HAS the word ‘yuck’ ruined more than one family mealtime?

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard it — and every unprintable variation of it — several times because children are not shy when it comes to telling you exactly what they think of your attempt to serve up icky new food.

Four in five Irish parents say they find it hard to get their children to eat up at mealtimes, while nearly a quarter resort to bribery to get through dinnertime, according to a poll conducted by the Irish Heart Foundation as part of its ‘healthy meals without the drama’ campaign.

Parents, don’t despair, says Dr Aoife Brinkley, senior clinical psychologist at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital in Dublin.

“‘Yuck’ is a very natural response. Children are hard-wired to be wary of foods that taste sour or bitter.

Just because a child says ‘no’ to a vegetable at age two doesn’t mean that they won’t try it when they are three or four,” she tells Feelgood.

She says the secret to taking the drama out of mealtimes is to stay calm and to offer a small amount of the new food frequently.

“That can be a big ask for parents, but it’s about striking a balance. Small changes over time can have a big impact. Set achievable goals for the family, then celebrate when they are achieved.”

With 78% of parents worried that their five to 12-year-olds are not following a healthy enough diet, there is a huge focus on food and health.

Add to that the latest figures from the Growing Up in Ireland survey showing that 19% of Irish nine-year-olds are overweight and 7% are obese and you begin to understand why there might be tension at mealtimes.

In general, obesity levels appear to be reaching a plateau though the rate still carries significant costs in terms of children’s physical and mental health, says Dr Brinkley.

However, she stresses that weight is a complex issue and that it is wrong to judge parents if their children are overweight.

Dr Brinkley is one of several experts working on Temple Street Hospital’s W82GO programme, a 12-month anti-obesity plan that takes a multi-stranded approach to help up to 18 families a year.

Here are her tips to take the tension out of mealtimes.

It’s not a war: Don’t let mealtimes turn into a Shakespearean power struggle. Expect young children to be faddy eaters — many of them go through phases of saying ‘No’ to everything. Don’t panic. You don’t have to give your child all the nutrients they need at one meal; it can be spread out over a day, or even a week.

Beat pester power: You have complete control over the supermarket shop: you’re the gatekeeper. If pester power from your little (or not so little) ones is too hard to resist, try to leave them at home while you shop for a few weeks. If their favourite (junk) foods are not in the house, your kids will soon learn to eat and like what’s available.

Food is not a reward or a bribe: It’s well proven that we should never use food as a reward for good behaviour or as a punishment for bad behaviour. We shouldn’t use food as a way to calm them when they’re angry, tired or bored. When they are hungry, try to offer them healthy snacks as children have small stomachs and need small frequent meals.

Keep trying new foods: A refusal to try new foods has even got a name. It’s called ‘food neophobia’ but don’t let it put you off. If your child won’t eat a new food, keep trying. It can take up to 10 tries before they’ll try something new. If they refuse to eat it, then try to accept it with more grace than you feel. Remove the plate, but don’t offer a replacement food until the next mealtime. Your child won’t starve.

Peer pressure works: Use peer pressure in a positive way. Invite a friend — with a good appetite — for dinner and offer the same food to them both. Your kid may be more tempted to eat whatever their friend is eating. Result!

For recipes and more tips from the Irish Heart Foundation’s ‘meals without drama’ campaign, see www.nodrama.ie.

Budget superfoods

Be persistent with children who are reluctant to try new foods

You don’t have to break the bank if you want to give your children an immune-boosting superfood kickstart this autumn, says nutritional therapist Karen Ward.

Vegetables such as turnips and carrots are full of vitamins and minerals that will help keep colds and flus at bay. They’re also great sources of fibre and folate, she says. 

Fennel and celeriac are also full of flu-busting goodness and, remember, Brussels sprouts are not just for Christmas. 

“They are my new best friends with benefits,” says Ward, adding that they are an excellent source of vitamin C, antioxidants, fibres and liver-boosting compounds. For afters, one apple provides 14% of your recommended daily vitamin C.

Light sandwich

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HOW can you trap a little sunshine in a sandwich? Well, Marks & Spencer says it has come up with the solution to darker autumn days by adding sunshine vitamin D to its sandwiches.

All of its pre-packed sandwiches will now be vitamin D-enriched, providing 15% of the daily requirement.

Dietary sources include oily fish, eggs and fortified products, so it can be hard to get the recommended amount in winter.

M&S nutritionist Helen Seward said: “Vitamin D plays an extremely important part in a balanced diet and by adding it to bread means customers don’t have to change their usual diets.”

Bored of hummus?

THE television queens of healthy eating, the Hemsley sisters have come up with a new recipe for “anyone who lives on hummus and needs a change”.

To make lemony cashew parsley dip, you’ll need 80g whole cashew nuts (soaked for 2-6 hours, rinsed and drained), 100ml extra virgin olive oil, 2 handfuls of fresh parsley, 1 medium garlic clove; 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice; 4 tbsp water; ¼ tsp sea salt and ¼ tsp ground black pepper.

Blend everything together and serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

Simple!

Wellness festival

A HOST of people who know exactly what you need to do to stay happy, fit and well will be speaking this weekend at Wellfest, Ireland’s health, fitness and wellness festival which runs over two days in Herbert Park, Dublin. 

The line-up includes musician and mental health campaigner Bressie, personal trainer Bradley Simmonds, the Southern Yogi Morgan Deyoung, and a host of other nutrition, exercise and life experts. For more see www.wellfest.ie 


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