When Nathan was little – around 18 months old – he wasn’t fussy about food and would enthusiastically wolf down vegetables and was adventurous with eating new things. I remember feeling quite smug and thinking we had mealtimes nailed. But now he’s turned three, he’s much more fussy, very suspicious of new foods and has a diet that is way too beige.
Nathan was a bit under the weather last weekend, which made him more fussy than usual, but to my shame he mostly ate chips, crisps, sweets, cereal, cake and some fruit, despite my proffering of other, healthier items. It didn’t help that on Saturday we had a pub lunch out and on Sunday we were at a friend’s BBQ where crisps, sweets and cake were in abundance. I’m certainly not going to win any mum of the year awards if his diet continues like this…
I’d like to say this is an isolated example – and to be honest this was a pretty bad weekend on the food front – but Ed and I both concede that Nathan’s weekend eating habits are often poor because we’re not great either. Fortunately the little man’s in nursery or with his grandparents during the week so at least I know he’s eating well when he’s there.
However, it’s obvious that we need a kick up the backside where family eating is concerned. So, in an attempt to broaden our culinary choices, I recently signed up to Nicole Freeman’s Family Foodies SOS Course, hoping that it will help us to improve our diets. Nicole runs award-winning The Kids’ Kitchen cookery school, which was inspired by her own fussy eater. She’s taught hundreds of children and their parents to cook, expand the variety of foods they eat and be receptive to new foods. You can check out her Facebook pages here and here, where there’s lots of advice and easy to follow recipes.
One of the principles of this course, which really spoke to me, is “Division of Responsibility”. The idea being that parents decide what and when the family will eat, and the kids have the right to choose if they will eat, and how much. This works well if you have a spread of healthy food on the table for everyone to help themselves to – making sure you always include some things you know your children will like. Ed and I like eating mezze and tapas style and can see it would be good way of eating together and maybe a bit more fun for Nathan than us serving up pasta for lunch AGAIN.
I have also been guilty in the past of saying “one more bite” or “if you eat this, you can have some fruit/dessert afterwards”. Nicole advocates ditching this kind of pressure/bribery as it reinforces their belief that dessert is nice and their main meal isn’t.
Nicole rightly pointed out that French children don’t have the same negative associations around food that British children often do – they’re taught from a young that all of the food they are served is good and are expected to eat it, and they do. You might have heard of the book “French Kids Don’t Throw Food” by Pamela Druckerman, which I’m going to read, along with “It’s Not About The Broccoli” by Dina Rose.
We’re halfway through the Family Foodies course at the moment, and I’ll do a full write up once it’s over and we’ve had more of a chance to put the strategies into practice.
As the bank holiday weekend and summer fast approaches, Nicole has generously provided some top tips and recipes below to help get children enthused about eating al fresco and hopefully sampling some new foods.
The perfect picnic
By Nicole Freeman
As a kids’ cookery school teacher, I spend a lot of my time talking to parents about family food frustrations – there’s little Jonny who won’t sit still at the table. And Alice ate peas last week but now thinks they are the devil’s work. Clare has suddenly become really fussy and her younger brother is following suit. And then there’s mum who just wants to make a meal the whole family will eat and is totally stressed out by family mealtimes which are becoming a battleground.
And that’s why I love a good picnic. They are a great way of actioning 3 key principles that help create good foodie habits for your family:
Make it fun
Having a different set-up for your meals is a great way of mixing it up from the normal “sit still at the table” routine. Eating outside, on a rug, maybe with toys in tow (teddy bear’s picnic anyone?) or eating off special toy plates, is so much fun for your kids that you may well find they are more ready to try new ingredients as a result.
Let them serve themselves
The traditional picnic format where you lay it all out and the kids help themselves is perfect. As parents, we can be guilty of serving too much food – and then being disappointed when our kids don’t eat it all. We need to learn to “let go” and teach our kids to eat when they are hungry, coming back for more if they want seconds. You decide what they eat, they decide if and how much they eat. And picnic–style eating was made for this. Lay it out the food you have – no alternative choices please! – and then sit back and let the kids tuck in.
Be a good role model
Kids copy our behaviour, so if don’t eat your veggies, neither will they. Lay out the food you are serving – even if it’s something they don’t like – and show them you enjoy eating it. With repetition, they may surprise you and take a bite when the pressure is off.
Here are two great recipes I like to make for picnics. Both recipes are perfect for making with the kids – research shows that cooking with kids means they are more likely to try new ingredients – and can easily be varied depending on what you have in the fridge.
So what are you waiting for? Grab that picnic blanket and jug of Pimms and, should it, as is traditional, rain on your (Bank Holiday) parade, just have an indoor picnic instead!
These are great picnic food and also make a great breakfast – add your usual sausage and bacon etc as you like. They work fine without cheese too
250g cubed mixed vegetables (I use carrot, peas and sweetcorn)
250g cubed, boiled potatoes
140g grated Cheddar
- Chop and sauté the onions in a frying pan till soft and golden
- Add to the chopped mix veg and sprinkle those with the potatoes between 18 silicone muffin tins
- Top with the grated cheese
- Put the eggs and milk in a jug and beat together, adding seasoning to taste
- Carefully pour the liquid into the muffin tins until it just covers the vegetables and potatoes
- Bake at 200C/ 180F for about 20-25 mins until set and golden on top. These are good served warm or cold.
Picnic pinwheel rolls
These are like mini pizzas and really transportable as a tasty picnic treat. Here we’ve made two varieties – sundried tomato and also black olive – and this is a great way of introducing new flavours and ingredients. Shop-bought pestos are great to use here.
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
80g black olives
80g sundried tomatoes in oil
Handful of basil leaves
Handful of grated cheese (optional)
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, yeast, 1 tbsp olive oil and 300ml warm water, to make a soft dough. Knead by hand for 10 mins then put back in the bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for an hour in a warm place until doubled in size.
- To make the olive filling, put the olives, half the garlic and 2 tbsp olive oil in a food processor and blend till you get a spreadable, but chunky paste.
- To make the sundried tomato filling, put the sundried tomatoes, half the garlic and the basil (leaves only) in a food processor and blend as before.
- When the dough has risen, roll it into a rectangle roughly the size of your baking tray (about 30x40cm) and then cut in half lengthways so you have two pieces about 30x20cm.
- Spread the olive paste over one of the rectangles, and the sundried tomato paste over the other. Sprinkle with the cheese if desired.
- Carefully cut each piece of dough into 7 or 8 long strips and then roll up the dough like a Swiss roll, starting at the short end to make a pinwheel and place on a baking tray
- Loosely cover with cling film, then leave to rise for 20 mins or so, until slightly puffed up and filling the baking tray.
- Cook for 20-25 mins at 220C/ fan 200C until golden, then leave to cool.
Enjoy this? You might also like my post on cutting down on sugar.