Teach your child to use a knife safely in the kitchen

Teach your child to use a knife safely in the kitchen
“How do you teach them to use knives when cooking?”

This is one of the things I get asked most often. Along with “Do you use a special knife?”

I hope to answer some of your questions here, but look out for more knife articles and guides coming here soon.

Which knife do you use?

When using sharp knives, I demonstrate first, I teach safe knife handling techniques and I teach safe hold of vegetables.

Each child receives 1:1 attention until they are fully competent using a sharp knife, and even then they are never left alone, but watched closely.

If cutting soft fruit or veg, or with very young children, we sometimes just use normal cutlery knives – the children have to saw a bit, but I feel happier with them doing that a little more independently which builds their confidence.

However the sawing motion with cutlery knives has been irking me somewhat lately, it seems a bit unnatural to progress from that onto a very sharp knife that can slip through the veg so easily when they are used to the applying more pressure and a  sawing motion. I kind of wanted a happy medium to bridge the gap. (scroll down to the bottom to find the results of my search)

Parental nerves

I’ve also noticed that (as a parent) when I allowed my children to use sharp knives at home, my anxiety (even though I teach hundreds of children sometimes on a 1:26 basis at school to use knives safely) went through the roof and I felt like I wanted to grab the knife from my child and just stop the whole thing.

Kids do pick up on this – and it makes them nervous… which in turn can make things more dangerous. So really it is best to remain outwardly calm and confident, but so much easier said than done!

young person safe knife child family friendly cookery skills looked after children's home cookery lessons 1:1 food hygiene food safety independent living

Teach your child the basics first! 

It’s far more important to cover the following basics first regardless of which knife you use.

  • Start by showing your child around the knife. Teach them how to identify which is the sharp edge and which is the blunt edge.
  • Establish your household knife ground rules. Where are they stored? Who is allowed to get them out? Do they need to ask first? When are they allowed to use a knife in the kitchen?
  • Teach your child how to pass the knife safely to someone else.
  • Show your child how to carry a knife (if they are walking around with one)
  • Demonstrate the safe way to hold a knife.
    Children naturally start by holding kitchen implements at the very top end furthest away from the action. This gives them far less control and a clumsy motion – and we certainly do not want that when handling knives!
    So encourage them to hold the knife as close to where the handle meets the blade as possible with a firm grip using the whole hand and not just fingers.

 

Teach by showing
  • The best way to teach is by showing / demonstrating.
  • Show your child how to cut by placing the point of the knife on the board first and then levering the knife downwards from there.
  • Demonstrate how to hold the fruit or veg safely. I’ll show the main grips I use in more detail in another blog – coming soon in video format.
  • Encourage them to work slowly and methodically and to keep their eye on the job at all times. No talking whilst chopping!
Make it age / ability appropriate
  • Use soft fruit and veg for little children such as banana, cucumber, mushroom etc
  • Do not use very small fruit and veg (e.g. grapes) for young children or beginners – there is not enough for them to hold onto
  • Don’t worry about the pieces being too big, too small or uneven. It’s the technique, not the end result that is important to begin with.
  • Make sure that little children are working at the appropriate height so that the work surface is about waist height – I often use the kitchen table as it is lower and kneeling on a chair is often a good way to start at the right height.
  • Make it fun! If it’s tedious, or you are striving for perfection, your little one will tire of it and possibly not want to do it again. Celebrate successes and reward them for their achievements.

Here is a video my nephew Sam and I made together to show off his culinary skills.

cookery children fussy eaters food family shopping cooking healthy balanced meal cook bake learn lessons ramsgate kent thanet East Kent

There is so much more I can talk about on this topic, so watch this space for further articles.

If you’d like to make sure you see new articles as they are published, why not join my mailing list here: cookery craft school summer learn children creative cooking cook recipe healthy activities childcare kent ramsgate margate thanet east kent broadstiars

 

About my favourite Child friendly knife

Although it’s not essential to buy and use a child safety knife, the confidence that owning a good one can bring very quickly is wonderful. ]

If things are a little tense for you when your child ‘helps’ in the kitchen, this could bring you a bit of  reprieve whilst still allowing your child to help and teaching them all the good tips, skills and advice above.

The knife that I recommend is my favourite because it cuts anything and everything that you could possibly wish to cut in the kitchen (but not fingers) easily and effortlessly. Yet it is blunt and cannot easily cut your child’s fingers. In fact, it is so easy to use (even for onions!) I use it more often than not now at home… and my mum (who helps at my cookery classes) has asked to buy one too!

child safety knife knives kitchen cooking learn to teach child children kids kid safe safety

 

Here it is.

If you’d like to see this fab knife in action – take a look at this video of me trying it out. You can watch the video by clicking on the photo.

If you’d like to buy your own, I am selling them for £6 each or you can buy a knife and vegetable holder together for £10

cookery craft school summer learn children creative cooking cook recipe healthy activities childcare kent ramsgate margate thanet east kent broadstiars

 

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!

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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

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.

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.

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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. 

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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.

 

6 ways to tackle your fussy eater

6 ways to tackle your fussy eater

Is your child a fussy eater?

Is dinner time a battle ground?

Does your child say no more often than yes at meal times?

Have you given up trying and now rely on the staple foods you know that your fussy eater will like?

One of the most common complaints that I hear from parents is that their child is a fussy eater, so I wanted to put my thoughts on this down into writing (I have a few theories) and to provide a space where you can share tips with others on what has or has not worked for you.

 

The biggest influence in the mealtime battleground  is control.

So who is in control?

