Do your kids eat their greens (and yellows, and other earthy crunchy goodies)? Or are they stuck on toddlerist diets of plain white rice, butter pasta or fish finger sandwiches cut into perfect little triangles?
Nowadays, my lads will eat practically anything you throw at them. But boy, do I remember those days of locking heads/jaws at the dinner table. Fussy eating can drive parents to despair. We want the best for our little darlings, and we know that fuelling them solely on ketchup and potato waffles just won’t fly.
So it was refreshing to spend a morning at Aberdeen Park Nursery in Highbury recently with the most chilled-out little foodies. These pre-schoolers were all over their fruit and veggies. One boy not only knew what an aubergine was (some adults are clueless), but he spent most of the session snacking on a whole red pepper. When he was done, he planted the seeds in the garden!
What’s their secret? The Aberdeen Park Nursery team has spent the past year working with the Early Years Nutrition Partnership (EYNP) to improve their children’s nutrition, in a relaxed and fun way.
The eating habits we develop as children can set a pattern for life. And with childhood obesity on the rise, early intervention is key. The Early Years Nutrition Partnership is a social enterprise that supports early years providers to create healthier diets for young ones. They offer an accreditation scheme and training programme, along with access to dedicated nutrition experts, and tailored support for nursery teams.
The Healthy Eating Song
The Early Years Nutrition Partnership (EYNP) had invited** me to the nursery, along with celebrity guest Ben Faulks (aka Mr Bloom from CBeebies). Aberdeen Park Nursery is close to achieving an EYNP ‘Quality Mark’ for their commitment to childhood nutrition. As a reward, Ben came to hang out with the kids for the day and teach them ‘The Healthy Eating Song’.
Ben and award-winning composer Richie Webb (Horrible Histories, Baby Jake, Mr Bloom) created the song last year to mark the first birthday of the EYNP. The idea was to teach small children about healthy eating, in a language they can understand — aka song, dance and a little silliness!
Known for his clever storytelling and musical mashups, Ben was in his element. His wife/producer Mimi showed them some moves. It was so sweet to see even the tiniest toddlers up and grooving, fully engaged. Watch a full version of the Healthy Eating Song here and teach it to your own kids!
Afterwards, everyone went out into the nursery’s amazing garden to play. The children got busy watering plants, digging soil and (sadly for one little wriggler) squishing worms.
Fuss Free Dining
For lunch, the kitchen staff served up a stellar example of nutritious fare: lamb tagine with vegetable medley and wholegrain rice.
The kids sat patiently, looking rather grown up, around their tables. I was impressed at how they used their cutlery and dished out their own food. Everybody tried something and there were no complaints. I didn’t get a taste but it did smell delicious.
‘We don’t force the children to eat. We offer it and ask if they’d like a taste,’ said Maria Garrido, Aberdeen Park Nursery manager. ‘Sometimes they say no, but the other children encourage their peers as well. And if they just have a little, we praise them and say maybe next time you want to give it a go.
‘We like the kids to feel a little in control, hence they can serve themselves, they decide how much they want to put on their plate. Our relationship with food is very relaxed and very friendly. At lunch time, our children love to chat and have conversations and make jokes. We are very lucky. They do like to eat.’
Benefits of Working with the EYNP
Maria (pictured left with her team) told me they’ve seen great benefits from the EYNP programme.
‘It’s really, really worth it because it makes you think about food in a different way. So when you’re deciding on children’s menus or going to the shops, you’re better informed. And that has made a huge impact on the way we approach cooking.’
Biggest lesson learned?
‘I think for us it was realising that the menus we had before weren’t well balanced. Now you can look at a menu and see, there’s a bit of protein or starch missing. You have to make sure it’s balanced through the week, so the children are getting the right nutrients. Our goal is for parents to engage with us in healthy eating and living. We share recipes with them, encourage the children to cook with their parents. We ask them to send pictures of them cooking or going to the supermarket and buying healthy stuff.’
Healthy Kids, Happy Homes
Aberdeen Park Nursery holds workshops for parents, and emails them a weekly menu. There’s also a family gardening club where mums and dads can come and grow things with their children.
Sometimes ‘healthy eating’ comes across a bit dull and restrictive. So it was fantastic to see the fruits of the EYNP in such a wonderful setting, where the children are free, happy, confident and naturally stimulated (no E numbers in sight).
