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Fast Food Baby: Feeding the next generation

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Lucy Thomas Lucy Thomas | 10:35 UK time, Monday, 2 May 2011

How has something as essential and natural as feeding our children become so difficult and fraught with problems? It’s not surprising that parents are faced with such a tough job, what with so many confusing and conflicting messages about what and how to feed our children, not to mention being faced with endless varieties of plastic packaged foods that lure us with five-a-day or 100% fruit slogans. My thoughts and feelings on this subject were reinforced by working on tomorrow’s BBC Three programme Fast Food Baby

Child eating chips

Saying that “if they don’t eat what’s on offer, they don’t get anything else, and they’re not going to starve” isn't an easy philosophy to adhere to, especially when there are so many emotional and psychological triggers involved with feeding a small child, particularly one who’s been very ill early on in life.
Even without a catalyst like an illness, feeding can still be so riddled with anxiety and guilt. At the classes I run I often have parents who readily admit to caving into their toddlers demands or control over food simply because they want them to eat something, or not wake in the night hungry or be grumpy later on. I also understand and sympathise with this dilemma having been a nanny for 10 years, struggling over mealtimes. Incidentally there’s some great advice and support at The Infant and Toddler forum.

I see a wide range of issues that can’t simply be resolved with a quick-fix rule. A child surviving on bread and yoghurt due to severe reflux can suffer real anxiety when faced with new or different foods. This needs a more sensitive approach, but there can be a resolution. Messy play and food exploration can help, according to Dr Catherine Dendy, a clinical psychologist and feeding expert who also worked on Fast Food Baby. During the programme we followed a little boy, called Michael, who had suffered with meningitis. We saw something interesting happen.

During the classes we discovered that Michael enjoyed raw beetroot! The family also learnt the importance of involving their son in food and mealtime preparation and making it fun, so that Michael became more familiar with the new foods that were later presented on his plate and accepted them more readily. From an 18-month-old who drank a lot of milk and enjoyed fish, chips and sips of coke, Michael’s food repertoire quickly expanded to include vegetable soups, dried fruit, parsnip, cucumber and bananas, and broccoli became a firm favourite!

Bananas in a bowl

So how do we address the balance and make sure we are all providing the next generation with the foundations for a healthy balanced life? Try some of our tips and let us know how you get on or what works for you and your children in the comments section below.

Top tips for parents from Dr Catherine Dendy and Lucy Thomas of Mange Tout

  • Don’t force a child to eat a meal that they don’t like. This will make them like it even less! Instead, take the time to talk about and explore the components of the meal away from the table.
  • Prepare a child for what’s to come on their plate. Children are suspicious if they don’t know what they’re eating; even if they are told how good it is for them.
  • Never ask a child to eat, try or taste anything. Get them to explore the food by asking them to kiss, lick or crunch it instead. You are not tricking your child, merely asking them to engage with food in a more interesting way. If you ask your children who can do the loudest crunch in their celery they are more likely to bite it than if you say “here try some celery it’s really good for you!”
  • Involve a child in the whole process. Take them shopping and touch the produce and explain where it comes from.
  • Let them help you cook and be really involved.
  • Get a little messy. Let them squash a tomato or squeeze an orange while you are cooking.
  • A good way to explore vegetables that are disliked is to explore them raw and cooked. Many children do not enjoy the pungent smell of cauliflower, especially if overcooked, but small crunchy raw florets with hummus or a dip are delicious and very palatable.
  • If you’re weaning your baby, a baby’s taste buds develop and change at an alarming rate and are most receptive between the ages of seven and twelve months. Keeping a baby’s food bland for too long can result in shocked reactions to stronger flavours.
  • For children over three years introduce reward charts for enjoying five-a-day. Younger children will enjoy an immediate reward of a sticker on their top for participating. You can download a free chart from the Taste for Life website.
  • Children and babies are great imitators, so set a good example! Remember that enthusiasm is key. If you would like to see how it’s done, watch this clip.

Lucy Thomas and Dr Catherine Dendy are child-feeding experts. Both appear in BBC Three’s Fast Food Baby.


  • Comment number 1.

    The nanny state is alive and well.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am really looking forward to this programme having had twins (2yrs) who both have completely different feeding habits even though I have done the same with both of them, one of them simply will not touch fruit or vegetables and seems to crave carbohydrate rich foods and the other wolfs down berries and broccoli. Why Saffie are you so quick to demean something before you have even watched it? Surely teaching and helping parents with guidance about good eating habits and educating those watching is a postive thing? Nanny State? Do you have children or know anyone who has had a real battle to get their child to eat well or healthily?