The first lesson that a baby learns is to cry in order for their needs to be met. They will perhaps have a range of different cries – tired cry, hungry cry, bored cry.

There will ensue a period of training whereby the baby trains the adult to recognise and meet their various cries and needs respectively whilst the baby learns which cry works best and what type of response each provokes, and how far they need to push it to get the response they need.

They then learn that by throwing things on the floor an adult will pick it up …. but only for so long.

Once they become a toddler, they (and their parent) are subjected to huge feelings of not being quite in control over their lives as they would like to be. They want to decide what to wear, how mummy holds their hand, whether they are strapped into the high chair. Their desires are not always (in our view) logical or practical. We can’t always allow them to have what they want, and it is our job to teach them this in a firm but fair manner. What it boils down to is that as babies grow into toddlers and then children, they want to have a greater degree of control over their lives.

Common battlegrounds between toddlers / children and their parents are clothing, foods, wake up times, bedtimes, and more often than not – how things are done! The birth of the fussy eater.

Mealtimes can be a massive battle ground between a fussy eater and their parents.

Let the battle commence … oh it already has!

In the red corner: The parent: 

The parent’s job / desire is to feed their children as healthy a diet as possible, and this means amongst other things making sure their child eats their 5 a day, that they eat enough (so they can grow big and strong), and that they don’t get a sweet tooth / overweight or tooth decay.

In the blue corner  – The child (a.k.a fussy eater):

At meal times children can quickly learn that they have control over something the parent wants i.e. how much / what they will or won’t eat. Children (toddlers especially) react very badly to feeling forced into doing something. They want it on their terms. All too often, following one too many lost battles, life gets in the way. Parents are worn down, tired, fed up of wasting uneaten food and so they find a common ground (e.g. the vegetables the child will eat) and stick to what works. Consequently some children grow up with a limited range of foods that they will eat, and the parent almost gives up on pushing the boundaries any further.

I am not going to suggest any clever ways to hide vegetables in meals

Although this is a useful tactic, and has it’s place, it certainly should not be relied upon long term.  It does not solve the problem of the fussy eater. It is a form of trickery and if your child gets a whiff that they are being coerced in some way the barriers will come up and you will lose the trust that you are building.  It won’t help to inspire your child to make their own healthy choices as they grow up because they may grow up oblivious to the fact that they’ve eaten many of the foods that they claim not to like. How will they learn to make sensible food decisions in the future? 

So how can we tackle the problem of the fussy eater?

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

  1. Give them some choice. 

    food choice fussy eater healthy ingredientsOnce a week have a ‘bits ‘n’ bobs’ taster session. Put a range of different foods out on the table and have fun trying different foods. Dips and dippers are an excellent start to this. It doesn’t even have to be a meal – it could be a fun rainy afternoon activity. 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. Now, this is not practical 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
    (my absolute favourite past time – even above eating it!)

    Start a dialogue around food at the dinner table. Encourage your child to describe the flavours, textures, aroma and appearance of food. 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 could go one step further and ban the words nice / nasty / yuk and yummy when describing foods and encourage the use of sensory adjectives instead. The benefits of doing this are that you will start to gain a greater understanding of what it is that your child actually does or does not like and your child will stop thinking of food in the black and white terms of like / dislike and see that there are many, many nuances of flavour and texture offered by foods. If you decide to take me up on this tip – you will find some sensory vocabulary lists (here) 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 vocabulary 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.
    It is also worth considering the situation from your child’s perspective. Can you remember a time where you have felt anxious, stressed, or just not hungry. Picture how your body physically feels. Imagine somebody persistently trying to get you to eat when you feel like this. How does it feel? How will it feel when the food is in your mouth? When I try this exercise, my mouth goes dry and my throat constricts. A dry mouth and taut throat make it almost impossible to chew and swallow effectively, thus taking away any sense of enjoyment whatsoever. Try to remember this at meal times. Use weekends and holidays to practice a bit of playfulness and mindfulness around meal times.   

  4. Allow your child to eat with more than just their mouth

    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. Use sites like this to help inspire you. I would caution you not to use this tactic at every meal time as it can get tired, and it’s an awful lot of effort to put in.

  5. Get your child involved.

    There are numerous ways of doing this and I recommend you try all, but at different times – do it subtly – maybe one a week.
    * Put all foods out in the centre of the table and allow everyone to help themselves – if your child is too young to do this. Serve up in front of them allowing them to have larger portions of some foods and smaller portions of others

    DSC_0252*Get your child involved in the preparation. They could peel the carrots, stir the stew, lay the table, put items onto a baking tray etc. In this way they will learn the effort that goes into preparation of food. But also if they have invested some of their own effort into something, they are likely to be more open minded about wanting to try these foods at the end.

    *Get your child involved in 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.  Lay down your arms but never give up. 

    You know that you are never going to give up, but this has to stop being a battle ground. Relax the reins and allow at least one opportunity a week to break away from the normal routine at dinner time and try something new – whether it be a new approach to the way meal times run, or a new meal that the family has not tried before, or a game based around food such as the role play suggested above. If you are more relaxed about food then so will your children be. It’s o.k. to serve the foods that you know your fussy eater likes for 6 out of 7 days in the week. We are humans after all, we can’t create all singing all dancing dining experiences everyday of the week, but once in a while do something out of the norm and you may just be surprised at the results.

    When your fussy eater senses that you are more relaxed about their diet then they will relax too. Allow them a small sense of control without the battle first. Keep talking about food and building that dialogue using sensory vocabulary. 

     

    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.