3 new packed lunch habits you should get into

3 new packed lunch habits you should get into
Some new habits

Packed lunches can be such a drag! Sigh! As a Mum, it’s one of the things I didn’t look forward to about the return to school in September. Packed lunch making can be monotonous, lonely and de-moralising, yet as a parent we want to give our child the best, and we are prepared to make the effort so that they can have a nutritious and tasty lunch.

So why not start as we mean to go on and get into some new habits this September. It is my personal goal to have an empty lunch box every day this term. What is your goal?

emptylunch box packed lunch family kids children back to school backtoschool sandwiches wraps planning easy quick habits healthy nutritious lunch

Make it a family thing

Firstly, no wonder we hate packed lunches so… we slave away every evening / morning packing, unpacking, washing and packing again. We rack our brains to send in new but nutritious products in our child’s lunch box, only to get half of it back again at the end of the day in a soggy, mushy mess in the bottom of the box. Seriously, if your children had to help would they be so nonchalent about it all? If you get your children involved, they become invested in the idea and want to make it work too. They might even have some cool suggestions of their own.

Here are some quick and easy ways you can get them involved:

  • Sit down with them and brainstorm some new ideas for sandwich fillings, yogurt flavours, non-sandwich products. (see planning tip below)
  • Ask them about what works/doesn’t work with their packed lunch
  • Do a tasting session – get them to try out some new ideas
  • Train them to empty their box and clean it out as soon as they get in from school
  • Get them involved in some baking sessions (see freezer tips below)
  • Teach them how to make a sandwich / wrap / salad pot
Planning makes packed lunches easier and more varied

You might already plan meals for dinner time and if you do, you’l know it takes the headache out of cooking dinner for the family, and it makes writing a shopping list easier and more efficient. Well, why not try out planning for your packed lunches. Here’s how I do my packed lunch planning:

My personal preference is for my children not to have the same sandwich filling, or even a sandwich every day. So I plan for them a sandwich / wrap only one day a week, then the other days could be; a salad pot, hot packed lunch, a picky picky lunch and a baked product lunch. This immediately brings variation to my children’s packed lunch diet and takes away the endless monotony of sandwich making. It also means that you can prepare ahead, so, for example if you ever have left overs from a family meal they can be frozen into packed lunch portion sizes for future use. You could make Mondays the Sandwich / wrap day and teach your children to make their own Sandwiches on a Sunday night.

hot packed lunch lunch box packed lunch family kids children back to school backtoschool sandwiches wraps planning easy quick habits healthy nutritious lunch soup

To help you with this I’ve created a packed lunch planner sheet. It includes tick boxes on each day for each section of the Eatwell guide so that you can keep on top of nutrition as well. It also includes a shopping list at the bottom so that you can write your shopping list as you plan.

You can click here to download it

meal plan family food packed lunch lunchbox lunch box cooking children drag back to school

Oh, and one last thing on planning…

  • Don’t throw away your planning sheets, keep them and reuse them in a few weeks time! So you’ll only need to do the planning once.
Make the freezer your new best friend

Many of us seriously under / mis-use our freezers. They are stuffed full of stuff we possibly may never eat and left overs we’ve forgotten about. Sometimes I could barely open the drawers of mine to get to the frozen peas (the main thing I use from the freezer!). A few months ago I had a really good clean out and dedicated drawers to certain things. For example, I made a drawer for left overs, a drawer for meats, a drawer for convenience foods and a drawer for packed lunch products.

Here are some ways you can use the freezer for your packed lunches:

  • Bulk bake and freeze in individual portions for packed lunches – muffins, sausage rolls, soups, stews, chilli, pancakes, biscuits

muffins bake baking biscuits home cook homemade lunch box packed lunch family kids children back to school backtoschool sandwiches wraps planning easy quick habits healthy nutritious lunch

  • Freeze drinks to defrost in the lunch box helping to keep the box  and your child cool
  • Clean out your freezer and get organised – label things really well – set up a system to help you with this. e.g labels attached to the fridge with a magnet?

freezer freezing freeze food organise organiser label freezer drawer lunch box packed lunch family kids children back to school backtoschool sandwiches wraps planning easy quick habits healthy nutritious lunch

  • Many things (more than you realise) even Sandwiches can be made ahead and frozen. They can then be left to defrost in your child’s lunch box during the day and will be ready by lunch. This means that you could actually make the whole weeks lunches on a Sunday night! Wow!
Lastly…

I hope these tips have helped you,

So, for the last year, I’ve been beavering away on a super package of packed lunch inspirations. It’s a bundle of ideas, recipes, worksheets and downloadable tools. It’s not quite finished yet, in fact I’m struggling to finish as I’m not quite sure HOW to package it. I need your help to get this thing finished… it’s too good to keep it hidden away on my computer.   Please let me know in the comments below if you’d like to access such a thing online in a hub of some sort, or receive it through the post in a little booklet, or even attend a course with a take away pack of inspirations, worksheets and recipes. What would you like?

Sign up here for the FREE planning sheet

meal plan family food packed lunch lunchbox lunch box cooking children drag back to school

If you found this useful, you could also check out my Three step guide to rebalancing your lunch box. It also includes a free downloadable packed lunch pick n mix sheet

Save money, time and feed your family better meals

A few months ago (it was the school holidays) I let things slip. In the relaxed and unstructured format of our holidays I broke away from my normal way of doing things. I forgot about family meal planning and just made it up as I went along. Which kind of made me feel liberated to start with but soon became a drag.

When I look back now, I can see from my bank statement that I was spending nearly double on my groceries, I was shopping several times a week for things I’d not bought in my weekly shop, and I had no idea from day to day what I was going to feed my family! Looking back, it felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. Things were out of control.

The meals I was cooking took forever as I faffed around not really sure what I was really making. If I’m really honest, those meals weren’t that great. I was making it up as I went along. It wasn’t until we got back to school and into our routines again that I was able to rationalise what had happened.

So, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt from this sorry scenario. I’ve realised that in my normal way of doing things, I wasn’t doing that badly. If you’d like to know some of the routines, tips and planning I use in my rountine day to day life then read on.

