17/05/2012 17:10 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

This Isn't Just Food, This Is Kid-Friendly, Novelty, Smiley-Faced Food (And I Hate It)

Children eating and enjoying food Getty

Got a little fussy eater in the family? Well fear not, apparently Mickey Mouse is coming to your rescue. Yes, arriving in a supermarket near you soon (if they haven't already), are pasta pieces in the shape of your child's "favourite Disney pal", there, says the marketing literature, to "reassure them".

Taking the Mickey?


Well, I'm sorry to come over all cynical and ranty but why on earth does pasta, a food almost universally loved by little people in its traditional forms, need to be crafted into the shape of a mouse in order to encourage children to eat it?


I'm all for the odd fish finger (especially sandwiched between slices of bread, smothered in ketchup and topped with cheese...yum) but the infantilisation of food - adding a novelty factor to anything and everything - is getting me as hot under the collar as a chef slaving over a steaming stove.


Bottom of my shopping list and top of my culinary annoyance list are those smiley frozen potato faces.


What's wrong with real spuds? If it's convenience you're after, it really isn't much more difficult to shove a jacket in the microwave, or some oven chips onto a baking tray.

And what's convenient about shopping for and preparing two sets of food – one for the adults and one for the kids - anyway?

I know that faddy eaters can leave parents screaming as they scrape yet another lovingly-prepared meal into the bin but there are plenty of ways to get young children to eat without resorting to teddy bear-decorated pizza.

More Mickey food - apple fruit crisps!

By putting all this gimmicky grub onto family dinner menus, aren't we fuelling fussiness, not solving it? Creating an expectation in children that all meals should have some sort of novelty factor. We're upping the ante and leaving them feeling that, say, a pile of gorgeously smooth, slightly buttery mash potato is not good enough – not fun enough. These days, for kids, it seems to be a case of "this is not just food, this is smiley-faced, Micky-Moused, cartoon charactered food".

I always thought the French were better at feeding their offspring 'proper food' - I had visions of les petits enfants gorging themselves on garlic-soaked escargots and foie gras, with never a request for a train-shaped chicken nugget to be heard. But my colleague Catherine, who moved to France three years ago, when her children were four and six, says it's not so clear-cut.

"They do have some of the same kind of stuff here – kids' yoghurts etc. and particularly kids' biscuits but there probably are less things like novelty pasta shapes." However she adds that French kids "are more adventurous food-wise – the school dinner menu reads like a restaurant menu – and my kids have certainly broadened their horizons because of it." They have indeed even been known to tuck into a plate of snails...

So what do the experts think of the increasing presence of kid food on British supermarket shelves?

This isn't just food, this is kid-friendly, novelty, smiley-faced food (and I hate it) Never was picking a pudding so complicated

Registered Nutritionist Dr Carina Norris says, "I can see how busy mums are tempted to use 'kiddy food' to encourage their little ones to eat. But I believe it's best to give children smaller portions of 'adult' food – kids' versions cost more, and what do you do when you're in a situation where they're not available, and your child refuses everything else?

"You can still do things to make meals more 'child friendly', such as using brightly coloured vegetables sliced different ways. With fruit, tasting plates can introduce them to unfamiliar ones. And pasta comes in a whole variety of interesting shapes anyway - little shells, bows, spirals and quills, to name just a few."

Nick Coffer, a father of two, food blogger and broadcaster, has penned a whole recipe book, My Daddy Cooks, of meals designed to appeal to young and old family members alike.
"In my experience with my four-year old and one-year old, the most important thing is not to use gimmicks but to engage them with the whole process of eating food, all the way from the shop to the table. Make eating meals a normal occurrence, where, if possible, everyone eats the same family food."

"And don't get me wrong, I am not saying to only ever serve elaborate creations. Trust me, we'd be lost in this house without fish fingers and the occasional takeaway too! It's just all a question of balance. There is much more chance of kids being accepting of a varied diet with varied flavours if they were exposed to it from the youngest age."

Nick accepts that kids are not mini-adults, "I'm not saying 'treat them like adults'. I am simply saying that we try to have a relaxed attitude around food, where discovery is important and our kids are allowed to find their own way. By eating good food, around a table together, everyone is setting each other an example. Both my kids always eat much better if we are all sitting down together."

Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years