Raising good eaters

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Persistence. The key to combatting toddler fussy eating?

I’ve had lots of people say to me, “You’re lucky your kids are good eaters. It must be easy because you are a dietitian”. Thankfully, my kids do love to eat – now. And I genuinely feel more happy and relaxed at family meal times now with 4 kids at the table than ever before. But I will be honest – it’s still not “perfect” (is there even such a thing?), and it was a long road to get to where we are.

We haven’t exactly had things easy in the feeding department. All 4 of my kids have had food allergies – 2 still see the Allergist regularly. One had the most sensitive gag reflex as toddler, she would eat an entire meal, vomit then immediately ask to be fed again. And one had a horrible run with enormous tonsils and adenoids, having multiple infections, speech difficulties and feeding aversions before needing speech therapy and surgery. All of these are minor issues in comparison to the complexities faced by many other families – but they were enough to add stress to an already gorgeously chaotic family life.

So while I haven’t had the easiest run with feeders, I do feel incredibly blessed that our issues were small, that my training allowed me to see what was happening, and that I had the knowledge to know where to get help, and what to do at home.

But as I said, it was a long road to get here, particularly with Mr Tonsils. In all honesty, how we ended up here was not through luck, or my profession, but through sheer persistence.

There were so many times when I wanted to just give him pasta, again, while we ate something else. Times when I picked up food from all over the floor, screaming on the inside, but calmly outwardly saying “Food stays on the table”. Countless times when I lamented the huge waste of food as I throw the veggies in the bin, again. But it was the persistence with calmly offering without expectation, giving only brief and gentle encouragement, and most importantly, family role modelling that led to where we are today.

Recently, he, the fussiest of my four, finally bit into a cherry tomato (albeit in a effort to squirt his sisters with the insides – but thats how we encouraged him to put it in his mouth) and said “I tasted the juice!”. A few months ago he would’ve pouted “I don’t eat tomatoes, take it off my plate!!!”.

He also ate black charcoal noodles – “Mum, black is my favourite colour”- when they arrived unexpectedly in his beloved ramen noodle soup at a new restaurant. He randomly picked up the broccoli I was preparing for his sisters’ school lunch boxes and said “Mum, I eat this now, I’m strong”. He then proceeded to pop it in his mouth and walk away – the rest of us stunned into jaw dropping silence. He picked up chicken breast of the plate and ate it without a word, after months of not eating it. He drank a green smoothie and called it “hulk juice”, flexing his biceps as he drank.

So, you can safely say we had an amazing week at the dining table that week (cue champagne!), which reminded me that all that persistence with our feeding plan was worth it. We were winning.

I know I’m not alone in this sort of feeding experience. I’ve met so many parents over the years who have faced the same thing. The ongoing trials, but then finally the successes.

This year Julia and I will be putting together a package to help families with their in home feeding issues; so watch this space. We will share the training and experience we’ve had as Paediatric Dietitians, and the trial by fire we’ve had as parents. We’re aiming to provide families with scientifically sound, but genuinely practical advice. It works if you work it. We’ve got proof!

Find this, and more family eating, health and wellbeing stories in our Bloom quarterly nutrition newsletters. And to subscribe to future updates, click here

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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The toddler years can make you feel desperate. One minute they enjoy food, the next they’re rejecting everything you offer them, and the word “yuk” and “no” feel like they’re on repeat. 

It is often during this time, that I see parents using “distraction” techniques in an attempt to get their child to eat. By distraction I mean doing things like allowing them to watch their favourite TV show, propping an iPad up at the table, or allowing books and toys to be played with whilst they eat their meal. 

And do you know what? It can work for a while, but what are the consequences of doing this, and what are you really teaching them?

Did you know that all children are born with the ability to regulate their appetite and consequently their energy intake? Studies in healthy young babies have shown that if you increase the calorie strength of their infant formula, they will simply decrease the amount of formula they take. It makes sense really. To survive as a species, our bodies need to have some inbuilt ability to know how much energy we need. This is what our appetite is. What’s interesting, is that whilst we know babies can self regulate their appetite, studies have shown that by the pre-school years many children display “non hungry” eating behaviours. In other words they have learnt to eat in the absence of hunger and are not responding to their appetite. How does this happen?

Non hungry eating is a learnt behaviour that evolves from the environment around us. It occurs when we learn to associate eating with other things. It can come from very simple experiences. For example has your child ever hurt themselves and you’ve soothed away their pain by offering up an ice block or some other treat? Or perhaps you’ve had the opposite experience and rewarded your child with a treat because they excelled at something? These simple experiences repeated over time start to teach us to use food in a way that isn’t linked to our appetite.

Going back to using distraction techniques at the dinner table, what you are really teaching your child is to eat to an external cue, not to their appetite. Your child is learning to eat mindlessly and is far more focussed on the tv or iPad. But I can hear many of you crying “but it works, they stay at the table and they eat!”. Well yes it can. Providing something enjoyable at the dinner table (tv) will certainly be more likely to get them to stay there. But let’s be clear, they’re there to watch tv, not to enjoy the food or your company. If your long term goal is to have your children willingly coming to the table and participating in the family meal, this approach isn’t going to solve it.

Far and away the biggest concern with offering a distraction at the dinner table is the fact that it doesn’t allow the child to properly listen to their appetite. As I’ve already explained, young children can be very good at self regulating and will eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Allowing them to watch tv or do other activities whilst they are eating, erodes this ability, and over time contributes to non hungry eating. This is a risk factor for becoming overweight or obese. Teaching your child to listen to their appetite is probably one of the best things you can do early on to set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

So how do you get your child to come to the table, stay there and eat? This is the million dollar question isn’t it? First of all you need to think about the reasons that your child is not coming to the table or wanting dinner. For young children the reasons for this can often be that they are simply not hungry or they are just too tired. If your child is healthy and growing, you need to trust that they know how much they need to eat. Our expectations as parents often need checking as well. Most parents I have interviewed serve their child far too much food. Toddlers are strange creatures and can adopt all manner of eating patterns. One Mum recently told me that her 2yr old eats breakfast and then doesn’t eat again until dinner. Many toddlers are very good at going for several days eating very little to then have a few huge days of eating. These are all frustrating experiences for us as parents.  As always I recommend that you adopt a “division of responsibility” around feeding. That is you decide what, when and where your child is going to eat and then it’s over to them as to whether they are going to eat it at all, and how much of it they are going to eat.

You have no way of knowing how hungry or full your child is. Don’t ask them to have a prescribed number of bites or “clean their plates”. This is reinforcing not eating to their own natural appetite and over time can erode their ability to tune into it. 

So if your child only eats a teaspoon at dinner try not to obsess over it. I’m going to finish by quoting the guru of infant feeding, Ellyn Satter “Be happy with what you serve, not what they eat”. 

A word on feeding disorders in infants and children…

I’ve written above that all children are born with the ability to regulate their appetite, there are however, some exceptions to this.

Infants or children that experience medical problems early in life can often get off to a horrible start with feeding. These experiences can completely destroy their ability to regulate their appetite. 

For example I have worked with many premmie babies who have required nasograstric feeding from birth to survive. Being in a hospital environment, these babies are usually fed to a schedule with quantities and times dictated by dietitians and nursing staff. Whilst every effort is usually made by staff to try and adapt the feeding regime to how they see the baby responding, it is simply not the same as feeding the baby on demand and to their appetite. There may also be traumatic oral experiences such as orogastric or nasogastric tubes being inserted multiple times, oral medicines, ventilators etc etc, all of which can contribute to making a child what we call “orally averse”. That is, they don’t want anything (even things we think of as pleasant such as food), anywhere near their mouth.  Other children with severe sensory issues or Autism, can also find eating such a challenge that this overrides their instinct to tune into their appetite.

These children are HARD work to feed. Whether you are trying to wean your child off a feeding tube or avoid having one inserted, it has probably made you stressed and anxious, and willing to try anything to get your child to eat. In many instances, parents find they can get a little more in if they let their child watch tv. Unfortunately while this appears to work in the very short term, it’s not solving the underlying problem, which is allowing this chid to reconnect with their natural appetite. If you are struggling with a child with extreme eating behaviours, we would still recommend not using tv or other distraction techniques at the dinner table. This just puts another barrier in place which prevents your child from learning how to self regulate their appetite. 

If you are struggling with a child with a severe feeding disorder get in contact and we will try and point you in the right direction for help.

Julia @ Bloom


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Sugar. There’s been an explosion of interest over the past few years, but how many people actually know why we should be limiting it, and how much exactly should we be limiting our children to?

When I ask most parents why they believe we should avoid sugar I usually get answers such as “It’s bad for you” or “It causes Type 2 diabetes”, neither of which are really correct. With so much hype and hysteria over sugar, the real evidence and concern with it’s intake has been lost, such that people now think it’s mere consumption is going to do them harm.

Back in 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) released their Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children. You can read the full document here: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/149782/1/9789241549028_eng.pdf?ua=1

This guideline specifically looks at what we call “free sugars” in our diet. That’s sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides – e.g. glucose syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, rice malt syrup etc..) added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates” (WHO, 2015).

This guideline reviewed all the current evidence (at the time of publication) as to why we should be avoiding sugar and went on to make recommendations as to how much sugar adults and children should be limiting ourselves to. You may be surprised to learn that the evidence for avoiding (or rather limiting) sugar relates primarily to obesity and dental caries. Sugar is often cited as a cause or risk factor for developing a wide range of diseases ranging from Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However the fact of the matter is that that evidence simply doesn’t exist (yet). What we do know is that overweight and obesity are independent risk factors for chronic or non communicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. Going back to the WHO guideline, they found a MODERATE level of evidence that lower intakes of free sugars was associated with lower body weights in both adults and children. Please note that this does not mean that sugar causes you to become overweight or obese either. It simply means that people who consumed a diet higher in sugar, were more likely to have a higher body weight. The development of overweight and obesity is a complex issue and trying to narrow it’s cause down to one single nutrient is misguided, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The WHO guideline specifically recommends trying to reduce the intake of free sugars to 10% or less of your total daily energy intake (this is for both adults and children). There is a further recommendation to reduce it to 5% of total daily energy intake, however, the evidence for this recommendation was stated as WEAK, so for the purposes of this article, we will stick with 10%. I’ve represented this below as the number of teaspoons of sugar an “average” sized child with a light activity level, would need to limit their intake to each day.

So I wondered how I was fairing with my own children in relation to this guideline? I have always been well aware of which foods contain added sugars and done my best to limit their intake. I’m no sugar nazzi though, and my personal opinion is that if sugar is packaged up in a food that also contains many nutrients that are beneficial, then I’m fairly happy to include that food in our diet. We certainly limit our intake of foods that are high in sugar but offer little other nutritional benefit (think lollies, cakes, biscuits etc..). That said, we still enjoy a slice of home made cake, ice cream and chocolate in moderation. But day to day with my children’s typical diet, how was I really doing? Was I anywhere near the guideline, or had I totally blown it without even realising? I have to admit I was a bit nervous to take a closer look. Maybe I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was?

I present to you my 4 yr old’s intake on a typical kindy day. All of the free sugars he consumed are listed in bold.

Breakfast: Rolled oats and 1 tsp of honey with reduced fat milk and a glass of unsweetened orange juice


SUGAR: 4 teaspoons

Lunch box: coco cranberry bliss ball, apple + carrot muffin, wrap with roast chicken, carrots, cucumber, rockmelon, plain milk and an apple (to be shared at fruit time)


SUGAR: 2.5 teaspoons

After kindy snack: Strawberry smoothie (frozen strawberries, strawberry yoghurt, water), he also then asked for another coco cranberry bliss ball

SUGAR: less than 1.5 teaspoon

Dinner:

Spaghetti Bolognese, bread and olive oil spread and a fruit platter (he only ate the watermelon)

SUGAR: none

Total: just under 8 teaspoons

Well I have to say I was pretty relieved to see that I’d just made it under the 10% guideline, but I certainly hadn’t made it any lower! I’d also have to admit they we certainly do have “blow out” days from time to time where my child’s sugar intake would be much higher. For example earlier this week I treated the family to a homemade dessert of chocolate self saucing pudding which I served with 1 scoop of ice cream. A dessert like this would have around 3 teaspoons of sugar in it.
I have to say on the whole I feel pretty happy that I’ve got my child’s typical diet fairly much where I want it to be. Sure, I could improve a little by not offering orange juice at breakfast, but he enjoys this and the vitamin C also helps him absorb the iron from his oats (a serve of whole fruit would offer the same benefit).

Calculating your child’s sugar intake is tricky business. It was difficult for me and I’m a dietitian! That’s primarily because our food labels don’t currently require manufacturers to separately list added or free sugars independent of any naturally occurring sugars. So at home, rather than focus on how much sugar your child is currently consuming I’d focus on just minimising fee sugars where you can.

If you want to try and reduce your child’s sugar intake my top tips would be:

1. Watch your child’s intake of sweetened beverages, don’t offer soft drinks or cordials, keep juice to no more than 1/2 a cup per day (unsweetened at that), alternate offering sweetened milk drinks with plain milk or sweeten with fruit (smoothie style)

2. Reduce your intake of processed/packaged snacks – most store bought snacks have a surprising amount of sugar added. Better to make your own and experiment with reducing the sugar content of some of your go to recipes

3. Avoid sugary breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain “plain” varieties, rolled oats, weetbix and shredded wheat biscuits are go to’s in our house.

3. Keep occasional food as just that, occasional

4. Read labels on the food you buy. Ingredients have to be listed from most to least, if sugar is high up on the list you probably want to avoid it.

On that note, maple syrup, honey, rice malt syrup, glucose syrup, coconut sugar and rapadura sugar are all sugar. Yes some contain more glucose and others more fructose (or other mono or disaccharides), but they ALL need to be counted as sugar. You may have noticed a surge in popularity of so called natural or less refined sweeteners in the community. I see many recipes labeled as either “sugar free” or “refined sugar free” only to see they contain a LOT of honey or maple syrup. Whilst it’s true that many of these “natural” sweeteners do contain other nutrients (for example 100ml of maple syrup contains 89mg of calcium and 1.6 mg of iron amongst other things) whereas white refined sugar offers nothing beyond its carbohydrate content. The point I’d make, though, is that if we are actively working on trying to reduce our intake of sugars, I wouldn’t be focussing on these products for adding extra nutrients into my diet. They are also very expensive. Whilst I do personally use of these “natural” sweeteners, I do so more out of taste more so than for any nutritional benefits they confer. That said, it you can afford it, there’s no harm using honey or maple syrup as your sweetener of choice at home.

How do you think you’re fairing with your child’s sugar intake?

Julia @Bloom x


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We’re realists here at Bloom Nutrition Studio. Whilst we prioritise serving our kids real food that’s mostly made by us, lets be honest, there isn’t always enough hours in the day to do this. Over time I’ve built up a little list of go to packaged foods that I’m happy to serve my family and to help fill in the gaps when I simply don’t have the time or energy to cook.

To that end we thought we would help you on this journey to feed your family by providing you with some ideas for items that you can put in the lunchbox that perhaps you haven’t thought of before, or new products we’ve found that have hit the supermarket shelf.
We hope you find this useful!

Buy it:

Nudie have just released a variety of smoothie type drinks in convenient “fruit boxes” that can go straight into the lunchbox. They can be stored at room temperature so you don’t have to worry about them going off in the lunchbox if stored in the sun. What I like about them is that the sugar content is low. The variety shown above contains 6.8g of sugar per 100ml, which is less than most flavoured milks (usually around 10g/100m). They are sweetened with real fruit, maple syrup and dairy products (depending on the flavour you buy). The one shown is dairy free.Whilst they don’t contain any added preservatives, artificial colours or flavours they do include a “natural flavour”. Whilst there is nothing particularly wrong with using a natural flavour, I can always taste it, and personally I prefer my kids to experience the natural flavours of food. I suspect it’s added as the pasteurisation type process a product like this would go through, probably affects the natural taste. All in all, it’s something I’d be happy to include in my child’s lunchbox when I don’t have time to make a smoothie myself.

Have you tried Bulla plain or flavoured cottage cheese? It’s been around for years and is a great snack for kids and busy Mums alike. It’s a brilliant source of protein and calcium and unlike other varieties of cheese is low calorie too. I like it on wholegrain crackers.

Make it:

Have you tried sending your kids to school with a smoothie? If you have a high speed blender it will take you only a few minutes to do and it can be a great way of getting some extra fruit and veggies into the lunchbox. You will need an insulated drinking container to ensure it stays sufficiently cool.
My kids are using these ones from kmart. They don’t leak, keep the drinks very cold for the entire school day and at $7 what’s there to complain about??
http://www.kmart.com.au/product/double-wall-insulated-500ml-bottle-blue/1754374

Strawberry Smoothie:

1 cup of frozen strawberries
1/2 cup of strawberry yoghurt
water up to 700ml
ice if desired.

Blend and serve.

Stuck in a rut? try this…..

Breakfast wrap

1 slice of wholemeal mountain bread
Honey
Toasted muesli (nut free for school)
Apple cut into match sticks

Spread the wrap with a thin layer of honey. Sprinkle with muesli and apple pieces. Roll and cut into small bites size pieces or leave as a larger roll for older children.

Until next time…

Bloom x

This post is not sponsored


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Summer brings what many believe to be the best fruit and vegetables to Australian family tables. Here at Bloom, we agree!

Think fresh tropical and stone fruits livening up meals, and little hand holding huge chunks of watermelon at snack times… Firm favourites for adults and children alike!

Check out this guide to what great fruits and vegetables are in season now and popping up here in South Australia, and think how you could make these shine at your family table to hit your 2 & 5 targets.

Fruit:

Apricots
Bananas
Blackberries
Blueberries
Carambola/starfruit
Cherries
Grapes
Honeydew melons
Lemons
Lychees
Mangoes
Nectarines
Peaches
Passionfruit
Pineapples
Rockmelon/cantaloupe
Rambutan
Raspberries
Red papaya
Strawberries
Valencia oranges
Watermelon
Yellow papaw

Vegetables:

Asparagus
Capsicum
Celery
Cucumber
Eggplants
Green beans
Hass avocados
Lettuce
Peas
Radish
Snow peas
Spring onions/green shallots
Sugar snap peas
Sweet corn
Zucchini

(I downloaded this list long ago to help guide my own family’s seasonal fruit and vegetable shopping, and I’ve long since lost the source! But I hope it helps steer your family into eating more fresh seasonal fruit and veggies, just like it did mine!)

Enjoy some of your family favourites, and try out something new this week,

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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At the beginning of a new term parents are often primed with nutrition goals, and the energy to fulfil them. But sometimes, particularly as a school term progresses, it can feel like you are a B track stuck on repeat – making the same lunch box, over and over again.

Pretty soon either you or your children tire of this lunch rut, or you may start to realise that through this lack of variety, your child is missing the mark on Australian Dietary Guideline # 2 – exposure to and enjoyment of wide variety of foods.

When you want to make changes, it can seem a world away to reach some of the insta-perfect lunches online – especially if you have a fussy eater in the family, or don’t have huge amounts of time on your hands for cartoon style lunch box prep. But here are some tips that get you moving in the right direction for both variety and nutrition, but don’t require hours of painstaking preparation.

 

Think outside the (lunch)box

It doesn’t have to come in a packet to be a recess snack… Look at the types of foods your children will choose for themselves when they open the refrigerator, and aim to add these fresh foods to the lunch box. If you or your kids do really like packets (for portability, freshness or keeping foods separated), buy some reusable or biodegradable ziplock bags and put real food in. My lunch boxes will often have throw in fridge staples of berries, mini cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cheese sticks or yogurt portions.

If you are choosing pre packaged snacks, try to stick to those that contain core foods (like fruit, veg, dairy, whole grains), and fit the healthy canteen guidelines of <600kg (~140 Cal) and 3g or less of saturated fat per serve. This doesn’t mean a food is automatically the most healthy choice, but it does mean the food will contain more nutrients if it contains some core foods, and the portion size of these foods is more acceptable. Ideally try to get foods with the highest fibre content too, if it’s listed on the label, aim for 2g or more per serve. Here are some of my favourite lunch box packaged snacks to throw in at the last minute.

It doesn’t have to be sandwiches… Use breakfast items or dinner leftovers for lunches. Think omelette rolls, half an avocado squeezed with lemon, cereal and berries to dump into a yogurt pot, leftover cold meat, eggs, quiche, salad, roast veggies or left over pasta, soup, curry, etc served in a thermos. Jump on pinterest and search non sandwich lunches – theres a whole host of ideas.

 

Get the kids on board

Ask each child to write a list of everything they are happy to have in their lunch box, food group by food group (use the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating -AGHE- picture as a prompt), and from breakfast items or your regular dinner rotations. Help them be as specific as they can, so you know how many different options are on offer. For example from the Dairy group the list might include – Fresh milk in a bottle, UHT milk box, Flavoured milk box, cheese slice, grated cheese, cheese stick, string cheese, bocconcini balls, cow cheese triangles, babble cheese, natural yogurt, flavoured yogurt, custard pots, chia puddings….. list everything they like to eat from each group to maximise your options! Stick this list up on the fridge for easy reference, and to allow the addition of new items as you progress.

Get kids involved with the preparation. I know we’ve said it before, but it really does help! On the weekend, see if you can make a healthy baked item with your kids – muffins, biscuits, scrolls, brownies, quiches etc, to freeze for the week ahead. Getting kids involved increases their ownership of that healthy food, and the likelihood that they will eat and enjoy it. Try to make a different recipe each weekend to find new family favourites. Try recipes that don’t have too much added sugar, and include ingredients like wholemeal flour, oats, fruits, veggies, eggs, yogurt, olive oil or ground seeds for nutrient boosts.

If kids are making their own lunches, ask them to pick something out of each category of the AGHE plate for their lunchbox – so 1 fruit, 1 veg, 1 carb option (worth a couple of serves), 1 protein, 1 dairy. Spy any gaps – in food groups, or the amount of food they need, and either they or you can throw in an extra choice if needed.

 

Food chaining

This is a term which describes the technique of applying very small changes to the types of foods a child will eat, to increase the acceptability of new foods and improve variety. It’s a system that works well with extremely picky eaters, or highly sensitive or selective children, like kids with ASD, or kids with a past history of medical conditions that affected their feeding, like food allergies or reflux. You can read more about it here.

With some children you may need to make what feel like sideways steps with nutrition, to make gains in variety. By this I mean choosing foods that aren’t necessarily more healthy, to increase the variety of food eaten. While at first their nutrition might not seem to be much improved, if the approach is consistent and progressive, it will eventually lead to eating more of all types of foods, including healthy foods.

So for these kids’ lunch boxes, think swapping foods for “close cousins”. Plain water crackers for water crackers with sesame seeds, or plain rice crackers, then onto puffed rice crackers or puffed vegetable crisps with sesame seeds, then something slightly different again. These are small steps, but they slowly introduce children to a wider variety of food. (If making even these very small steps is too difficult or distressing for your child, or you feel like this approach is something that you could benefit from some guidance with, see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Speech Pathologist in your area who is trained in the SOS Approach to Feeding).

Finally – if your kids are naturally less adventurous with food – it’s ok to take small, but consistent, steps to improve things. Over time, these small changes will make way to bigger changes in dietary patterns. With consistency, encouragement and a greater involvement with foods (see our post on “From fussy to fabulous – Helping your child enjoy new family meals”) children can successfully broaden their variety and improve their nutrition, to be healthy, feel great, and grow well.

Now that’s winning.

x Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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I was recently asked a few canteen questions by a journalist – “How often is it ok for parents to organise a canteen lunch without feeling guilty? How do you navigate the school canteen menu to work out the healthy choices, and how can parents deal with pressure from kids to order unhealthy choices?”. So here’s a little bit of background for you on how to make the best choices when it comes to your school canteen.

Before we begin, it needs to be said – we need to remove “guilt” from all the vocabulary that surrounds eating and feeding our families! Parenting is a tough gig, and Bloom is not in the business of putting added, unnecessary pressure on our family feeding relationships. From our inception we have always wanted to place “being real over being ideal”. So with that in mind, here a few tips to navigate the schools canteen minefield!

How often it’s best to order from your canteen depends on the choices available to you, and the choices you make. Ordering meals and snacks that reflect good eating choices mean you can confidently use the canteen to meet your little one’s food needs more regularly, if thats what you’re keen to do.

Most Australian schools follow, or aim to follow state canteen guidelines. These generally use a traffic light system to indicate healthier and unhealthy choices ( NSW has recently released a different balance system using health star ratings).

The red, amber and green categories in the traffic light system give you a good guide, and many canteens display their menus this way. Red foods should not be available on the regular school menu, outside of a few discreet occasions. Amber and Green foods should be the choices available to families, where amber is to “choose carefully” and green is “go”! There are different cut offs state by state, but they are relatively similar, and no matter where you live, the more green choices you make the more nutritious your family’s canteen food choices will be.

So at the canteen, as with healthy eating at home, the more you base your meal and snack choices around fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains the more nutritious the food will be.

Menus obviously differ between schools, but try and centre canteen choices around options that feature whole foods as the core ingredients – vegetables, fruits, lean protein, dairy, and whole grain cereals.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) food plate gives a rough visual indication of what proportions to base kids canteen meals (or lunch boxes) on – try and make at least 1/3 -1/2 meal veg and fruit, then split the rest 1/2 wholegrain cereals, 1/2 combined lean protein/dairy. Check it out here.

If your canteen sells meals like: vegetable based stir-frys, jacket potatoes with vegetables and lean meat toppings, meat and salad sandwiches, wraps or wholegrain rolls, and sushi rolls these are some really good options. For snacks, items like: fresh fruit salads, fruit snack packs, smoothies, yogurts, or veggies with dips and crackers are great choices you can regularly make with confidence.

To avoid conflicts, uneaten lunches and to improve kids understanding about the importance of the foods they eat, children should definitely be involved in the choice of their foods from the canteen. Parents can provide a selection of 3 or 4 options they are happy for their children to choose from, and let kids choose their preference from there. Eg “Today would you like sushi, stir-fry, fried rice or a chicken and salad roll?”.

This method fits really well with Ellyn Satter’s  Division of Responsibility in feeding, “the parent provides, child decides” – this still applies even if you are not preparing the food yourself.

And as far as how can parents deal with the pressure from a child to order unhealthy items?

If you’re using the canteen regularly, you need to approach it the same way you would filling a healthy lunch box, and make nutritious choices.

Talk openly about it with your child, and set an agreement in place. School kids can understand that food is fuel for all the great things they want to do, and you need to fuel your body well.

Less healthy options should only be chosen occasionally, for example limit those items to say a “free choice day” once per term. (Even the reduced fat pastry items like pies and sausage rolls are best avoided more often than this. Even if they can just make it into the amber category, as they don’t provide any of the great nutritional benefits of vegetables, fruit, dairy and wholegrains.)

However, with good planning and food choices, parents definitely can pack quick, nutritious lunches from home at a much lower price. Want more info on how to pack a nutritious balanced lunchbox? One that’s healthy, but importantly quick and easy? Stay tuned for our next blog post…

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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Women’s magazines, television advertisements, or Instagram.

There has always been a source of that picture perfect family image, sitting around a table, laughing, sharing wholesome food at a gorgeously set table. Everyone is eating, drinking, smiling.
No-one is crying, refusing their dinner, and there is not more food down on the floor than there is up on the table.

It can be difficult to swing the dinner pendulum from one end of the spectrum to the other (unrealistic) one. But there are some simple tips you can apply to dinner prep and meal time to make things run a little smoother, so that everyone eats, drinks and smiles… for at least some of the meal 😉

So what can I do?!

Prepare as much of the meal ahead of time as possible. It will decrease your workload around meal time, and help set a more relaxed tone in the eating environment. If possible chop, par-cook, or fully cook parts of the meal that can be prepared ahead, without tired, hungry little people clutching at your legs. If you are at home, this might be at lunchtime while little ones nap, or the night before or early morning if you are heading out to work.

While you finish cooking or assembling the meal, ask children to help out, with different tasks depending on their ages. Washing hands themselves, setting plates, cups and cutlery are small things, but if they can do these independently they are occupied, and have contributed to making things work, while you’re free to put the finishing touches on a meal.

Offer meals platter or buffet style, serving components separately where you can to allow kids to choose which parts of the meal they would like. For example, serving a new slow cooker curry on top of rice directly on a child’s plate may mean they refuse the entire meal. But having the curry, rice, naan and a child friendly selection of vegetables separately at the table may mean your child tries more. Even if they don’t choose a food first time around, having it remain available to them, and seeing others eat and enjoy it, increases their exposure to the food.

Allow family members to season a meal to their tastes. Many people leave out large amounts of hot spices from family meals, like pepper and chilli, but allow them to be added at the table. But try offering other seasonings too – like lemon wedges, parmesan, dukkah, fresh herbs, pesto, tomato relish, smoked paprika… the list goes on! You may be surprised what your children enjoy. ( It may not be the best example, but throw back to the days of adding tomato sauce to a meal that wasn’t quite your favourite as a child… get my drift?!)

Consider having one or two “non-threatening” foods available when trying a new meal with tastes or textures that may be challenging for some members of the family. If serving a new meal, offer an item like bread, grated cheese, or salad vegetables that your child can eat comfortably, and still participate in the family meal time.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t feel the entire success of a meal, and whether or not your child eats it, is your responsibility alone. ‘The parent provides, but the child decides’ is the central message from Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Once you’ve done your job as parent, providing a wholesome meal in a relaxed environment, the rest is up to your child. Try to sit back and enjoy meal time for what it is – a family sharing together. Following this mantra can result in children progressively eating more of the family meal, enjoying a larger variety of foods, and a greater feeling of contentment at the family dinner table for everyone involved.

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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“Mama, what’s for dinner?”

For those of us who’ve ever had a fussy eater, this question can make you break into a sweat. You’ve spent all this time, and money, making a new recipe. A wholesome family meal, which looked fabulous on screen, sporting 5 shining starts and rave reviews from other people telling you how much their family liked it. But what about your family?

If you’ve every had this situation, and found it an epic fail, don’t despair. Take a few steps back and look at where the opportunities lie to improve your success rate; it could be about timing…

 

Being exposed to new foods at the dinner table can be too confronting for children who have difficulty with food variety.

The eating environment at dinner can be a little overwhelming for some young children; it may be loud or rushed, or they may sense their parents stress or expectations about the meal ahead. On top of all of this, young children can be very tired come this time of day.

To improve your strike rate with eating new meals, allow kids to be introduced to new foods well ahead of time, with no expectation that they have to eat it. This can be as hands on as you and your child are happy for!

Print out the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating . Point out different ingredients and talk with your child about which they have tried, those they like, or dislike, and why. See if you can pick any similarities between foods they either like or dislike. Ask what can be done to different foods to make them taste better to to them.

Give your child a grocery catalogue or a food recipe magazine and a pencil or Texta. Sit together and ask them to circle foods or recipes that they’d like you to try (you can get ahead of the game and tear out the confectionary and soft drink pages, or anything else you’re keen to avoid!). Older children may like to cut out pictures and stick them on to a shopping list.
Take your child to the fruit and veg shop. Ask them to collect the food that you need and place it in the trolley or basket. You don’t need to ask if they will eat it, the aim is to have them exposed to the food, learning its name, and touching it as it goes into the basket.

While you unpack groceries into the fridge and pantry, talk to children about the great things that eating good food does for their bodies. “This meat will help to make you strong”, “This brown rice will give you energy to run fast”, “This salmon will help to make your hair shiny”… whatever works for your child’s age and interests!

Kids can participate in meal preparation. Young children may have their high chair placed in a safe place within the kitchen so they can view food preparation, and be given small pieces of food and utensils to “help” and play. Older children can participate in preparing parts of the family meal, to have a sense of ownership over the food.

Food doesn’t have to come from a shop! A simple but effective way to have children become familiar with new foods is to grow them yourself. Kids love colour, so if you have the space, try to grow a range of different coloured fruits, vegetables and herbs in pots or your backyard. If ‘greens’ are a problem in your home, try milder or sweeter varieties to get the ball rolling, such as snow peas, cucumbers or even avocados.

And remember, there are lots of times in the day to try a new food or meal. If your child is happier and more willing earlier in the day, consider making brunch or lunch a key time to try new foods. Set up a picnic on a rug, or play restaurant at your child’s play table if you want to help them have some fun with new foods.

So, what to do when dinner time comes around? Check out out post on “Happy Meal? How to make dinner time more successful and enjoyable when feeding your young family”

Over the years we have helped lots of families improve their child’s eating. Feeding, just like family life, is about finding what works for you. For more great information, our e-book (coming soon) shares genuine advice and practical tips that have been a success for many families, including our own!

Do you have any good food familiarisation tips for young eaters? Drop us a line…

Angela @ Bloom 🌿

Note: some children have more serious, medical issues that will also impact upon their feeding. In the SOS approach to feeding these are known as ‘red flags’. You can read more about them here . If your child is showing signs like these, or anything else medically concerning, speak to your family doctor as soon as possible.