Grace has recorded a video for parents looking to improve nutrition around meal times, available to view via YouTube.
For convenience, we have also added the key points below.
- Maintain a calm and friendly atmosphere. Try to avoid disagreements or arguments as much as possible around dinner time.
- Eat as a family at a table as often as you can. This encourages positive role modelling where children will see the adults and maybe older siblings eating the same food that’s in front of them. Therefore encouraging them to eat the healthy meal and helping them to learn positive eating behaviours.
- No distractions like technology or games. This encourages children to listen to their hunger and fullness signals so when they are full, the body has acknowledged that and they can stop eating. Maybe you have experienced this when you’re sat in front of the telly and have quite easily got through the whole bag popcorn. This is because your attention is not on your fullness signals, it’s on the tv.
New ingredients and meals
- Introduce new or disliked ingredients into familiar foods. If spaghetti bolognese is a favourite but don’t like mushrooms, cut up the mushrooms small and add them to the spaghetti bolognese. This can encourage them to eat it and eventually like it.
- Increase the food exposure from a young age. The more times the food is introduced, the more likely a child will learn to like it. It takes around twenty introductions before a child will start liking the food.
- Try new cooking methods. It may not be the taste of the food they don’t enjoy but potentially the texture. Added crispiness to the vegetable or including it in a sauce may increase the chances of liking it.
- Try new recipes. In the UK, an average household has around nine recipes they rotate around every week. Try new recipes from different cuisines, cook foods in different ways or even cook some of the take away favourites at home. Just make sure to keep it exciting.
Get children involved
- Let them choose one healthy meal a week. Giving the children independence to make decisions will help their confidence. This can include bringing them on the food shop or making the meal themselves (check out the IKEA effect on food). Research has been shown that children who cook and participate in the cooking process are then more likely to increase their vegetable intake.
- Get them involved in the preparation of meal. This includes chopping, grating and weighing the ingredients. By showing them how to use the knife safely and supervising them allows them to experience this cooking process. They also see the raw ingredients all the way to the cooked, making it a nice experience to see so where their food comes from.
No good and bad food
- Use encouragement over rewards. Rather than getting children to finish their plates in exchange for dessert, encourage them to try whatever vegetable they dislike. This will avoid battles over food when dessert is not available.
- Listen to their fullness signals. They may not want to eat some food because they are full. The instruction of asking them to eat the food will then confuse their internal signal, which is is telling them to stop.
- Provide a variety of foods. Ensure that the child is full at the end of the meal. Including meals that contain vegetables rather than just providing them on the side can add more portions in the meal. Therefore increasing the nutrition.
- Provide the opportunity to taste. The more chance they have, the more likely they are to start enjoying it. Any leftover vegetables can then be used the next day in a meal or as a snack. Additionally, they can be frozen or blended into a soup to minimise your food waste.