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just looking at the programme now and the amount of saturated fat that one toddler is ingesting daily is truly dreadful. Small children are reliant on their parents and carers to look after them properly and feed them a reasonable diet. Rich, fatty, sugary food is ok for a treat now and again but not on a daily basis.

  • Comment number 5.

    Were those three examples really representative of young parents today? Heaven help us if they are! Michael's parents were at least aiming to give him healthy food and I do remember my children reacting in the same way to my home cooked healthy food! If only we could have had a psychologist like Cath Dendy and a home visit from someone like Lucy then maybe my sons would eat less fast food than they do now - in their thirties!!

  • Comment number 6.

    There’s been some discussion about this issue on the Food messageboard too.

    Shaz_Croc: This is something close to my heart at the moment as my daughter is eight months old. I have been working on the principle of baby led weaning - no purées, giving what you or I would eat (just without the salt or honey, and higher fat versions if a low fat version is what you normally take). It is incredibly messy (as you don't feed the baby, you let them pick everything up), but the hope is that she will try anything, and not be reluctant to move onto lumps or new foods. She is doing well so far, trying anything I put in front of her, and particularly enjoying our trips to Japanese noodle bars where she gets noodles and peppers etc from my meal. Today she will have tuna and broccoli onigiri and a little bit of leftover Japanese curry for her lunch, while I get to eat the rest of the curry myself.

    cherrytree: As well as the baby led weaning, my daughters and daughter in law also swear by Annabel Karmel. Her recipes for babies and toddlers seem to go down well. However there is more to it than that. All my children still have mealtimes round a table every day as they did when they lived at home, and the babies enjoy the sociability of that part of the day. It also helps that all four of my children love cooking as much as I do, so mealtimes are a pleasure. They are able to afford to buy decent stuff, and have the intelligence and confidence to know how to do things. This isn't a boast when we see programmes on the TV about people feeding junk food to babies it is a bit like going to watch the poor inadequate in Bedlam in the eighteenth century- a section of society loves to be shocked . Sorry to sound controversial, but I worked for an awfully long time in areas of great deprivation.

  • Comment number 7.

    Evita: I used Annabel Karmel's recipes, spent what felt like hours picking bits of food out of just about everywhere and got them baking at the ripe old age of two. No, I'm not a pushy mother, or a professional cook, I was just at my wits end with a pair of whinging toddlers and had a eureka moment - chocolate chip cookies. They've been "cooking" ever since and apart from a few genuine dislikes they eat most things, which reminds me - it's time to start dinner, if they've left me any cream for the sauce after making ice cream.

    MagicMarmite32: I have to say, I'm not an Annabel Karmel fan, her recipes are OK, and we do like the cheese and onion B&B pudding, but I don't like her general attitude to food. She's very against BLW, or was at least, and also once said she hoped her son's future wives would learn their favourite dishes so they could cook them for them! I taught myself to cook when my daughter was born, I figured I owed it to her, though she had her fair share of jars. She also had plenty of fruit and veg sticks, and bits and bobs from my plate. I don't remember details but I took her to Indonesia the week after she turned one and there was no baby food, and no purée there, so she ate whatever was on offer, and managed for the 10 weeks we were away.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's all very well saffiewalks trotting out the old nanny state cliche but it's that same 'nanny' state that will be expected to treat the rotting teeth, obesity, diabetes, anaemia,(in a two year old for heaven's sake!) resulting from this malnutrition. Even rickets was mentioned. I think that any guidance that parents can be given is to be welcomed.

  • Comment number 9.

    It was such a pleasure working with Cara and Gareth and their son Michael on Fast Food Baby. The family were so committed to the advice and support that Dr Catherine Dendy and myself gave them, that their hard work and perseverence really paid off!

  • Comment number 10.

    I would also like to thank all the parents who got in touch with me following the programme, it has been lovely to recieve such positive feedback about the work I do helping children with feeding problems, fussy eating and food phobias. At Mange Tout we continue to work together with children and parents to help build a healthier generation. If you would like any advice or support please do get in touch or visit and download our free report.

  • Comment number 11.

    Dr Catherine Dendy and myself are holding a food forum workshop in Oxford in response to the enquiries we have recieved following the documentary. The workshop will include a hands on practical mange tout session for you and your child, seminars by both myself and Dr Dendy and a Q&A session to help you with any issues you are facing with your childs feeding, mealtimes and food in general. For meore information please do get in touch if you would like to attend on June 18th.

