How to win over fussy eaters

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 13.42.45From parents struggling with fussy eaters, to a growing childhood obesity crisis throughout the developed world, Philippe Fraser, director of two French Bilingual Nurseries in Islington & Paddington has some deceptively simply suggestions for parents.

It is well documented that some children will latch on to favourite foods, causing significant problems for their parents as well as themselves. When these foods are not presented to children, they will either refuse to eat or go hungry – and this is of course very distressing for both parent and child.

Ideally, parents will try to avoid this happening by giving plenty of different foods to children. At Les Trois Oursons & Mars Montessori nursery, they try to avoid having exactly the same main course served within a 2-month period. In practice this means the nursery has to offer an almost endless variety of dishes. Of course, there are not 60 different foods readily available – so the in-house cook uses a range of different cooking and serving techniques. Beef could be roasted, shredded, stewed, or diced and served in a mild Thai salad.  Over the course of a week, there is a day with red meat, one with poultry, a vegetarian meal, then one white fish & a day with an oily fish.

Even simple foods like carrots are served in many different ways, from raw sticks, to grated with lemon dressing, steamed, roasted to sautéed in olive oil. At first glance this might seem too simple a “solution” but Philippe Fraser, the nursery’s director explains that children become accustomed to food being varied. This unpredictable nature of food makes it very hard for a child to latch on to a single favourite, which he or she will then only agree to eat.

The other “trick” the nursery uses is to serve 4 course lunches. In the summer there is a salad starter: such as tomato & basil, cucumber in yogurt or Macedoine de legumes. In the winter, it is soups every day.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 13.52.12“Children will eat far more vegetables in a soup than they would chopped up next to fillet of fish.  Serving multiple courses means each course is smaller. This means a child is not overwhelmed by being presented something new. The children know a main course will be coming shortly, yet they are hungry, so are likely to eat a little of the salad, even if they are not initially tempted by it”. After the main course, there is a small piece of the cheese of the day, before having fresh fruit for dessert. The range of flavours allows the child to relax. If you only serve a single course which the child does not like, it creates an enormous amount of stress for both child and the adult. If the child knows there is more food coming, then he or she can relax which in turn makes it easier to taste something new.

Finally, sticking to the French theme, Fraser stresses the importance of simple fruit. “Children love fruit, and eat it up with great pleasure.  Serving foods like ice cream with added sugar on a regular basis gives the impression that eating refined sugar on a daily basis is normal and can be expected”. This can lead to children becoming obese when they are young, but also sets them up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits.  But the real problem is the amount of calories a child can derive from sugar. If a child obtains enough energy from quick fixes, then the urge to try new food is greatly reduced.”

Finally, Fraser says it is not vital that a young child finishes their plate. “Children may need to taste something many times before growing used to the flavour. That should be sufficient – the old-school way of making children finish an entire plate of something they dislike is quite likely going to result in the child forming a very fixed opinion. Better to taste a small amount regularly in an open-minded way without creating too much expectation or pressure.”

“One child came to our nursery who we were told did not like cheese. Sure enough, every day when we served a new cheese, he would only taste a tiny corner of the cheese and leave the rest. Then one day we served a blue cheese, which he absolutely loved! His mother literally did not believe us at first, but then when she offered him some the following weekend at home, he ate it all up and asked for more. This transformed his experience of cheese, and slowly he started trying and eating more of them.”

Ultimately a constant variety of fresh, organic home made style cooking is the best way to avoid obesity and to help children enjoy a wide range of foods – leading to healthier children and happier mealtimes.

Philippe Fraser, Director of Bilingual Nurseries