Meal planning makes everything easier

Yes it’s a bit of a drag to sit down and do, but it doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be done endlessly, forevermore … once you have a blueprint of meals that work, keep the meal plans from successful weeks and repeat them a month or so later. Life is so much easier when you don’t have to think too hard about what you are going to make for dinner that evening! Here’s an example one:

family meal planning budget meals cooking frugal list shopping list balanced diet meals dinner

I plan it according the the activites in our family during the week. So for example I never plan a meal for Wednesday evening because my mum feeds my children then as she collects them from school on that day. On Thursdays I pay for school dinners because we rush around to clubs after school, so I either cook a quick and easy dish or we have a packed dinner, wraps, stuffed pitta or left overs of some sort.

I stick to a format when planning 

This really helps to make the planning easy. I either plan my family meals based around the protein or the carbohydrate content of the meal. I try to use a different source of which ever one I’ve chosen as my focus each day. This ensures that we are eating a variation of nutrients and our meals do not become repetitive. The main reason I do it though is because it stops my mind going blank when I’m trying to meal plan. You could focus on protein planning one week and carohydrates the next. Of course each meal should have a combination of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates, it’s just a way of keeping things fresh, balanced and varied.

meal plan family meal shopping cooking dinner time evening meal family budget frugal planning

So, for example if I was focussing on protein, I might on day one have a fish pie, or oven baked fish, or a fish pasta dish, or fish fingers, or a tuna pasta bake. On the next day I might make a quorn based meal, or a lentil stew, or bean burgers as my focus accompanied by potato wedges maybe. On the Wednesday I might make a spaghetti bolognese or a chilli. Does this make sense?

Give it a go!

 

 

I write a shopping list

While I am writing my meal plan I write a shopping list. It helps to make sure I have everything I need for the meals I’ve planned. It also helps to write the list in my kitchen near to my cupboards so that I can check that I don’t buy what I don’t need! I use a notepad which has meal plan on one side and shopping list on the other. Soemtimes I set up a note on my mobile phone or tablet – this is particularly useful as it won’t get lost or left at home. Whatever suits you as the best way to work. Why not try out some different ways of writing your list until you find one that works for you.

My shopping list is organised and ordered 

Whilst I’m writing the list, I organise it into the sections that my favourite supermarket has. I even put the sections in the order of the aisles in my supermarket so that when I’m shopping, I can see what I need when I need it rather than having to search through the list repetitively and risk missing things from it. It really helps! It also speeds things up in the supermarket.

family meal planning budget meals cooking frugal list shopping list balanced diet meals dinner money saving organiser supermarket

I shop in a small supermarket

Yep! I shop in the smallest supermarket in my town… not an express or micro store, but a normal everday supermarket. It doesn’t sell a huge range of diverse foods, but it sells mostly what I need. It’s of a size that I know what they do and don’t sell, so if I do need something fancy, I occasionally need to make a trip to another supermarket. This really does not happen very often though. Would you believe me if I told you that I do my  shopping on a friday morning between dropping my girls at school, and my pilates class which starts at 9.30? I also shop for my business  and buy ingredients needed for the classes I teach. It is absolutely true! This is down to the fact that my supermakret is small and managable. I know where everything is, and I know exactly what I need. I’ve saved time, money and effort by planning using the above three tips. Yay!

What’s in the cupboards already helps to kickstart my planning

Before I start my planning I have a quick look into my fridge and cupboards to see if there is anything lingering that could be used up, or could inspire a meal for my planner. It’s worth doing. Sometimes it inspires a new meal, sometimes it saves money and waste. It’s worth a try.

The freezer is my friend

This has become true over the last year. No more does my freezer house ready meals and convenience foods which never get eaten and lie forgotten about. I have organised my freezer into sections. The sections are as follows – packed lunch bits such as frozen yogurts, bread, muffins, drinks etc. Frozen fruit and veggies – this means I can eat fruit and veg that are out of season and they don’t go off as quickly so I have a wider variety of fruit and veg in my house at all times. Convenience foods – because we all need a little stock for when things don’t go as planned or we are having a “meh” day.  Pre-prepared batch cooked foods – you know – left overs, or family sized portions of soup, chilli, fish pie, shepherds pie, lasagne – a great way of saving time – cook once, eat twice!  Your freezer sections might differ depending on what you use your freezer for… but that’s a whole other blog. Keep an eye out – I am planning that for later this year.

Vegetarian meals are healthy and cheap!

Why not have a vegetarian day of the week. Generally vegetarian meals are healthier (lower in fat and usually contain more vegetables), cheaper, easy to cook and someting different if your family is not accustomed to eating vegetarian cuisine.

Buying in bulk is a brilliant way of minimising spending.

I’ve started buying washing powder, cooing oil and washing up liquid in bulk. I rarely have to buy those items. I decant the washing up liquid into smaller bottles and keep the large ones tucked away out of sight.  Things like meat can be portioned and frozen, flour, sugar, oats, rice, pasta and cereals can be decanted into jars and tubs and stored much more eaisly in a store cupboard. They’ll last longer in these containers too. I’d love to hear if you buy anything else in bulk. Using this tip will not only save you money in the long run, but it will save you time and effort when shopping and meal planning.

I hope these tips help. You might want to use one, or two of them, or all. Make changes slowly and satep by step at a pace to suit you. remember, no one is perfect, but we can keep trying to improve things for ourselves and our families. Let me know if there are any tips that you use that could be useful to others.

Happly planning!

If you’d like to receive extra downloads, recipes, useful downloads and news, why not sign up to my newsletter. I send it once a month.

 

Your biggest packed lunch mistake

Your biggest packed lunch mistake

One packed lunch mistake you are probably making and three things you can do about it right now! 

packed lunch lunchbox sandwiches ideas children school lunch lunchbag

 

I’ll just start by saying, well done Mama, you’re great. I know you’re a wonderful mum and you really care about doing the best for your child(ren). That’s why you’re reading this after all. Because you care, and you want to do your very best for your family.

The mistake I’m going to tell you about, I think we’ve all done it.  Many of us still do it, day in and day out.

