GUEST BLOG: Let’s help kids to VEG OUT
Natasha Gavin runs www.iknowwhyitsyummum.com, a social enterprise specialising in educating children under 12 about fruit and veg
For 5 years, we have coaxed, bribed, encouraged, brainwashed, inspired and enchanted children aged 2-11 yrs to eat veg. Pre schools we vis
it, running healthy eating Rainbow Workshops, tend to give fruit snacks. In schools we visit, delivering our show about fruit and veg, Dr FREG and the Fruit and Veg Mysteries Parents struggle to provide lunchboxes containing anything fresh let alone veg based and cash strapped school meal providers serve up tiny amounts of a narrow range of vegetables (overcooked baked beans and sweetcorn) to minimise waste.
Fussy eating and childhood obesity have reached epidemic levels. There is SO much work to do to if we want to save the health and eating habits of the next generation.
Thank goodness for Peas Please
The Food Foundation launched its Peas Please campaign in November 2016. Through different working groups of industry professionals, academics and interest groups, a commitments framework will alllow several key pledges to be made in October 2017, all aimed at increasing veg consumption in the UK.
The working group I am contributing to is about promoting vegetables, especially to children, in order to increase their consumption- through advertising, TV programmes, digital media and beyond.
Through Early Years (EY) Childcarer Magazine, the Food Foundation carried out a survey of EY settings (70% respondents were home childcarers, 30% were non domestic setting childcarers) to try and understand how many children were exposed to veg in their settings, and what barriers settings faced in giving children vegetables.
The survey (177 responses) found 4 key barriers to including more veg in meals:
- Acceptance by children
- Willingness to try new things
- Likes/dislikes by children
The survey found that the main support that would be beneficial to EY settings was encouraging parents to support children in eating veg at home!
VEG PR to kids.. why do we need it?
Because we are experiencing a fussy eating (=veg phobia) epidemic.
There are some key reasons behind the current prevalence of fussy eating.
- Online shopping. The fridge is re stocked, once the kids have gone to bed. No more stressful trips to the supermarket with toddler in tow, thank goodness. (BUT no more exposure to fresh produce aisles in supermarkets..)
- Everything is packaged in perfect little plastic containers. Green beans are topped and tailed for us busy working parents. The plastic ‘perfection’ make our lives easier. (BUT it removes our children further from any ‘real’ fruit and veg. Through the eyes of a 3 year old, mangoes grow in yellow cubes)
- The grazing generation. In the buggy. In the supermarket trolley (if you dare take them). We keep them quiet with snacks. Healthy snacks? Even organic. But sweet like cereal bars, or fruit pouches. Or empty calories…bread sticks, rice cakes.
- We are too busy to practice what we preach. We don’t eat with our children (neither does the nanny) or in front of our children. We eat in a school staff room, or we wait for our partners to come home. They never see us eat up our broccoli, so why should they?
- We don’t really grow our own food. Children are unfamiliar with fruit and veg in it’s natural (unpackaged) state. So a squash can be scary.
So what practical approaches can EY childcarers take to help children overcome their fear of such natural, healthy food?
We use three main interventions with pre school and primary age children:
D: De sensitisation is all about getting children comfortable about handling fruit and veg. Techniques include: growing veg (pic), cooking with veg (courgette muffins?), handling (play corners with real produce (pic) or pass the parcel with veg), painting/ stamping and messy play.
M: Motivation is all about giving them a good reason WHY they should handle, play with, taste, and eat fruit and veg. This is about the right incentive. These include tools such as posters, healthy eating board/card games (pic ) and books, growing their own, playing food games to get them eating, special personalised tasting placemats and reward charts, songs (pic ) and music.
I: Imagination is all about tapping in to their creative little brains, finding fun ways to incorporate fruit and veg into their games, arts and crafts and play. Methods that involve using children’s imagination include treasure hunts (to find taste pots), assault
courses (with tasting challenges along the way), collages (Brussels sprout works brilliantly) and face plates (on a tortilla, then eat it up!)
So what did survey respondents tell EY Childcarer were their specific barriers to including more veg in mealtimes, what worked for them and what would help?
- “Parents need to normalise veg consumption at home to enable childminders to provide veg at mealtimes”
- “Coaxing, perseverance, a little bribery and peer pressure works”
- “Childminders need to get used to offering veg as standard practice- even if some gets wasted”
- “Parents need to be aware of how differently their children eat/behave in different environments-low tolerance of fussy eating in a childcare environment helps?”
- “De sensitising children to veg through art activities, snack preparation, shopping and growing are key to success”
- “Training is needed for parents and childcare providers on how to encourage children to try veg, to be good role models, to offer repeatedly, and to avoid labelling/calling their child a ‘fussy eater’”
- “Limit veg choices available to children- EY settings should decide what is served, not children”
It seems the solution probably lies in working with parents, children and teachers simultaneously. Children can be ‘taught’, teachers can be inspired and educated, and parents can receive letters, resources and articles about how to help children overcome fussy eating. That is our approach on a school by school basis.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy on a national scale? If only.