If you’re worried that the free school meals that are available from September may not agree with your child’s taste buds. Dr Sian Barnett, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, shares her top tips to ensure that your child is tucking into their 5-a-day and continuing the day on a full, healthy stomach.

Parenting on Female First

Parenting on Female First

Over four weeks time, up to three million 4-7 year olds across the country will be tucking into free school meals and learning more about the food they eat and how it’s made.

As it stands, almost 20% of children are obese by the time they leave primary school and a worrying 1% of packed lunches meet food based standards, compared to school meals.

Giving children a free school meal will help to bring this down by giving them a balanced diet and encouraging them to try healthier options – the benefits speak for themselves:

    • Pilot studies commissioned by the Government where all primary school children were given free lunches showed that students were academically months ahead of their peers elsewhere and more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime instead of less healthy food like crisps.
    • Pupils were on average two months ahead of their peers in English and mathematics
    • There was a “levelling effect” on the quality of lunches eaten by pupils from different backgrounds with suggestive evidence that rolling out the universal pilot might help to reduce educational inequalities.
    • There was a 23% increase in the number of children eating vegetables at lunch and an 18% drop in those eating crisps. Children were also more likely to drink water and less likely to drink soft drinks with their lunch.
    • The pilots also encouraged children to develop healthier and more varied eating habits at home, helping to improve nutrition in later years too.
    • Parents were much more likely to think that a school meal was better for their child’s health than a packed lunch and were also more likely to talk to their child every day or more days about what they had eaten at school and were more likely to agree that their child was willing to try new foods.

Dr Sian Barnett, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist how parents can be more persuasive when getting the children to try new food.

For most parents there is a strong instinct to feed our children. We want to make sure that they are getting good food with the right amount of nutrition, and in particular, enough fruit and vegetables to help them grow and develop. We have all seen the government campaigns and do our best to encourage our children to eat regularly and well. But what happens when you have a child who won’t eat much or hardly seems willing to try anything at all? In my experience, what can often happen is that parents worry and become stressed. They may feel guilty, helpless or that they are not succeeding in an important area of their parenting. This is probably the biggest impact of fussy eating, the impact that it has on the parent. This can then impact on the child.

It can help parents to know that they are not alone. Many young children go through a stage of fussy eating and at any one time up to a third of toddlers fit this description. It can be hard to remember as an adult but for lots of children eating is a distraction from more interesting and enjoyable activities. Food can also be a way that children assert their independence. ‘This is me, who I am and what I like and dislike the taste of.’

Most children grow out of fussy eating – some more quickly than others, so try and be patient and kind to yourself and children during this phase. Children also need less food than most adults think and will usually eat when they are hungry. Despite what it can look like or feel like to parents, children generally manage to eat enough and develop and grow.

Top 10 Tips for fussy eaters

1. Have a designated area for eating without the distraction of television. Have regular meal times with healthy, tasty food. Try to work out when your children get hungry for meals and don’t give them too many snacks in between. Keep snacks healthy, apart from the occasional treat, and try to avoid junk food.

2. Offer children small portions. Children can always have more but may be put off by large amounts of food.

3. Eat with your children, share food and conversation. Let them see that you enjoy your food. Make mealtimes fun and pleasurable. Play games.

4. Offer new foods together with familiar foods. Don’t give up with new foods. You may need to introduce them 10 times or more before your child will try them or think about liking them.

5. Let children get involved in the buying, and cooking of food. Don’t worry if it is messy. One of the best Year 1 pieces of homework I have seen was to choose the fruit and make a fruit salad. Lots of children also enjoy baking and helping to cook.

6. Don’t criticise or get angry with children about their eating. If you become worried or stressed then your child/children will pick up on this and it will make mealtimes more difficult and tense. Remind yourself that your child will eat when they are hungry, take 3 deep breaths and try to relax. Talk to friends, family members or health professionals for support and advice. If thinking about and preparing meals to interest your children is stressful, then keep it simple and give yourself a break.

7. Reward and praise children for trying new things. You might want to use a reward system like a sticker chart to help you and your child to focus on the positives and what they have achieved.

8. If one of your children or another child around the table is trying new foods make sure that you notice and give them lots of praise and attention for the effort they have made.

9. Never force a child to eat something. Experiment. Some children won’t eat fruit but will drink smoothies. Some children won’t eat vegetables but will eat them hidden in a tomato sauce. Some children won’t eat sandwiches but will eat the bread buttered and the filling on the side. Find what works for your child.

(My children used to love chicken animals which were strips of chicken dipped in egg and rolled in flour, gently pan fried in a small amount of oil and named loosely after the animal that they most looked like and to which they rarely had any real resemblance – elephants, ostriches, tigers etc).

10. If you are concerned that your child is not growing or developing, seems very tired or is losing weight then seek advice from your GP.



by for www.femalefirst.co.uk