Childhood obesity is on the rise, affecting around ten per cent of children in reception class and 20 per cent in year six. There is encouraging news though – despite young children being naturally timid about what they eat, often preferring starchy, sweet and processed food, you can help change their tastes and habits. They learn best by copying adults. If they see us enjoying what we eat and trying new things, they learn that food is interesting and satisfying.
Yet many of us often wolf down food in front of the TV or on the hoof; we’re so busy or distracted that we forget to celebrate what we eat. Meal time confrontation with children is all too common – tempting as it is to bribe them with pudding or forcing them to eat their greens, this can make food a source of anxiety for everyone. Similarly, making comments such as, ‘Oh, she never eats vegetables,’ is likely to set up a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So I was fascinated to hear about Flavour School, a programme based on the Sapere method of food education – learning through using the five senses – which has already
been implemented in many European countries. Flavour School co-founder Kate Morris explains that, ‘By allowing children’s natural curiosity to lead them to investigate, touch, smell and talk about fruit and vegetables, they become familiar with different foods and so are more likely to try new things. This is not done at meal times and there is no pressure to try anything if they don’t want to. But when they are told, “If anyone wants to have a nibble, you can”, many of the children do try the food.’
Children are asked to focus on all the senses, not just taste, and describe what the food smells or feels like, whether they like it or not and why. This helps them learn a language for food. It teaches them that their views are respected and that everyone’s tastes are different and can change, so at meal times they aren’t forced or cajoled into eating.
If your child is a fussy eater, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, find ways to make meal times more relaxed. Try to include children in food preparation and cooking. They then learn to trust their own taste and develop the language to talk about it. This also demystifies new foods, reducing anxiety and resistance to trying different things as children become more adventurous. In turn, they learn to enjoy a better diet for a longer, healthier life.
Make food-time fun
Here’s how the Flavour School uses all five senses to encourage children to try new foods.
1 How does it look? Cut it up and look inside with a magnifying glass.
2 How does it smell? Examine strongly scented foods such as herbs or garlic.
3 How does it feel? Put some fruit in a bag then ask your child to describe their feel and guess what it is.
4 How does it taste? Compare salty, sweet and bitter foods.
5 Does it make a sound? Listen to the noise in your mouth.
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