But the fact of the matter is, by repeatedly making this well meaning mistake, we’re probably denying our children access to a wide range of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals. 

 

So what is this terrible mistake I hear you mutter.

 

What am I doing so wrong that will cause my child(ren) to become malnourisehed?

 

You probably go to great lengths to make sure that you include foods that you know your children will like and eat so that they don’t spend the afternoon hungry and unable to concentrate.  Am I right?

 That’s because you are a great mum. You really care, and you do your best, and it’s not easy, right?

I know, I’m there myself. Like many of you I have two daughters, I’m a single mummy, it’s all down to me, and I care. I really, really care about the food my children eat. Yet for years, I’ve made this terrible but well meaning mistake too, and one more than one occasion. It got us into a terrible rut.  So terrible in fact that at one point I gave up on packed lunches altogether. I’ve never been much of a fan of school dinners, but at one point I thought it was for the best. We’ve been on a journey of discovery since then now we’ve reached a happy medium. We’ve mixed it up a bit and now we do a bit of both.

The mistake

Anyway, back to this terrible mistake. The one that most of us make at some point when feeding our families, is ….

lunch box lunchbox packed lunch sandwiches school dinner children lunchbag

 

Feeding your kids the same stuff, using the same formula.

Sandwich, veg, fruit , yogurt, biscuit.

Is this how your kid’s box looks?

For years I stuck to this formula. 

It makes our lives easier…… Tick

It’s a way of making sure our children will eat their lunch without complaint. Tick

You can do it in your sleep without too much bother.  Tick

We can shop for the same things week after week. Tick

My packed lunch making is like a well oiled machine. Tick

We don’t have to worry about the moaning or whimpering “but I don’t like…..”  If we dare to try something new. Big tick!

It’s just easy right? The same sandwich on the same type of bread, same filling, same yogurt tube product, same two or three types of fruit on rotation. On the face of it most packed lunches pass muster, they are balanced, contain some fruit or veg, no products too high in fat or sugar. The primary school lunch box police keep us on track in that respect.  

We know what we have to do so we figure out a formula for a balanced lunch box that works well for the kids and us. It meets nutritional guidelines, AND our kids will eat it. Right?

 

WRONG!

 

Sorry, lovely mama, it is wrong.

Nutritional guidance

Ieatwell guide teaching resources food cookery nutrition use the Government’s Eatwell guide as a basis for my meal planning, and I think most of your lunch boxes probably meet the model more or less too.

However, by picking the same foods from each section of the Eatwell guide every day, we are limiting access to the many many vitamins and minerals out there. For example – sticking to cucumber, cherry tomatoes and grapes as the vegetable part of the box. Always using white wraps. Always slipping in a yogurt tube and a biscuit. They are the same. Each day. The sandwich filling may change daily, but that’s it.

We are allowing our children’s finicky opinions to limit their diets. 

By expanding our children’s repertoire we are giving them a far wider access to the goodies that will nourish them. We are also giving them a gift for life – the enjoyment of great food!

If you’re interested in a more detailed look at children’s nutrition and dietary reference intakes, check out this article by the British Nutrition Foundation You can also look up the Nutrition requirements as revised in 2016 here 

The main thing we can do to improve our children’s lunch box content is to vary it.

But what about fussy eaters? 

Many children are fussy.  I get it!

I work with many, many fussy children. Most families have at least one one. Catering for them is a nightmare.

It really is.

I have a semi-fussy child myself.

But by drifting along accepting this and doing whatever we can to keep the peace, we are doing our children a disservice. It’s our jobs as parents to guide them and not to pander to them. This is not the kind of thing we can change in a day. This is a drip feed change. We can do it little by little one week at a time. 

Here’s what I did:

I started implementing packed lunch changes within my family unit about a year ago. I committed myself seriously to it and within three months we were seeing changes – positive ones. Big ones.  

It’s kind of hard work, but it is rewarding and engaging.

You have to commit yourself to make the changes, but the benefits will outweigh the efforts you put into it. I promise! 

  • Your child(ren) will become more open minded.
  • Their vocabulary and eloquence will improve.
  • Your relationship with them will improve.
  • Things will begin to work like clockwork again, just a different type of clockwork – one where everyone is involved.

So what can I do to make a change?

I have been busy, busy, busy putting together a package of a guidance, inspirations and resources so that you can try my approach. It’s nearly ready. I just want it to be perfect before I release it!

So in the meantime, I’ve decided to give you some tips to get started with now.

Talk about it.

Ask your children questions about packed lunches and school dinners. What works, what doesn’t, who has the best packed lunches in their class. Do they think their packed lunch is healthy? What improvements could be made? What are the school rules about packed lunches? How does it feel at lunchtime? Do they have enough time? Does their box work o.k? Is it easy to open and close?

By opening up a discussion forum with your family you’ll gain a greater insight into their mind, how lunchtime at school feels for them, and what the hurdles and problems there are to overcome.

They’ll be so pleased that you’re interested and you might be surprised by some of their answers.

Try including one new change a week.

These could be tiny changes – a slightly different bread, a wrap instead of a sandwich, a different type of cheese, A different or novel way of presenting veggies. Talk about the changes with your children, before and after.  Make sure they know you’re listening and responding to feedback.

Get making

Why not have a baking session on a Sunday afternoon. Save some of your produce for lunchboxes. You could make mini quiches, biscuits or muffins. Let your children help with the baking – this in itself will mean they are more likely to want to eat it.

Feedback from my own children (the guinea pigs)

What I noticed with my own children is that they are pleased and grateful now not to have the same packed lunch day after day.

They are enjoying the variety.

They also know that if they don’t like something one day, it’s ok, because the chances are they’ll have something completely different the next day anyway!

 

packed lunch inspirations lunch box

 

 

I hope this has inspired you to embrace change in the packed lunch department! If you’re interested in finding out more about my online package (nearly finished!) Click here for more info

My family friendly pancakes guide

Pancakes I love you so!

 

I’m a self confessed pancakes  junkie. I can out-eat my children in a challenge any day. There are no signs of my obsession waning any time soon either. I cook them most weekends and we usually don’t have any left to do anything sensible with like freezing them.pancake pancakes cooking recipe children family

 

So I’ve decided to share the love and publish my own guide – how to cook them, how to serve, them, how to let the kids help to make them and how to tweak them… oh and what to serve with them.

