Over the last 50 years, children’s eating patterns have changed dramatically – and, on the whole, for the worse.
Over that period their consumption of biscuits has risen by four times, confectionary by 25 times and soft drinks by 34 times, while their consumption of milk, bread, green vegetables and red meat has declined. In England 13.5% of girls and 9% of boys are now overweight. Has your toddler refused to eat certain foods? Learn more about fussy eating and why it happens.
Healthy family meals
So what can we parents do about it? Well, if your children are brought up to eat good, home-cooked food from the word go, that’s what they’ll regard as proper food. Also this will train their tastebuds so that when they encounter commercial food elsewhere, they may heartily dislike it. Find out which foods are best to help your child grow.
It’s generally agreed that much ill-health can be avoided if we eat more fruit and vegetables. Official advice is to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as this applies to children as well as adults. In addition to fibre, fruit and vegetables provide essential quantities of vitamins A, C and E.
Fish, too, is highly nutritious and we are frequently reminded to eat more of it – up to three times a week. Oily fish is particularly good because it contains beneficial omega-3 oils. Always check fish thoroughly for bones before serving to a young child.
Our easy tips are tasty enough to encourage even the most reluctant child to tuck into healthy food:
1. Let your child handle raw vegetables and fruit. Let her hold and smell them. Once she’s become familiar with them, she’ll be more likely to try them.
2. Brightly-coloured vegetables are more attractive to children than green ones, so at meal times offer at least two of red, yellow and orange peppers, sweetcorn, beetroot, tomatos and carrots.
3. Onions are nutritious and their taste enhances the flavour of many savoury dishes. Put them in casseroles, fry them slowly until almost caramelized, or add them to a cheese sauce.
4. Vegetables make good finger foods so let your child eat sticks of raw carrots, peppers and cucumber. Or dip them into hummus, mayonnaise or cheese sauce. Also try cooked asparagus spears dipped into melted butter.
5. Purée vegetables and add them to gravy, or mix them into soups and stews. They may not even be noticed this way.
6. Try stuffed vegetables. Ones to try include tomatos, aubergines, peppers and marrow filled with minced meat, onion, rice, tomato, thyme, sage (plus chopped-up bits you gauged out, though not marrow seeds), served with and onion-and-cheese sauce.
7. Make ‘sunshine ripple’ by mixing puréed cooked carrot, butternut squash, swede or beetroot into mashed potato in stripes to look like ‘ripple’ ice-cream.
8. Sprinkle grated cheese and breadcrumbs over cooked vegetables and grill to golden brown. Anything with a golden topping looks enticing.
9. Put grapes, plums, cherries or satsumas out at every meal and have some around the home that your child can help herself to under supervision.
10. Dip the tips of strawberries or orange segments into melted chocolate and serve as a treat. Or sieve cocoa powder over fruit desserts before serving.
11. Make a sweet pizza by using a pre-cooked base, putting fruit purée on instead of tomato sauce and putting lots of fruit pieces on top. Eat with yoghurt, fromage frais, crème fraîche or evaporated milk (which is not sugary or fatty and is a good source of calcium).
12. Make fruit lollipops by freezing orange segments, thin slices of watermelon, halved peeled bananas, strawberries and nectarine slices. Or try freshly squeezed orange juice, or puréed fruit mixed with yoghurt or juice.
13. Make a peach surprise by cutting a peach in half, removing the stone and putting in raspberry or piece of marzipan, then reassembling the peach.
14. Bake little sponge cup cakes but cut the sugar by half and mix in lots of fresh fruit – strawberries, cherries and plums. Then serve while still warm for an irresistible treat.
15. In cold weather, serve hot fruity puddings such as crumbles, pies and tarts, with cream, yoghurt, real custard or evaporated milk.
16. Fill pancakes with raw or lightly-grilled fruit and dust with icing sugar.
17. Roast chunks of fruit in a hot oven, or grill them. Try sieving a tiny amount of caster sugar over them beforehand to caramelize the chunks slightly. This will make them utterly mouth-watering.
Fish and Meat
Tricks to get them to eat more meat and fish.
18. Cut sardines into long diagonals and scatter on pizzas. If anyone asks, tell them fish is traditional on pizza.
19. Mix fish and bacon for a wonderful flavour. Fry slivers of bacon in a pan then, when they’re done, add a few slivers of fish. Or you could wrap thin slices of ham around fingers of fish and bake them with finely sliced onions.
20. Toss fingers of white fish in breadcrumbs or crushed wholewheat cereals and fry them briefly in a drop of oil. Your children will love the crunchy exterior and contrast of textures.
21. Make a tasty stew with a lean, soft, well-cooked meat, vegetables and gravy.
22. To sweeten the dry taste of white fish, serve with a good tomato sauce or white sauce into which you’ve stirred plenty of pan-fried mushrooms or grated cheese.
23. Mash tinned sardines, kippers or pilchards into cream cheese or curd cheese for a good sandwich filling. Or pile it on to a bap or toasted muffin. Tinned fish, especially sardines, are particularly nutritious and a fantastic source of calcium.
24. Make a little nest of mashed potato. Into it put some cooked fish and sour sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and grill to lightly brown.
25. Try offering a fish medley containing small chunks of any white fish, fresh or tinned salmon or tuna, ocean sticks and prawns. Add lemon slices and parsley sprigs to the edge of the plate to decorate.