My two-year-old and I had a taste of CHERRY at a local children’s centre this month.
CHERRY, which stands for Choosing Healthy Eating when Really Young, is a University College of London-led programme that’s all about teaching families to make healthier choices, starting with mums of children aged five and under.
Over four weekly sessions, a lovely trio of nutritionists led our small group of mums through an hour of chat followed by an hour of preparing and tasting quick and nutritious meals with our little ones.
In week three, the focus was on Fussy Eating. We were given this clever reward chart aimed at getting kids to try more vegetables.
Tiny Tastes (created at UCL) works on the principle that it can take up to 14 attempts to get used to a new food. You set up a chart for your child, pick a veggie (or other food) they don’t normally eat, and he/she has a 14 day challenge to taste it (licking, mouthing and spitting out…all count as tasting).
If he tastes it, he gets a tick and a sticker. If he refuses, you simply take the veg away and offer it again the next day.
So far Ezra’s had 100% success rate with Tiny Tastes (he’s not yet a fan of broccoli but he’s had a bit every time and even finished the broccoli with his school lunch).
With Jed, it’s been 100% failure. He simply refuses, and no amount of stickers, ticks or crosses can persuade him. After 5 days of Jed’s stand-off, I put the Tiny Tastes game away. I’ll try it again with him in a few days using a different veg.
CHERRY’s Tips on Fussy Eating:
Use bright colours, not only in the foods but also in plates and cups etc., to attract kids’ interest
Involve kids in food preparation – they’re more likely to eat something they’ve already handled and helped to make
Turn it into a game – when Ezra’s being picky, I use a ‘Why not have a mouthful for Batman. Now what about a bigger one for Spiderman?’ ploy. Works like a charm.
Be persistent, but not pushy – it can take kids several attempts (or in our case, even years) to adapt their eating habits. The most important thing is to keep offering them healthy foods but don’t create a source of tension around meantimes.
Tip number one for Fussy Eaters: DO NOT MAKE A FUSS!
I can’t tell you how many battles we had with Ezra over food. From sitting at the table with him for up to 2 hours, to giving him plain toast, to sending him to bed with nothing. None of it worked. He was fussy, he was stubborn, he was controlling. Looking back, his mum and dad were just the same.
Today he still has his moments but when I watch him happily munching on various fruits (he only used to eat banana) or even dishes like okra soup or sushi (he used to live on rice or pasta with butter, no sauce allowed!), sometimes I can hardly believe it’s the same boy.
So what changed?
First, I backed off. I decided it wasn’t the end of the world if Ezra only ate toast and yoghurt. He was otherwise healthy, growing, highly active. I figured in time he would learn to start enjoying some of the variety of foods that we ate as a family. And he has… even though it’s still a learning process.
Other things that helped:
Taking the pressure off mealtimes – offering him food at least five times a day (breakfast, snack time, lunch, tea time and dinner) let me see how much he was actually taking in throughout the day and made me feel less anxious if he didn’t eat at dinner
Positive peer pressure – As they grow older, even the most resistant kids are influenced by their friends. By nursery, Ezra grew more adventurous and now in reception he frequently comes home with ‘Clean Plate’ stickers. Surrounded by school mates, he’ll often try things he still won’t touch at home.
Toddler Taming – one of the few parenting manuals I like because it’s written by an actual parent (and a doctor) with bite-sized, practical and non-judgemental advice. He’s got such a relaxed attitude particularly to fussy eaters, that it helped me relax too.
Chilling out a bit and maintaining a sense of perspective is the real key to happy parenting.
And when it comes to our children’s diets, knowing how to make sensible choices is essential to our peace of mind.
The CHERRY programme was great because the advice was balanced, personalised and practical.
Other topics covered included food labelling, good snacking and buying healthy on a budget.
The cook and eat sessions provided us with quick and often surprisingly tasty recipes (chickpea fritters? yum!). I have to admit that Jed didn’t get into it. He spat stuff out and generally chose to play while other babies mixed and stirred.
Although he’s generally a good eater (thanks mostly to baby-led weaning, which I’ll write about soon), he’s 2 now and ready to test my limits.
But I’ve learned my lesson.
Frankly, my dear, I won’t make a fuss.
On the Spot
Kelly Duggan, mum to Reggie aged 2 and a half
‘I joined CHERRY to get more quick and easy recipes and I’ve done just that. I’ve really enjoyed preparing food with the kids and seeing Reggie eat all these things I didn’t think he’d try. He’s eaten everything – raw and cooked!’
CHERRY will run at Paradise Park Children’s Centre, Mackenzie Rd, N7 from Mar 16. Call 020 7697 7330 to book a spot.
Read more about the research used to develop Tiny Tastes
Buy New Toddler Taming on Amazon
Healthy recipes at CHEW (Children Eating Well)