My pancakes guide includes:
  • My all time top four recipes for four different styles of pancake.
  • How to serve them to not only make an occasion of eating them, but to make it a truly interactive experience for all.
  • How to tweak them to suit different diets – or to add extra flavour or nutrition.
  • Loads of exciting flavour and ingredient combinations for toppings
  • How to freeze them so that you can eat pancakes all year round, even when you just don’t have the time.

Does that sound good?

Yes?

Click on the lovely pic below and you can download my fab guide for free.

pancake day pancakes family children cooking recipes ideas flavours topping freezing ingredients

 Enjoy! 

and get flipping!

pancakes pancake family food children cook

Family friendly fish

Family friendly fish
Another mum recently asked me for suggestions to help her to encourage her three children to eat fish.
They used to enjoy a variety of fishy dishes.
One by one, for differing reasons, they’ve now started to reject it.

fish recipes kids children eat cook fussy

Sounds like they might have got a bit spooked, scared of finding a bone, does this sound familiar?

It certainly does to me. It’s not so much reminiscent of my own children. This fishy phobia reminded me more of me, when I was a child.

I remember being a child in the eighties and sitting in the back of the car eating fish and chips.  I found something hard in my mouthful of fish and my (vegetarian) mum muttered absentmindedly “It’s probably an eye”…

Well, that was the start of many years of me being scared of eating any fish whatsoever. Eventually I became a vegetarian at 11 and didn’t eat fish again until I was at uni. My friend and housemate Helen, (Hello Helen!) took it upon herself to open my eyes, mind and taste buds  to it again.

I knew that nutritionally for me it was the right thing for me to do. But I had years of imagined fishy phobias to undo. So, Helen (bless her!) meticulously planned my re-introduction to fish, starting with a Fillet o’ fish at Mcdonalds. I know! – I’m cringing at this thought! We had decided that this was the least scary form that fish could take! I think we were right. 

It was…. O.K,  what more can I really say?

So, where it lacked flavour, texture and general foodie excitement, it was at least safe. The experience successfully de-armed fish in my mind. It really wasn’t the monster I’d built it up to be.  

My next fishy foray happened a couple of weeks later at lunchtime when we shared a tuna melt toasted sandwich.

Yeah! That was nice, I was converted.

fish recipes kids children eat cook fussy

I’ve continued to eat it ever since, but never really been hugely ambitious (definitely no food served with a face … or fins for that matter!) however I wouldn’t be without it now and absolutely love cooking with it. Thankfully my children have always been open minded with fish and my eldest regularly enjoys sardines on toast for breakfast.  

So actually I think I’m quite well qualified to help with this dilemma – I’d like to think I know how these children feel.

Here are my top five tips for getting children to try some new fishy foods, and I’ve included a few recipes / meal ideas at the end to help you get started.

 

Take away the pressure.

Don’t force it at meal times … in fact don’t even mention it!

I believe that tasting and trying new foods should be light hearted and fun, an experiment and experience and not an ordeal.

Some ways of introducing fish and other new foods are below:

  • Play the tasting game. Set up a platter of teeny tiny tasters maybe just one or two being fish, start with ones that you think will be least offensive to your children, and make sure they are attractively presented. Some nice ones to start with might be: smoked haddock, salmon, tuna, prawn, crab, mackerel pate – imagine the pretty pastel colours of those on a white plate. You could perhaps give your child some mini crackers to taste each sample with. Make sure to mix the fish tasters in with some others that are a little less scary. Then number each sample and put little numbered pieces of paper in a bowl and play the tasting game by taking turns to pick a number and taste a sample. Here’s a video of my girls playing the game one day with a selection of sauces, spreads, fruit, veg and cheeses.
  • Get your children to help you to make a fishy meal for the adults – do this a few times, let them choose seasoning and help to present and serve the dish. They might eat something else at the same meal, or it might be an adult only meal that they help you with prepping. Just let them see, feel and smell the fish, with no suggestions at all from you about them tasting or trying it. Do this a few times before asking them if they’d like to try some. You’ll probably find they’d like to try it before you ask them.  Hopefully this will demystify fish in their eyes, as well as taking the pressure off of them having to eat it. Children would find the following dishes fun to help prepare: Fishy parcels, fish pie, goujons, mackerel pate, tuna pasta salad, garlicky prawns.   Download my Family fishy recipe guide here – recipes with the hands symbol are ones that are especially good for children to help with. children cook helping hand recipes recipe learn to cook fishfree fish recipe guide learn to cook fish

Educate your children about the benefits of eating fish.

Try to get talking around the subject of nutrition at meal times, from time to time you might like to slip into conversation WHY and HOW particular foods are useful for our bodies. I’ve included a brief summary below of the benefits of fish nutritionally. 

  • It’s rich in protein which helps your body to grow and repair
  • Oily fish are a good source of essential fats (omega 3 fatty acids). Good for your brain, eye health, blood pressure and heart health.
  • If you eat the soft bones (often found in caned fish such as sardines, and salmon,) you’ll benefit from extra calcium – great for bone health and formation.
  • Vitamins A, D, E and K are abundant in oily fish which will benefit your bones, muscles, skin and eye health.

Be a good role model.

Don’t let your children’s fussy shenanigans stop you from eating and enjoying fish. Make sure you do it in front of them. If you are a bit wary too, then be a good role model by being up for tasting and trying new foods regularly.

Here are some suggestions of things you might do together:

  • Go for a tapas meal. The Spanish tradition of tapas where you order a wide selection of dishes to the middle of your table and then share is ideal for tasting new foods and being a bit brave when ordering in a restaurant.  You’ll only have a small portion to share between the whole table. Strike a deal with your kids – if you try something, they do too. Or maybe you’ll have a competition of who can try the most new foods. Or perhaps you could all be restaurant critics and grade each dish out of ten. 
  • You could buy or make some sushi with fishy fillings, this is easy, fun and a fantastic way of tasting new foods in tiny parcels. 
  • Have a family meal around a big family friendly paella.  Another Spanish tradition – the paella is typically shared on a Sunday – a huge rice dish filled with all sorts of sea food, your bowl becomes a lucky dip. 

