Don’t be drawn into broccoli wars
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Feeding the kids can get complicated - it has to be healthy and they have to enjoy it. Get it wrong and it’s your fault
How do you get kids to eat broccoli?
It is the perennial cry of the anxious parent, wondering if their child is eating properly, while, of course, fretting that they might become overweight from fatty, sugary foods
Speaking from the renewed experience of having small children in the house, I have observed how it goes. These days, it starts with baby-led weaning when the little one, adding to his milk-only diet is given a bit of broccoli, a slice of nectarine and a piece of low-sugar rusk to gum.
Babies love the new sensation of eating and tuck in with glee. Most of the food goes on the floor and much of what remains is stuck to the baby’s face but some of it goes in. It takes a while for children to become selective but there will almost certainly come a point when no amount of yum-yumming or pretending the spoonful of food is a train going into the tunnel is going to persuade them that vegetables and/or couscous are lovely to eat.
Back in the 1950s, fruit and veg were seasonal. The most exotic fare I ate was pork cheese, a sugar sandwich, and fish and chips. Today, we can have anything ? and with added gold leaf.
Currently, there is much soul-searching among parents who, on the one hand are keen to see their children eat good food but, on the other, don’t want to make the act of eating a big issue for fear of prompting eating disorders.
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It can be fraught. While my daughter, when she was a toddler, would devour pretty much anything, my son, two years younger, quickly decided the only food he liked was pasta and “sugar cheese” (Parmesan). He was a slight child and I worried that he wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed. They sold luncheon meat with a face in Sainsbury’s so I tried that. He liked it once. On the plus side, he wasn’t keen on junk food or salty snacks.
As he got older, he introduced a few more things into his diet - potato alphabet shapes, chicken goujons, tuna, chili con carne but it was not until he went to university that the big change happened. Moving into a student house with another four chaps, he faced cash-strapped times. One of his housemates worked at Asda and would bring home a very reasonably priced multi-pack of pizzas. It was the beginning of an eating revolution and soon he ate just about anything.
His oldest son eats well and can be encouraged to eat a little bit more green stuff with the promise of an ice lolly to follow (see below for why I’m getting that badly wrong!).
The middle son seems to find eating an irritating distraction from the important work of a three-year-old. Sometimes he eats well, other times he picks at his food, uninterested.
The internet (how did we manage before?) is awash with tips about getting reluctant children to enjoy eating food that is good for them.
Here are some of the ideas mooted by various experts to help parents deal with picky eaters. (the comments in brackets are mine).
• Be a good role model - children note what their parents eat and copy them. (Yes, this means the grown-ups have to eat broccoli too)
• Most experts say there should be no food bribing eg “You can get down from the table when you have eaten two pieces of carrot,” because it can give children a negative view of certain foods. (Now I’m feeling properly guilty)
• Get the kids involved with the preparation of meals. (Yes, a child’s pummelling can turn pastry a funny colour but they will look forward to eating what they have helped to make... and look forward to watching you eat what they’ve helped to make.)
• Respect your child’s appetite ? if your child isn’t hungry, don’t force them to have a snack and, at meal times, acknowledge when they indicate they have had enough to eat... even if there’s food still on their plate.
• Try to stick to a routine of having meals at the same times of day.
• Whenever possible eat together as a family, at the table - making food a sociable activity. (Not in front of the telly)
• Minimise distractions ? turn off the telly and electronic gadgets.
• Have healthy foods at home (Does this mean forbearing to buy grandma’s pack of Cadbury’s Twirls... or simply hiding them?)
Finally, I feel I should now come clean and declare that, actually, I really like broccoli.
(Sources include: www.unlockfood.ca www.bbcgoodfood.com www.eatingwell.com)