Fast Food Baby: Feeding the next generation
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.
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!
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.