Talk about it.

Keep a dialogue going about food.

Ban the words yuk and yum.

From now on no one is allowed to say if they do or don’t like something.

When teaching, I use word prompt cards like these to help children to find the right words. They help children to express their experiences of foods beyond like and dislike. The words are sorted into smells, textures, flavours and appearances. If a child is really reluctant to taste a food I always tell them that they do not have to taste it, they can describe the smell, texture or appearance instead. This immediately takes the pressure off them. 

                                                                               

fish tips cooking children fussy eater

 …and then get cooking!

learn to cook fish recipe fussy

I know from experience that cooking breaks down barriers. Cooking is theraputic, educational, productive and sociable. It also helps fussy eaters enormously by de-mystifying ingredients. Cooking allows sensory introductions to foods that may otherwise seem scary to children. The very best thing would be to get your children being hands on in the kitchen as often as possible.

Use your conversations with your children to inform your cooking and meal planning. If they don’t like skin or bones, go for mashed up or blended fish such as pate or fish cakes.

If they like to see what they are eating, take them to the fish monger. Get them to help choose a piece and have a conversation with the fish monger about it.

Perhaps strong flavours are off putting,  in this case go for cod, or haddock, or mix the it into mashed potato in a fish cake.

They might prefer to be able to see exactly what they are eating, have fun with baked foil parcels and different seasonings.

To move away from slimy textures, you could have fun with a barbeque or racklette, and cook the fish for longer. 

Below are some meal ideas that I think are perfect for family cooking and eating sessions. If you’d like a bit more detail on how to make them, click here to download

Fee free to mess around with them and adapt them to suit your family.

free fish recipe guide learn to cook fish

6 ways to tackle your fussy eater

6 ways to tackle your fussy eater
Do you have a fussy eater in your household?
Is dinner time a battle ground?
Do you worry about your child’s limited diet?
Mealtimes can be a massive battle ground between a fussy eater and their carers, but it doesn’t have to always be that way. 
So how can we tackle the problem of the fussy/faddy eater?

I’ve put together some ideas for fun tasks, and tweaks to normal everyday family life. Have a read and maybe try one per week. Changes in behaviour take time, but it’s so worth it to see and experience the changes when they do.

Before we begin, the precursor to this journey has to be to forget about mealtime battles.  When you start to relax your child will too and then you can start to have some fun.

  1. Give them some choice – Once a week, have a ‘bits ‘n’ bobs’ taster session.

    food choice fussy eater healthy ingredients Put a range of different foods out on the table and have fun trying different foods – this can also help with emptying the fridge of leftovers on the day before your weekly shop.

    Dips and dippers are an excellent start to this.

    You could try the blindfold game where one person is blindfolded and they have to guess the food they are tasting.

    A cheese board is another great way to start experimenting with different foods.

    Alternatively,  sometimes if I am introducing a new meal that I think my children will be apprehensive about I make a safe option to go alongside it. I then allow my children to fill up on the safe option whilst having a taste of the more exotic option. This is not a practical option every day of the week, but once in a while it is fantastic for your child to see you try something new, and to give them the choice to try it without the pressure to eat a whole plateful of the new food.

  2. Talk about food – Start a dialogue around food at the dinner table.

    Encourage your child to describe the food they eat. Ban words such as nice / nasty / yuk and yummy when describing foods. Encourage sensory adjectives that describe texture, flavour and smell instead.

    This not only helps to broaden their vocabulary, but gives them a new way of expressing how they feel about food rather than the all too familiar “I don’t like it”. They will start to be able to explain why they don’t like the food which may give you a greater understanding of their perceptions and preferences.
    You can find some sensory vocabulary lists (here) .  These are very useful as a way of helping your child to choose the right words to describe a food.A fun way to kick start the use of sensory vocabulary is to play the game where you have to describe a food to others without mentioning it’s name. You could even challenge them not to mention colour or shape. and rely on textures, flavours and aromas instead. For example. This food is crackly, salty and light as a feather. It does not grow on land, it is not an animal.   Can you guess what it is? Guesses welcome in the comments below.
  3. Remember that children have a different palette to ours.

    Some children are very sensitive to strong flavours and literally can’t handle the sensory overload.

    The ‘talk about it’ tip above will help you to understand what it is that they struggle with exactly and you can then work on introducing flavours and textures that start very mild and build up.
    Remember that your child’s palette will change over time so give them plenty of
    non-confrontational opportunities to try a tiny taste of something new, they may surprise themselves. An example of this might be curry. I always serve a bowl of natural yogurt with curry and my children help themselves to as much or as little as they need and stir it into their curry to reduce the spiciness of the curry. In my opinion the curry is not that spicy to start with, but to their taste buds it is.

     

  4. Allow your child to eat with more than just their mouth – never underestimate the novelty factor! 

    wonky vegetables presentation of food fun meal fussy eaterThe saying is true, we do eat with our eyes, even as adults. So it is useful to remember that it may be down to something as simple as the appearance that prevents your child from even trying a food. Once in a while (not at every single meal) have a bit of fun with appearance – make a picture on the plate with food- get your child to join in.

    There are loads of lovely ideas here that I’ve collected together on a Pinterest board for you to see. 

    Another lovely idea to try is allowing your child to have a special plate  – one that they have chosen themselves. Jane Fox of Created 4 U (a pottery painting shop and personalised online pottery service) says;

    I find when kids paint a personalised plate they are happy to eat off it all the time. My customer mums tell me all the time – if they’d realised a plate which the child painted with their name on made them happily eat pretty much anything, they would have come to the studio sooner

    In fact Jane and I are running a competition to win a plate that has been personalised with your child’s own drawing. You can enter here. 

    competition win healthy children fussy eater safety knife personalised plate win winner cookery eating family food parents children kids

  5. Get your child involved.
    DSC_0252Little chefs

    Get your child involved in the preparation. I have developed a kitchen helper checklist of age appropriate tasks if you’d like one, click herekitchen helper little toddler preschool child kids school age teenager chores help to cook how old list checklist age appropriate cooking learn to cook lessons mum family kids dad home help helper safe safely knife cut chop burn boil fry toast kettle

     

    As a cookery teacher of children of all ages, I have to say that simply preparing a meal for someone else has a massive effect on the fussy eater. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a parent of a fussy eater has said to me that since attending my cookery lessons their child has begun to relax around food and ask to try new foods – result!

