I founded Ella's Kitchen in 2006, with the simple aim of helping babies and young children eat healthily. The idea was sparked after my weaning daughter, Ella, began to refuse certain foods. There was no rhyme nor reason as to why she did it, she just did. This led me on a journey to create foods for kids that would be healthy, handy and fun, and importantly could help improve children's lives through developing healthy relationships with food.
That journey has seen Ella's Kitchen grow and grow to become the number one baby food brand in the UK, and is now sold in over 40 countries around the world. We are a financially successful business, with a core belief in being a force for good at its heart; so with these values, we aim to improve the eating habits and behaviours of little ones.
For example, one in five children are now classed as either overweight or obese by the time they start primary school. To turn this around, we need to focus our attention on the eating habits of the under-fives and look at when babies start to explore food - as this is where relationships with food, both good and bad, are formed.
Weaning is a key time for babies to develop their taste palate and food preferences. During this time, they're more accepting of new foods and can quickly learn to like them.
The evidence shows that a 'vegetables first' approach to weaning can help babies learn to like vegetables, help prevent 'fussy eating' and also ensure little ones receive the valuable nutrients vegetables provide.
However, only 36% of UK parents currently wean predominantly with vegetables during the first two weeks.
This is why we have launched 'Veg for Victory' - a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of vegetables throughout weaning and the impact this could have on little ones' long-term health.
This campaign launches just a few weeks after the Government published its long-awaited Childhood Obesity Plan. We welcome any efforts to improve children's health, however, we were disappointed that the Plan doesn't include anything around the vital early year's period.
Our research has revealed that the early years is a crucial time for developing long-term sustained health, making a targeted strategy to prevent growing childhood obesity critical.
To understand how best to influence young children's diets to help them to grow up to be good little eaters, we commissioned the British Nutrition Foundation to undertake a comprehensive review of the literature. Interestingly, part of the BNF's findings uncovered that introducing a variety of vegetables at the start of weaning and continuing to offer different vegetables frequently and in variety can help little ones develop a lifelong love of them and all the associated health benefits.
That's because during this time, they're more accepting of new foods and can quickly learn to like them. Consequently, a vegetables first approach to weaning can help babies learn to develop a taste for vegetables, may help prevent 'fussy eating' and also ensure little ones receive the valuable nutrients vegetables provide.
To help spread our message, we'll be working with key stakeholders over the coming months, including healthcare professionals, nutrition experts, MPs and mums and dads. The more we can work together, the more we can influence change.
We've also put together some useful tips that will help mums and dads to get their little ones loving veg:
1. Start with vegetables: Starting weaning with just vegetables helps little ones develop a taste for their greens that could last a lifetime. When babies start on solid foods, their palates are receptive to new flavours. So if they taste just vegetables at the very start, they can learn to love all the different tastes and textures.
2. Vegetables in variety: The more varieties of vegetables they wean with, the more tastes they'll love. There are lots of wonderful tastes to try and exploring them will help little ones develop into good little eaters. Try introducing different vegetable tastes every day at the start of weaning to help plant a love for vegetables.
3. Try 10 times: It can take up to 10 tries for a little one to enjoy a new vegetable. Savoury tastes can be a bit of a surprise, especially since babies' usual milk is naturally sweet and that's what they're used to. So if little ones scrunch up their face, it doesn't mean they don't like vegetables - just keep trying.
With these handy tips and the awareness our campaign aims to drive around vegetables, families with little ones can thrive as our research shows that taking this approach to weaning can increase acceptance of these foods in early life and in later childhood and is intrinsically linked to a long-term preference for vegetables.
We know that there is no easy solution to addressing the issues surrounding early childhood nutrition, and for sustainable change to occur, we need a long-term co-ordinated strategy. However, introducing vegetables first, frequently and in variety is a simple step that mums and dads can take to help their little ones develop a healthy relationship with food from the very first taste.
I'm asking you to join in our campaign and show your support by visiting ellaskitchen.co.uk and by tweeting #VegForVictory.