  • Comment number 12.

    i think fast foods are really dangerous to the children


  • Comment number 13.

    Even though there might a lot to be said about patronizing I definitely agree that it is a good idea to offer professional advice and guidance to parents on how to feed their children well. Especially if it involves such great ideas and techniques as mentioned and shown above by Lucy Thomas and Dr. Catherine Dendy.
    As I have worked as an Au Pair for quite some time I was sadly able to witness several occasions where parents meant it well but could have used some advice. For example: taking my host children to the playground I always made sure to have some healthy snacks like cut up carrots and cucumbers or raisins with me as well as a bottle of water. A lot of times I would see families arrive with their already slightly obese children and the first thing the mothers would do after their children skipped off was to get bags of crisps and bottles of soft drinks out. The natural result was that the children stopped running around the very minute they sat eyes on the delicious temptations, sat down next to their mothers and spent the better half of the remaining time with munching away on crisps. And while it might be arguable whether or not it is true that part of the malnutrition problem is that fast food is more affordable than healthy food for a growing percentage of people, I do think that some good advice on a balanced diet would be very helpful for any kind of income group. Not to talk about higher taxes on fast food. I suppose that would make the choice between fast food and healthy food at least worth a second thought. But that's a different story...

  • Comment number 14.

    In our work with Michael's family Lucy Thomas and myself felt we were answering a genuine plea for help. We always aim to provide practical support and also a space to talk about anything that may be hindering progress. We believe that all parents really want is what is best for their child. We try very hard never to patronize, but to answer questions as best we can, and remain in a supportive role working alongside parents. We hope this came across in the programme.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think that schools also should give more attention to eating and the effects of bad food for your health. Areas as: That breakfast is the most important meal, so never skip it. The effects of fast food (obesity and heart disease) would be good subjects for school.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Thank you to everyone who attended the food forum on Saturday, it was lovely to meet you all. It was interesting to hear how many of you were motivated by the Fast Food Baby Documentary to get in touch. We hope to provide more workshops and access to support with feeding your children and getting them eating well in the near future.

  • Comment number 18.

    For everyone who attended the Food Forum on Saturday, hope you all got the recipe for the Peppermint cup cakes! (The secret is Japanese oil of peppermint, which you can get at your local health food store). Lucy and I have had more ideas about getting our message out there and will be contacting you about further seminars and adult only (without a children's class first) Mange Tout Q & A sessions. We aim to continue to support you and your child with feeding problems.

  • Comment number 19.

    Just wanted to say hi to all the people who attended the food forum in Oxford a while back. I thought we were going to be setting up an email list so we could all contact each other but haven't heard anything. Is anyone up for that?

    Has anyone had any successes? I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all and not really knowing how to get started - not so good at breaking things down into manageable chunks. However my husband decided to just get stuck in and got her playing with peas and crushing them between her teeth. My mum has also got her to lick and eat some potato which is good. I've stayed out of both of those because she tends to dig her heels in more for me than anyone else! Although she did lick a bit of banana for me this morning! We have been doing this at mealtimes, which I know is against Lucy and Catherine's recommendations but because of time constraints, it's the only time we can realistically do it. We've stressed to her that we don't expect her to eat it and if she's resistant we haven't pushed and it seems to be allowing a very small amount of progress to be made! Just have to keep it up!

  • Comment number 20.

    I really like your site. Lots of common sense suggestions when taking your child out.
    Please feel free to visit my site

  • Comment number 21.

    It is so right that you shouldn't force a child to eat what they don't like. Infants have taste buds just like us adults so we should appreciate that they have opinions like us. My daughter used to be so fussy about eating, but I figured out a few tactics that were quite effective. One being able to provide sudden distractions - while distracted I would spoon feed her. When I put the spoon to her mouth she would naturally open her mouth and receive the food while her attention is focused elsewhere momentarily.

    Another contribution to her being more receptive to food was that I was given a Baby Spoon Trainer by a friend. My daughter seemed quite curious about having the spoon secured to her hand and enjoyed toying with the food. With a bit of guidance (helping her through the physical motion of feeding) she spoon fed herself at her own will.

    I'm certain these methods might not work for every child but it worked for my daughter. It is import to let your child develop it's own sense of what he or she thinks and likes.

    Thanks, Liz


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