How to make a food less tempting to children

Sheila Dillon explores the causes and effects of childhood obesity. She examines the number of fast-food outlets that are close to schools and the temptation this brings to children – something both Ofsted and the Royal Society for Public Health argue needs addressing.

With so many goodies quite literally on the doorstep, what can teenagers, younger children and parents do to make stopping for food less appealing?

How to encourage kids to eat vegetarian food

1. Get them to play with food when young

The Flavour School encourages primary school children to try fruit and veg by shifting the focus from trying something new, which they’re suspicious of to it being part of a wider experience. Dr Wilkinson explains, “A lot of the time the activities are not explicitly about tasting things. You might be saying to the children: ‘hey, what sound does this make when you chew it?’. This will help children who are stubborn in their views on food and are likely to respond with ‘I won’t try this’.”

2. Introduce new foods away from the dinner table

Rather than always spending ages in the kitchen on a new recipe, only for your child to turn his or her nose up at it, try to give a little taste of something every now and then – a new veg, or perhaps a segment of a fruit they haven’t tasted before. “The only upshot of the child not liking something is them going ‘urgh’ and spitting it out. It becomes less emotional and it’s less painful for parents as well”, says Dr Wilkinson.

3. Check portion sizes

Food labelling gives information about the nutritional quality of your food, but it’s not always available in those fast-food outlets near schools. “Smaller businesses might not do it. So when you go to the chip shop on the corner of the road, are you able to make the same informed choice?”, says Whittaker.

She suggests parents and children learn to be mindful of what a portion size looks like. “Something like a large bag of crisps could involve you separating out a portion size for the correct age. Otherwise it’s easy to sit in front of the TV and, without realising it, eat two or three portions. We need to have more mindful eating patterns. So even though that temptation still might be there, when you are eating the food you’re conscious of what and how much you’re eating”, she says.

4. Make homemade versions of takeaways

If your child has a taste for takeaways, look for recipe swaps. “Whether it’s curries or Chinese-style dishes with noodles, think ‘how can we change them? What can we do to make them different, to reduce saturated, salt and sugar?’, says Whittaker. So instead of getting that takeaway on a Friday night, have the same food but homemade with adapted ingredients. By doing this you will re-programme what ‘comfort food’ means to your child.

Lots of us associate food brands with comforting childhood memories, but we need to try and break that association for the next generation, according to Dr Wilkinson. “You need to be willing to work at it and explore food yourselves, because it’s not going to be easy. You’re really swimming against the tide with this”, he says.

5. Get children involved in cooking

Encourage children to cook with you. “If they see what goes in there, they trust it more. If they’ve made it with their own hands, they’re more invested and they want to go further with it and try it”, says Dr Wilkinson.

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