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

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.