without any sauce on it, a few friends whose kids have all sorts of different medical dietary needs which makes cooking for their family a real challenge for them and one friend who cooks completely different meals for her two children…. hmm Supernanny could have a field day with that one I think! My advice to ‘picky’ eaters (I hate that term) would be to just keep calm and keep trying. You really can’t make a child eat something they don’t want to but asking them to taste things is different. If they see you eating happily and trying different things then they are more likely to follow suit. Don’t give in when a meal takes an hour (I have personal experience of this!) BUT don’t let your kids run rings around you either. Bea is quite simply, a slow eater. Accepting that and learning how to both encourage her to try to eat faster and not pick through her food but also learning how not to nag her permanently has been a big education for me.
9 – MIX IT UP
Meals don’t always have to be at the kitchen table….Now, Freya, who has grown up with hoards of kids eating together around my table, tends to look at me with such expectation when it is just the two of us sitting down for lunch together – its hard making scintillating conversation with a two year old sometimes! So, recently, I have tried to make our meal times different by occasionally moving location. Obviously, in nice weather, this could be a picnic in the garden. Right now in the depths of winter, its sometimes simply just chatting and nibbling away standing at the kitchen worktop. For a BIG treat, we have even been known to move into the lounge and have a lazy lunch in front of the TV – I definitely don’t recommend this as a healthy thing to do with a toddler, but once in a while its fun!
10 – LOVE IT
Most of all, I want my kids to grow up having a healthy love for food. They know that we see wheat growing in the fields and that makes flour for our cakes and bread. They know their poppa grows lovely beans in the summer and that currently every spare inch of the fields around us are being planted with the famous Jersey New Potato for us to enjoy in the summer. Bea knows that pigs make ham and cows make milk and burgers too! (having a veggie aunty has sort of fast tracked that conversation for us! Honesty was the best policy I decided..)
The are just as likely to want to chomp the head off a broccoli tree as they are to eat a pile of chips. Sure they get sweets and crisps as snacks but they are more likely to get chopped up apples and grapes. Sometimes they get a bowl of ice cream for desert another it might be fruit on sticks to make it look pretty. I don’t feel the need or have the energy to make every plateful of food look like a bunny or a smiley face but sometimes I do and they love it! There are so many things you can do to make food fun – that are not expensive or time consuming, its worth trying sometimes….
There are also lots of lessons we can learn as grown ups. By looking at what we eat, when we eat and how we talk about food infront of our children we often don’t perhaps realise the messages we are feeding their minds. If you learn to love food, your kids might too! Have a go at learning to love it together…
Have you got any fail safe recipes? Do your kids love or hate mealtimes? Let us know!
Love Mum on the Rock x