    Family planning

    Look through recipe books together and talk about the foods. Get them to choose a few meals they would like to help make. Involve them in shopping for the food and preparing it. Give it a name – Tom’s fish pie.
    My children used to adore a game whereby they would write a menu for the meal I was preparing. They wrote place settings and seated ‘guests’ and took drinks orders. They would offer a choice of desserts and take orders for that as well. It was a way of them feeling that they had control over the meal, and it gave them some insight into what was coming.

    The onus of ‘will they eat it or won’t they’ was off and they could just enjoy the role play.

     

  6.  Remove the pressure – but don’t give up

    When your fussy eater senses that you are more relaxed about their food intake then they will relax too.
    Allow them a sense of control over food – let them serve themselves, choose ingredients, prepare them, experiment with them.
    Keep talking about food and building that dialogue using sensory vocabulary.
    Make a deal with yourself to back off a bit. Make all interactions with food as relaxed and fun as possible and encourage and celebrate trying foods but never pressurise or create a battle. 
     

    I hope that some of what I have said has inspired you to try something new at meal times. May this be the beginning of a family love affair with food and many enjoyable experiences for every member of the family.

    I have collected some resources for you to use including some sensory vocabulary flash cards that you can make use of. They can be found here 

Please do comment below with any tips or ideas you’d like to share with others.

Hiding veggies

Hiding veggies
Hiding veggies in your child’s dinner is a tried and tested parental tip.

hiding veggiesBy “hiding veggies”, I mean mashing up cauliflower into mashed potato, blending veggies into a pasta sauce and sneaking disliked fruits into smoothies. There are endless ways you can do it – I confess, I’m no expert at it. 

It’s an excellent way to boost your child’s nutritional intake whilst maintaining peace and harmony at the dinner table….

or is it?

 

 

I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m going to suggest we take a step back and consider whether it is the best option for the long term and what we could be doing instead.

Here are my three BIG reasons why  I think we should NOT hide veggies in our children’s food and SIX things we could be trying instead!

  1. Trust
  2. Knowledge / education
  3. Longevity / the future

Ok, so we’ve all done it, I still do it from time to time, but here’s why I think it’s a really bad idea to rely on veggies undercover in your children’s meals.

Trust

Hiding veggies could be considered a form of trickery. In this case it’s trickery that has been implemented with the purest of intentions, but all the same it’s trickery, and your 5 year old would most probably see it this way too if they found out.

Just imagine; when your child discovers that you’ve been squirreling away (the hated) carrots in their favourite bolognese sauce for goodness knows how long –  in their eyes, they’ll wonder what else you have been up to that they don’t know about? It’s like finding out that your husband has been sneaking extra pints in on the way home from work when he says he’s been working late to earn money for your new extension, you might start to question what else he’s been doing that you don’t know about.

I believe we need to be transparent and honest with our children, they trust us 100%, they rely on us 100% and we are their world.

Over the next decade (and more) you are going to need to convince your children to do so much more than eat veggies and without that trust and an open and communicative relationship you may struggle with some biggies down the line. Keep it straight now and  perhaps you’ll have your child where you want them when they are a teenager wanting to go out with friends until all hours. If they are able to trust you, you’ll be able to trust them. It works both ways and you need set the bar on this one.

Knowledge and education

By sneaking the extra veggies into our children’s mashed potatoes, we are allowing them to grow up in blissful ignorance. They are ignorant of the fact that their diet is providing them with vital nutrition. They may grow up believing that even though they (think) they eat only one type of vegetable they are still perfectly healthy.

I know this is an extreme example, but children learn by example, by seeing and by doing. It’s all very well telling them that an “apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but will they actually believe this and value the part that fresh food plays in our diet if they don’t actually see or experience it?

Longevity

If you are an avid “sneaker- inner”, have a think about this;

What exactly is your plan for the future? When do you plan to stop sneaking those veggies in? What happens when your son leaves home and has to manage his own diet? Will he be blissfully ignorant and believe that his healthy body and brilliant immune system is down to his diet of mashed potato and sausages. No veg needed here, thank you very much? When are you planning to stop the veggies in disguise? How are you planning to make the transition?

It’s a great short term solution, but we do need to be realistic here that hiding veggies is just a short term helper.

We need to start laying foundations for the future and we need to start with honesty and integrity.

I’ve included six simple ways you can start  to move away from hiding veggies below:

  1. Educate
  2. Empower 
  3. Sneak the veggies in (in an obvious way) before dinner (and then enjoy a veggie free dinner?)
  4. Work as a team
  5. Talk about it
  6. Have fun Click here to download my list of foodie fun and games activities.
Educate

Knowledge is power and education is the route to knowledge.

Educate your child about their diet. Explain at meal times how different foods help our bodies, and if you don’t know something, look it up together – you’ll be modelling good research skills at the same time.

Here are some good books I use on a regular basis as a reference point:

Healing foods nutrition book reference recipes hiding veggies  family nutrition reference book recipes hiding veggies

You can use my short video here which explains the New Eatwell Guide. You could even show this to  older children, or you can drip feed information to them about why different foods are good for us… there’s truth in the old saying that you might have been told as a youngster the carrots help you to see in the dark… , the beta carotene in carrots does indeed help with night vision.

Show your child the new Eatwell guide eatwell_guide_colour and show how large the vegetables and fruit section is. Explain that fruit and veg of different colours bring different nutrients to our bodies and we need to eat as wide a range as possible to be as healthy as possible.

Empower them to solve the problem

Once they understand why they need to eat vegetables and fruit, or milk and cheese (or whatever it is they are fussy about) you can make this your child’s problem. Knowledge is power – so give them the power to work out a solution… give them a blank Eatwell guide and a list of foods and ask them to organise a day’s worth of food into the correct sections. Can they see if it is balanced?

