Mother and Baby

Food Expert Lucy Thomas Answers Your Questions

Section: Meals & Baking

Missed our Wednesday Lunch Club with food expert Lucy Thomas? Don’t worry, you can read all of the advice she shared here

Every week at Mother&Baby we bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your fertility, pregnancy and parenting questions from a top expert.  

This week, food expert Lucy Thomas was on hand to answer your questions.

Lucy is the author of Mange Tout, a parenting book that encourages children to love fruit and vegetables. Her approach, recommended by Great Ormond Street Hospital experts, includes topical games, songs and food exploration and has helped children develop healthier eating habits. Lucy also works with Organix to help children explore food and is supporting the Explore with Goodies Campaign.

Here’s what happened…

My three-year-old son is going through a phase where he won't eat any fruit. He loves vegetables but fruit he just won't touch. This has been going on for about 10 days now. Should I worry or is it OK if he only has veg for a while?

Lucy: It’s fantastic that your son enjoys his vegetables so much. Although fruit forms an important part of our diet, vegetables certainly rank higher in the nutritional stakes so please don't worry.

Cook with fruit where possible

If you are keen to encourage your son to try some fruit, take time to make it fun and interesting. See which fruits float or sink in the bath or have fun making juice by squeezing different fruits.

Also cook with fruit where possible. Perhaps use dried fruit in muffins or making smoothies with him, or freeze slices of banana to make an ice cold treat on a hot day. Try not to worry too much though as it's fantastic he's enjoying his vegetables.

Don't forget that if your son enjoys tomatoes or avocado that both of these are fruits, disguised as vegetables.

My 17-month-old daughter used to love eating meat and fruit and veg but recently hardly eats any and I'm struggling with what to feed her apart from things like pasta or pizza. We give her something afterwards such as yogurts or rice pudding. My husband has suggested withholding this unless she eats her dinner but I think she is too young to understand this.

Lucy: It sounds as though your daughter is going through a typical developmental milestone where children can become picky and reject foods they've previously eaten before which can be so frustrating. It usually falls in line with children becoming more mobile and walking, and can be an in-built mechanism to help prevent self-poisoning from wild berries or foods that are not safe. Perhaps you’ve heard of it being described as ‘food neophobia’? It usually peaks around 18 months and tends to last anything from three to 12 months.

Take time to explore food away from the stress of mealtimes and make it fun

However children are extremely good at self-regulating and will even themselves out eventually – it’s just tricky concept to comprehend when as a parent you might be stuck in a cycle of food being refused or the same things being eaten. 

Dessert after rejecting a meal is often asked about and it’s really an individual decision to make as a parent. Forcing a child to eat a meal with threats of no dessert is perhaps not the best approach, denying your child calories if they have not eaten anything is worrying, too. If the pudding is nutritious then I would offer a small portion.

Take time to explore food away from the stress of mealtimes and make it fun. Perhaps hide carrots or courgettes in the garden and help her find them, then sit and wash them together. Let her watch you grate and chop them and have fun using slices of courgette as sunglasses or sticks of carrots as toothbrushes.

If your daughter is enjoying carbohydrate rich finger foods then perhaps have a go at making some savoury veggies flapjacks, using oats butter and grated cheese and adding in some grated vegetables (courgettes, carrots and squash work well), bake in the oven and offer as an alternative to pizza and pasta.

I'd like to know tips on stopping the food habits of one child affecting the other. If my five-year-old son says ‘Yuck! I don't like courgette’, my two-year-old son copies this behaviour and pushes his own plate away – infuriating!

Lucy: I always suggest to reward good behaviour and enlist the help of the older child with this kind of problem. 

Away from the table, and during playtime, draw up an explorer chart. Take a very simple approach and draw a table with columns. At the top of each column draw an eye, the next an ear, the next a nose, the next lips, the next column a tongue, the next some teeth and the last one a mouse. If your drawing (like mine) leaves a lot to be desired, then print some pictures from the Internet.

The idea is to choose a food. Work through the chart, beginning with the eye, this picture asks you and your child to just look at the courgette and if she/he can look and talk about it place a tick in the column under the eye. Work through each of the senses, listening to the food, then smelling etc and offering a tick for each step taken, do not force your child to do more than she/he can manage. 

Make sure you choose a time when you are both relaxed and there is no time pressure to do anything else.

Involve your children in the preparation of meals and let them see the ingredients and explore them together

See if your child can gradually, over time work her/his way through the chart to placing the Courgette on their lips, tongue, brush teeth with it and eventually take a tiny mouse nibble (the teeniest of nibbles) this is a graded exposure approach and will take time and patience but provides a step by step approach to helping your children to explore something they are not sure about what can feel like a sensory mine field of food. At mealtimes perhaps encourage your children to respond with "it's not my favourite but I'll kiss it and leave it on the side of my plate" This way they've engaged with the food and been allowed to leave it on the side of thier plate and hopefully prevented any 'yukky' comments too.

Also for more ideas on exploring courgettes or other summer fruit and vegetables visit the Organix Explore with Goodies where I've been supporting the campaign with lots of way for children to find the fun in fruit and veg.

My four year old doesn't like trying anything new. The only fruit and veg he'll eat is tomatoes (in the form of a tomato sauce but will refuse to eat if I have hidden any other veg in it), Cow & Gate puréed fruit pouches and bananas. Any ideas please?

Lucy: It’s definitely worth involving your children in the preparation process of a new meal and let them see the ingredients and explore them together. Often children respond with that well coined phrase when they are nervous or worried about something they have not eaten before. So preparation is definitely the key.

Children do not like unexpected surprises on their plates

Children do not like unexpected surprises on their plates and if they discover anything that's been hidden, then refusal is very fast to take root and trust can be lost. The best approach I would recommend would be to take some time away from the mealtimes and explore some of the fruit or vegetables you'd like your son to sample.

Refrain from using words such as ‘eat’, ‘try’ or ‘taste’. And instead use the word ‘explore’. Lead by example and model for your son, encouraging him to hold, smell and maybe even kiss the foods, awarding stickers for each step taken.

Repeat this process over the course of a couple of weeks adding in lots of praise and high fives, and as time goes on see if you can show him how to brush his teeth with the vegetable or just make his teeth marks in the new food. This way he'll be experiencing the flavour and texture on a simple level and enjoying your praise and encouragement. This might seem like a slow process but it will take time to build his confidence and trust the new foods you are exploring together.

My baby boy is six months old and was born weighing 4.13kg so he's growing fast. Can you give me some advice on how much he should be eating?

At the start of weaning, babies very rarely have likes or dislikes for tastes and flavours.

Lucy: At six months, so long as your baby boy is drinking the recommended amount of milk, it's good to offer him as much variety as possible. At the start of weaning, babies very rarely have likes or dislikes for tastes and flavours. They may find the food texture or flavour a new or strange experience and pull a face or grimace but it will not be because they do not like something, it will be them adjusting to the new experience. If you ever watch a toddler suck a lemon, they will wince and shudder then often go back and have another go!

There is a window of opportunity between six and nine months where babies are most receptive to new flavours. During this time it’s best to help them sample as many foods as possible and not keep their food bland for too long as this can provoke shocked responses and rejection later on.

Squash, sweet potato and parsnips are all fairly easy to digest and gentle on the tummy. Babies have a natural preference for sweet following breast milk (and even formula is sweet too) and due to the natural sugars in these vegetables most babies take to them readily.

From six months I would suggest handing your baby a chip sized piece of the roasted vegetables. Your baby will be able to squash the food in his hand and it will naturally gravitate to his mouth for him to explore it. Soft pieces will come off in his mouth that he will be able to manage. Expect him to gag as this is a natural reflex to help him work out how to manage the new sensation. This way he can get used to lumps, bits and texture early on and be able to cope with the sensation and learn how to self-feed and chew. Remember never leave a baby unattended when feeding.

Squash, sweet potato and parsnips are all fairly easy to digest and gentle on the tummy

Keeping food smooth for too long makes the transition to lumps trickier, so also begin mashing food with a fork by seven months. If you find this approach too daunting then adding pureed peas or pureed cooked red lentils to the food will add a coarser texture that is a more gentle approach to lumps. If your boy seems hungry and is getting the correct amount of milk throughout the day, offering porridge at breakfast with fruit added, then potato or root vegetables at lunch and some vegetable finger foods with a milk based pudding should help.

Which topics would you like covered in our Wednesday Lunch Clubs? Let us know in the comments box below.


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