How do you make kids eat their greens?
It’s so unfair: the moment our children our fully weaned from the wonderous breastmilk, they seem less keen on eating up their broccoli florets. I know several families who swear at least one of their toddlers (now quite big and outwardly healthy looking) spent at least a year eating only fromage frais. According to the amazing food writer Michael Pollan (v big in America) there are three simple food rules: eat food, not too much, mostly plant. Fromage frais doesn’t tick many of his boxes. There’s much more about food – choosing, serving and growing – plus ideas to cut waste in my book Homemade Kids, due out 1 July.
So how do you make kids eat up proper food? Or perhaps you feel children shouldn’t eat everything on their plate, they should just try a taste or two. Hopefully that makes them willing to be adventurous but doesn’t force food battles.
The first bits of weaning are easy – just mash what you are having and introduce slowly (try it three days in a row before moving on to the next taste). Or provide as finger food around the table and let the baby taste what the rest of their family is eating – mashing if you want. As mum of three, Sarra, who helped contribute to Homemade Kids, puts it: “Babies get all the nutrients they need in breastmilk, that’s why they say ‘up to one food’s just for fun’. Baby led weaning was fantastic because I could give Alfie things his big sister Saskia was already having. He helped himself, just playing with food really, so he mushed and squished steamed carrot sticks, wedges of banana, toast and cooked pear. It’s got to be soft enough for babies to mash up using their gums. Alfie also had yoghurt, and when the pincer movement was more developed he ate sweetcorn and peas. When he went to nursery at 10 months they were amazed he could feed himself. I find oranges, bananas, bread and raisins are good for when we are out and about. Jars and sachets of baby food were useful for snacks and I also used to freeze food in batches so I’d have food ready quickly if needed.”
Another idea is to make cooking a game that even very little children can join in. Elaine shares some of her ideas in Homemade Kids: “While Gordon (my husband) was down at the local tip he found a children’s plastic play oven that had been left – it was a bit wobbly but otherwise seemed fine so home it came. Little did we realise the effect this was going to have on Finn who seized upon it and immediately set about “cooking”. I had no idea that he had been picking up so much information from us cooking in the kitchen but he had a good grasp of what to do and what to cook. An auntie gave him some plastic food so now Finn spends a lot of time cooking on his oven and not only has it encouraged his creative play, but it’s been interesting to hear what his top foods are (pasta and olives feature a lot). He’s also discovered that he can help himself to the various jars of nuts and pulses within reach in a lower cupboard in the kitchen and having discovered what is and isn’t edible now has a selection of mixed seeds and nuts down to a fine art. We’ve now built on this by making mixed seeds and nuts flapjacks together and he also helps out with putting the toppings on pizzas and making mixed salads so I think cooking is going to be a fun and educative family pastime!”
Elaine, 44, with Finn aged 2 years and 5 months and Niall, 2 weeks
If you don’t want more plastic toys in your home, here’s something your children can play with right now, an idea from Zoe (pic left): “When cooking I like to set up the top of our little steps in the kitchen as a kiddy cooker. With a bowl, a small jug of water, my peelings, out of date dried beans and a few bits of pasta – the kids spent ages making their own pretend ‘soup’ – they even emptied used tea bags into the mix to change the colour. Tip whole lot back into compost bin at the end of the day…”
My girls are now 9 and 11 and occasionally like cooking real meals for us all – recent kitchen sessions led entirely by them have seen scrambled eggs, veggie fajita and pancakes served up. I’m so pleased that the girls are volunteering to do this, and as a result I’m turning a blind eye to the way every pot and pan gets used and equipment melted, etc. I figure you’ve got to try to learn – and it’s the same for tastebuds too…
If you’ve got any ideas how to encourage children to eat well (and keep eating seasonally as April is still the hungry gap) please share! Thanks. Nicola