Or, get them to count their vegetable intake on a chart and reward them when they meet a target set by you.

Sneak the veggies in but in a transparent way.

One of my favourite things to do whilst cooking is to chop up a selection of veggies and nutritous goodies. I  put them in a couple of small bowls and set them down beside my daughters whilst they are watching TV, doing their homework, reading etc. More often than not, the bowls are empty by the time I serve up dinner and Bob’s your uncle, they’ve eaten a couple of portions of veg!  The pressure is then off at dinner time. You won’t be worrying about whether they’ve eaten enough veg and they won’t need to dig their heels in.

Work as a team

Make your children part of your team. Consult with them on which vegetables they think would best compliment your planned meal , ask for their help in the kitchen, make it all part of your daily routine, get them to prepare the vegetables, the more contact they have and the more input, the more invested they will feel in the outcome. They will be more likely to try the food even if they don’t like it. This is not 100% foolproof, but it is a small stepping stone towards harmony at the dinner table.

Talk about it

Start having conversations about food, whilst eating it, whilst preparing it and whilst planning it. Encourage your child to use sensory language to describe foods and discourage “I don’t like” “yuk” and “yummy”.

Encourage informative language such as bitter, salty, bland, chewy so that you can all start to better understand your child’s tastes.

Make it fun

We want our children to grow up with healthy attitudes towards food and with that in mind, meal times need to be relaxed and associations with food should be fun and relaxed.

The best advice I know is that we need to take away the battle, relax and have fun.

Choose your battles wisely and concentrate on the fun stuff. I’ve put together a list fun ideas that you can try.

Click here to download my list of foodie fun and games activities.  hiding veggies fun food games and activities

I hope I’ve spoken some sense here, of course I realise there may well be people that disagree with me. I’d love to know your viewpoint on hiding veggies. Do you do it? Have you tried some of my suggested fun foodie games and activities? Are there some that you do already at home? Do you have a new suggestion you’d like to share? Please do comment below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Kate x

 

 

hiding veggies fun food games and activities

Kitchen literacy (part 1)

Kitchen literacy (part 1)

Hi there!

I want to spend a few moments today considering the merits of the humble kitchen as a classroom. More specifically, today I am going to use literacy as a starting point.

Typically the kitchen is a place for social gatherings. No matter how small your kitchen, if you’re cooking when guests visit, it’s where everyone communes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the most inhabited  room in most houses. I suppose that is our first link to literacy!

Simple socialising and verbal interaction is a form of literacy.

As a teaching professional I often consider how my own subject specialism can be combined with others (the technical term is “cross curricular”) and my goodness, the links between food / cookery and other subjects is endless. At the school I teach in we link our projects to historical periods including a Mediaeval banquet re-enactment. In another project we learn about other cultures and practice language skills in the setting up of international cafes which form the basis for bi-lingual role plays and the making and selling of delicious international delicacies. We use the wonder of the physical and chemical changes that take place in food preparation and cooking to help explain scientific processes such as coagulation and gelatinisation, caramelisation and dextrinisation to name but a few. Not to mention the endless links that can be made to numeracy and literacy.

So this got me to thinking about things at home.

As a parent, I often feel a bit lost about how I can help and support my children’s learning at home without being too didactic.

Yes, I help with homework and I listen to my children read, but how else can I or do I already help support with learning in less structured ways?

Well, the great news is, if you cook with your child at home, then you are already helping them to apply numerous principals they may have learned more formally with a practical application. Even greater news… Blooms Taxonomy of learning shows that application is halfway up the ladder above knowledge and recall, with creativity as the highest level of learning.  What I am trying to say is that cooking can be a part of the learning process allowing children a new context to apply their academic knowledge.

I recently did a brainstorm with Jo Bradley, a colleague who runs a fabulous business helping parents to find fun ways of supporting their children’s learning at home. We came up with such a long list of numeracy and literacy links to cooking that I have had to make this the first in a series of blog posts in which we will demonstrate some ways you can bring literacy and numeracy into family kitchen life. We decided to start with a family challenge. Here’s Jo explaining the concept:

To help you to put this concept into action in the kitchen, I’ve designed a lovely printable fridge chart that you can use to start a family challenge. Click HERE to get your free chart. Kitchen literacy family fun cookery learning children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both Jo and I would absolutely love to see how you get on with this and to hear your feedback. Was the chart useful? Are there any other concepts you’d like similar resources for? Show us your completed charts! Who was the champion in your household? I can’t wait to get some feedback on this. Just post your updates in the comments below.

Watch out over coming months for more kitchen literacy, numeracy and science freebies to help you extend your family’s learning in the kitchen.  If you sign up for my monthly newsletter at the same time you’ll get links to freebies delivered direct to your inbox without having to go looking for them.

Treats not sweets – do something different for Halloween this year

Treats not sweets – do something different for Halloween this year

What’s the cookie monster’s definition of a balanced diet? 

The same amount of cookies in each hand! 

Did you know Halloween this year falls on on a Moan-day, and next year it will be a chews-day! That’s great news for all wannabe chomping monsters and moaning zombies out there right?

Thank you for bearing with me through the awful jokes!

Last year, we went trick or treating for Halloween as usual. We collected the usual ridiculous amount of sweets. One house in particular stands out to me, and for my youngest daughter M.

Trick or treat healthy Halloween treats

Let me explain:

As we approached the ordinary looking house, we came across a  wicker basket on the door step. A sign by the basket said please take one. We took a little organza bag which contained a little note with a little message or rhyme (each one different) and a piece of fruit.

That was all.

A refreshing and welcome difference to the same old candy offered at everyone else’s door. My youngest daughter M eagerly ate her piece of fruit on the way home. I think the candy had made her thirsty, not to mention the fact that she is a fruit fiend.

For this year’s celebrations, it’s got me thinking.

What could we do that is a bit more thoughtful or memorable. Why not do something a bit different? Does it always have to involve candy?  It’s worth thinking about.

This blog is the first of a few that I’ll post over the year titled “Treats not sweets”. I’m keen to get people thinking before they reward or gift children with sweets. My children are given so many sweets by others; teachers, parents, well meaning strangers and friends included. I never buy my children sweets. Not because I am mean or strict (OK, maybe just a bit), but because I feel they have more than enough already, and sometimes I feel it’s a bit misplaced.

I know the tradition of Halloween is giving sweets as the treat – and children these days don’t seem to know what the trick part is all about – but traditions can change. It’s not an ancient tradition really after all, it’s a borrowed tradition. I’d like to open up people’s minds to what a treat can be.

On that note, I’ve put together a printable Halloween jokes list if anyone wants to join me. My plan is to put together some healthy, Halloween themed treats  on a table outside my house and I’ll probably bag or box them up with one of these jokes.  If you’d like a copy, please be my guest and download it here. I promise, they are better than the first few lines of this post!

Click on the image to print out your own copy for distribution or as a part of Halloween games.


Healthy trick or treat Halloween jokes

I’ve done a bit of research and collected together some other ideas for Halloween “Treats not sweets” and put them together on my Pinterest board.

If you’d like some inspiration ….  Halloween Treats not sweets!

I’ve tried to keep the ideas realistic and simple. So that they can be re-created on mass without too much bother. I actually feel spoiled for choice now I’ve done some research, I hope you will too!

 

Healthy Halloween treats not sweets

If you’re like minded and have some great Halloween Treats not sweets ideas, please share! I’d love to see and hear about what you’re all doing for Halloween.

My 3 step guide to rebalancing your lunchbox

My 3 step guide to rebalancing your lunchbox

lunchbox

Learn how to fall in love with the lunchbox again. I’ve narrowed it down to three easy steps, but you can’t do this alone, it’s got to be a team effort. You need to get your kids on side…. 

It’s September, and the kids are going back to school. Parents are anxiously labeling uniform and buying last minute plimsolls, protractors and pencil cases.

What are you dreading most about the return to school this September?

Well, I’m a teacher, and believe me, teachers are just as fearful of the September return as many children are. One of the things I most dread is getting back into the routine of school, and not just for me, but my children too.

Routine is good, but it’s really hard to get back there when you’ve enjoyed six weeks of lazy mornings and late sun drenched evenings, a daily ice cream and picky-picky meals because it’s just too hot to even think about cooking, let alone eating a hot meal.

It will be kind of nice to get back to a structured day, and to seeing friends and colleagues we’ve not seen over the summer. I miss my students and look forward to seeing how much they’ve grown up over the summer. Many of my students will be taller than me when we return… I hope that’s because they’ve been eating their greens!

There is one part of the routine I’m really not relishing getting back to, I wonder if you’ll agree.

Hands up if the thought of starting back with the monotonous task of packing the same old lunches for your children day in, day out makes you shudder.

The very idea of a lunch box being monotonous and repetitive makes me think that perhaps our packed lunches are not as ‘healthy’ as they are cracked up to be. Are we deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we lovingly prepare a packed lunch it is in some way healthier?

School dinners have come under a lot of scrutiny from the press, parents, headteachers and government lately, packed lunches have been a somewhat invisible sideline. I know a lot of schools offer guidelines on packed lunches and some have strict rules which must be adhered to. However even if a ‘no chocolate, no sweets and no drinks apart from water’ rule is in place, it doesn’t always follow that the lunch will be nutritionally balanced or wholesome, or varied for that matter.

Children are notoriously fussy eaters and it is so easy (I do this myself) to fall into the parenting trap of sticking to what works day in and day out because we know little Johnny will definitely eat it and therefore not go hungry.

However, I am certain that this approach of the same packed lunch every day with very little variation will in the long run do Johnny more harm than good.

Why? Because he will not be getting the variation of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that his body needs. Many children are undernourished because they do not eat a wide enough range of foods.

A packed lunch should NOT be the same every day!

I’ve put some thought into this, and I think this has to be a team effort. If you want your children to eat the (healthy, balanced) packed lunches you prepare for them, you need to get them involved too. Make them know they are listened to, make them invest their ideas into striving for variation, balance and nourishment in their packed lunches.

Balance your box…

We need to educate our children about what a balanced diet looks like. Take a look at my Eatwell guide video – here. It should be easy enough for your children to understand too. Either let them watch the video, or show them a printout and explain it to them yourself. You could even print off a blank guide for them to draw on.

 

Use the Eatwell guide as a point of reference, check you are including foods in the correct proportions and different foods from all sections each day.

2

Pick n Mix your lunchbox

Next sit down with your child and write a list (to be pinned on the fridge) of all the packed lunch suitable foods that you can think of that fit into each section of the Eatwell guide. If you get stuck, or are short for time, download my easy Pick ‘n’ Mix list

packed lunch ideas healthy balanced diet children eatwell guide food
Pic ‘n’ Mix lunchbox builder printable

If you’d like a printable version of this Pick n Mix lunchbox list designed especially for your use with your family when planning packed lunches, just click above, you’ll be able to sign up for my monthly newsletter at the same time.

How to use the Pick ‘n’ mix sheet for a varied lunchbox: 

Ask your child to highlight the things they like, underline the things they definitely DO NOT and get them to put a star next to the things they are willing to try out once in a while. Set a target with your child – maybe to try one new thing from the starred items each week. See if you can convert some starred items into highlighted ones. 

3

Get inspired! Just look at those lovely lunchboxes

Now take a look at my Pinterest board there are hundreds, probably thousands of different ideas here that might spark your imagination. I recommend you do this WITH your child, if they are involved, and if they invest some time in thinking about this your chances of success are going to be much greater. But one word of warning, don’t set yourself up to committing to anything too fancy such as carving carrots into Elsa from frozen! Remember this is supposed to make your life easier as well.

My rules:
  1. Keep it simple
  2. Keep going – don’t give up at the first hurdle
  3. Don’t expect massive changes straight away, keep encouraging and inspiring your child to try new foods, whilst still allowing some old favourites alongside the new.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. I’d really love to see some pictures of your revamped lunchboxes, or maybe even completed planners. You can add comments below here and pictures to my facebook page. Let’s share some inspiration.