One challenge often cited with switching to better nutrition is the cost. I asked Maria if taking this approach had proved more expensive.
‘Not really. I mean, we get our meat from the local butcher’s. We haven’t noticed a huge increase in our spending. You just have to shop around. We buy fruits and vegetables locally and the children come with us. Once we gave them £1 each to go and buy things. The shop had lots of sweets at the entrance, but every single child bought a piece of fruit. And I thought, well there you go!’
Ben Faulks on Healthy Eating
Later, I sat down with Ben for a quick chat… and a cheeky selfie. Ben is ultra popular with kids (and their mamas!) and I can vouch that he’s a lovely guy, very down to earth and family-focused.
What made you want to be part of this project?
The EYNP initiative was very close to my heart. As a parent, I’ve got first hand experience of seeing what food can do to kids — eating well, and eating not so well. Good nutrition not only helps them grow healthily, but also improves their learning abilities, cognitive abilities and all round wellbeing. What the EYNP does is give you the blueprints for how you can feed kids better and it’s easier than you might think.
Any strategies or advice for dealing with fussy eaters?
I think it’s about persevering and being consistent. There was a lad who came round to our house who’s a notoriously fussy eater. He’d never eaten an egg before and we managed to get him to eat one. He was shuddering! But he ate the whole thing, toast and egg, and at the end he was like, yeah that was good. But you could see the conflict on his face at first. So it’s just about being consistent and giving them the chance, when they’re ready to take the leap.
Also it’s great if it’s food they’ve grown themselves. So here at Aberdeen Park Nursery, they practice growing seeds and vegetables with the kids early on. It’s proven that if children have grown something from seed, and nurtured it, they want to try the fruits of their labour. They also understand where it came from, rather than just getting something spooned onto your plate which could have fallen from the sky.
What do you like particularly about the EYNP’s approach?
It’s very holistic, all about upskilling and encouraging organisations to think about food in a different way. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Like today, we had kids eating wholegrain rice, with a selection of mixed vegetables and a lamb sauce. You’ve got your carbs, protein, roughage, it ticks many boxes.What’s also good with the EYNP programme is that you can take it at your own pace, and at your own level. It’s very flexible.
How does the Healthy Eating Song play a part in getting kids to eat well?
I think with children everything is connected. Children take things very much at face value. So if you just give them a plate of food and tell them to eat it, there’s all these questions: ‘Why? Do I have to? What’s the reason behind it?’ What I do is try to animate nutrition in a way that is fun, as opposed to drumming it into them that you need your 5 a day and blah blah blah. It’s breaking things down so that it’s accessible to them. And so far the song’s been great in doing that.
How old are your kids?
6, 8 and 10. I like to think we’re out of the fussy phase, although I’m not sure you’re ever fully out. I mean, I didn’t eat tomatoes until I was like 21! What makes you like or dislike certain foods can be so abstract. This is one of the reasons why EYNP is so important, because it empowers organisations to make food a positive experience in your formative years. So yeah our kids are 6, 8 and 10… and they’re alright, man. We haven’t worked miracles, but they eat their greens and everything else.
How do they feel about Mr Bloom?
They’re very good about it, because they’ve grown up with me doing shows and characters, Mr Bloom being the most prevalent one. They just take it as is. Although now the oldest is 10, so she’s way beyond CBeebies, she’ll be going to secondary soon. I think I’ll be the embarrassing dad. It’s nice because everyone’s got jobs and hopefully if you can do something inspiring, your kids can take something from that. But they’re not going into the arts. They’re going to get proper jobs, accounts and dentistry!
Watch a lovely video of the day at Aberdeen Park Nursery.
Action for Parents
If you like the sound of the Early Years Nutrition Partnership, why not check with your local nursery or early years provider to see if they know about this fantastic healthy eating initiative and would like to sign up? Visit http://eynpartnership.org for all the details.
**This post is written in collaboration with the EYNP.
Win a Ben Faulks bundle of goodies
The Early Years Nutrition Partnership and Ben Faulks have very kindly offered to give away a bundle of goodies to one lucky Babes about Town reader. You can win 1 signed copy of Ben’s book ‘What Makes Me a Me’, featuring illustrations by David Tazzyman and a signed green ukulele! For your chance to win this fab prize, simply enter your details in the form below (refresh the page if it’s not showing). Best of luck!
Shout outs to: