I recently became a Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution ambassador to share what I have learned as a parent of four very interesting and different children. I have learned over the years that if you can recognise the importance of your child's relationship with food, and build on it, alongside the equally important understanding of shaping your child's mindset by looking inside out rather than outside in- you will have a child who has fostered a great relationship with food, is empowered to independently make the right food choices and has grown up as part of a thriving family.
A good relationship with food and the right mindset can save you from some of the horrors and frustrations that can be seen daily in the accounts of parents. The scale of issues is long and diverse and there is no one size fits all approach type solution.
Here are the most important words that will enrich your family's journey from childhood to adulthood.
1. Build: In order to build a good relationship with food, children need to have a good role model. Exposure is key, so they need to witness, be involved in and eat meals cooked from 'scratch.' The children need to witness adults devouring and embellishing their vegetables, proteins, fruits, fats and carbs!
2. Eat together as a family. Use the age-old tradition of story telling to attract your children to the table, encourage them to participate and entice them to stay through enjoyment. Children that stay at the table longer tend to have a more healthy diet and eat the right amount of food slowly- not 'scoff' and run.
3. Pressure: Create a no pressure environment by giving them a real choice to make a decision. Let your children serve themselves as much as possible, even if it is just a side. If introducing a new food serve with a savoury accompaniment, on a separate plate to avoid contamination, which can put children off eating foods that they actually like or would normally eat. Try not to expect your children to eat everything on their plate. If your children do not finish their dinner try to not see this as a challenge to you or your parenting. Remember that you have a wider strategy of developing a positive relationship with food and increasing your child's repertoire. I like to think of this as my 'circle of control' - imagine a big circle with a small circle inside. The small circle is the decisions that your children make and the bigger circle encases your sphere of influence.
4. Small: Serve small portions to let your children know from the outset that the fun is in the trying and that they can have more if they like. If you cook enough vegetables for those who will eat them, and a teaspoon more for those that won't, it will save money, time and waste.
5. Involvement: Let your children choose a recipe to add to your meal plan, take them to the shop to pick the ingredients and then pay for it and finally cook. Getting your children cooking and preparing, for example by adding spices can add a different dimension to your child's experience no matter how small. Your children will get excited about smells, sneaky tastes and most importantly wanting to try and share with everyone else at the dinner table.
6. Engagement: Get them involved in any meaningful way. Grow and pick food from your garden or window box, letting them water, care and nurture the food. Encourage your child to use as many of their senses as possible at the table. Having a pen and paper handy with some questions on it like: what does the food look like? Feel like? Smell or taste like? Let your child write or draw the answer.
7. Trust: Try to foster an atmosphere of trust- it is important in so many aspects of yours and your child's life. Food and eating present a great opportunity to explore and develop this important part of your relationship. If you have created a dish that you love and want to share with your child then their trusting you is of paramount importance. Your child will question your intention: is it because you genuinely believe that they will love the dish that you have made? Or because they need to eat it whether they like it or not? A great exercise to practice is asking your child to close their eyes (away from the table) and ask them to fall backwards reassuring them that you will catch them.
8. Mindset: Helping your child to shape their mindset will affect how they approach and welcome new and old foods into their lives. Vegetables are a great example of this as parents we know that they are good for us, and why we need to eat them. However, if we are honest we will admit that they can come in weird shapes, sizes and have strange tastes and textures! The many elements of food including taste and texture can mean that it takes 10 to 15 times to like it. The reason that I know mindset plays an important role here is because it affects our brain and steers us to our conclusion. You may not like a food, person, or a particular toy yet however our brains have the capacity to change and learn how to appreciate new experiences if we instruct it to. The possibility and myriad of advantages that open up in the tiny phrase of 'not yet' provides the framework to challenge our brains to find a way to like something or someone even if we don't yet.
A poem by Doctor Seusss captures this very well in the journey of Green Eggs and Ham through realising the many possibilities of how to eat something that Sam didn't like he changes his mind;
I do not like
green eggs and ham.
Would you like them
Here or there?
I would not like them
here or there.
I would not like them
Would you eat them
in a box?
Would you eat them
with a fox?
If you will let me be,
I will try them.
You will see.
I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
If you want to find out how to raise an adventurous eater I urge you to jump over and join my foodie community - I look forward to meeting you.
This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.
We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email email@example.com to get involved.