Monday, 24 October 2011

Helpful hints for getting children to eat more vegetables!

I served up a Cauliflower Cheese for my three little cherubs yesterday which was demolished without protest much to my surprise.  It might possibly be because we ate lunch at 2pm and they were absolutely starving or ( I like to think!) it just tasted so delicious that there was nothing to moan about.   

It can be harder to get children to eat vegetables.  Some vegetables taste slightly bitter while others have a stronger taste and look less visually appealing than fruits. Research indicates that while both fruits and vegetables are important for health with their cocktail of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, vegetables have the slight edge due to being (in general) lower in sugar (fructose) and lower in calories.  Adults should ideally be aiming for a ratio of 1-2 portions of fruit to 3-4 servings of vegetables, though it can be harder to have your children eating along these lines.

So what can you do if you are struggling to get vegetables into your children?

I have to say that I am not a fan of using force or coercion to get children to eat vegetables, though I’m not above a bit of bribery when necessary!  I do not like the use of ‘Food and Vegetable’ charts much either as I like to think that eating vegetables should come as naturally to a child as eating meat, rice potatoes etc and trying to ‘push’ vegetables on your child can often lead to them digging their heels in and refusing to eat it.  Remember that we should be trying to set our children up with healthy eating habits for life and that forcing them to eat vegetables in their childhood could backfire horribly when they are adolescents and young adults and can make their own food choices.

Strategies that can help include:
  • Involving your child in (growing), selecting and choosing the vegetables - fruit and vegetable market stalls are good places to take them and let them select the vegetables they want
  • Giving children a choice of vegetables where possible (eg do you want peas or beans for super?)
  • For older children, sitting them down and explaining that they need to eat vegetables because it helps make them strong/better at sport/helps them not to get sick
  • Leading by example - making sure your children see you tucking into lots of vegetables
  • Disguising vegetables - throwing extra vegetables in Bolognese sauce, tomato sauces,  soups and purees and then blending it well
  • Juicing sessions - my son loves carrot, cucumber and apple juice
  • Keeping calm and not making a big fuss when vegetables are rejected ( not always easy I know, but simply ask them which vegetable they would like to have next time)
  • Keep trying to introduce small amounts of new vegetables and ask them their opinion - I was amazed and ever so slightly smug when my three decided they liked artichokes 

If none of these strategies work, you can simply allow your child to fill up on fruit instead, though you can gently persist in offering vegetables at mealtimes.  You never know, one day they might surprise you!

Recipe for Charlotte’s Cauliflower Cheese.

So very versatile (and seasonal and cheap!).  Great served with roasted meat.  Can be served as a main dish, in which case I like to add 3 chopped, hard boiled eggs.  Can also be made with blue cheese for a more sophisticated adult dish.
I like to add wine to the white sauce which I think gives it a hint of ‘fondue, skiing and blue skies’ (and gives me an excuse to open a bottle!)  but leave out the wine if you’d prefer.  
Can also be baked on a bed of spinach.

Cut one medium cauliflower into florets and steam until just cooked (don’t over steam as it will cook a bit in the oven).
Make a cheese sauce - Melt 25g butter, stir in 2 tablespoons of flour and a good pinch of mustard powder) - let it cook for a couple of minutes then slowly add 250-300mls of milk, stirring after each addition.  Let sauce then cook gently for 5 minutes.  Add a good slug of white wine, cook for a further 2 minutes and then take off heat and add 75g of a strong flavoured grated cheese (cheddar or conte).  Season.
Cook 100g of chopped bacon until just crispy (leave this out if veggie!)
Put cauliflower in baking dish, throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes, scatter over bacon, pour over cheese sauce, top with a further sprinkling of grated cheese.  Bake at 180 degrees for 20 minutes until bubbling and browned on top.  Enjoy with rest of the wine!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How do you get your children to eat more vegetables? The vegetable Mummy Quiz

I just made a quick minestrone soup for supper tonight.  One child ate it and asked for more while the other child played with it and said it looked like’vomit’ (my third child who is currently on a school trip would have gagged if I’d tried to serve it to her!).  Why oh why is it so difficult to get children to eat their vegetables??  Are some of the problems caused by us forcing them on our children?
With this in mind I’ve come up with a little quiz to determine which type of vegetable mother (or father) you might be.......
  1. You spend hours lovingly slaving over a lasagne for your family.  You proudly serve it to your family only to have the children dissect it, carefully picking out lumps of onion, carrots and celery.  Do you:
  • A) Lose your temper, have a good scream at everyone (including your partner ) and storm out the kitchen

  • B) Tell the children that they can have a box of smarties each if they eat the vegetables

  • C) This situation would never happen as you would know to ‘blend’ the bolognese sauce to hide the vegetables
2. There is mutiny at the kitchen table.  Your child(ren) are refusing to eat their peas and you are refusing to let them get down from the table until the peas are finished.  Do you:
  • A) Let 30 minutes go past, then give up, let them get down from the table and then pour yourself a glass of wine to steady your nerves
  • B) Tell them you will pay them 20 centimes for each pea eaten
  • C) Sit down with your child(ren) and explain gently that Superman/Princesses etc all eat their peas to grow strong/have long hair/white teeth etc and that this is why they need to eat their vegetables.

    3) Before arriving at a friend’s house for lunch you give your children the usual lecture on pleases, thank yous and how they must never be rude by telling the host they do not like a certain food.  Your friend serves a casserole with a big bowl of spinach and your children start to complain loudly that they do not like the food.  Do you:
  • A) Give your children a hard ‘justwaittillIgetyouhome’ glare and apologise profusely to your friend
  • B) Whisper in your children’s ears that you will take them to Toys R Us if they eat up
  • C) This would never happen as your children know how to behave
Mostly A’s: Normal vegetable Mummy (or Daddy)
Mostly B’s: Clever but broke vegetable Mummy
Mostly C’s: Smug vegetable Mummy

I will post more ideas on getting children to eat their vegetables next week.  In the meantime here is a recipe for cheat’s minestrone soup, which contains 3 of the 5 a day.  So if you can get your children to eat this without muttering that it looks like vomit you are onto a winner!

Italian - style soup
Fry:  1 chopped onion, 2 chopped celery sticks and 1 chopped carrot for 10 mins in olive oil.  Add 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, 500 ml of veg soup, 2 bay leaves, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1 tsp dried mixed herbs.  Bring to boil and simmer for 20 mins.  Add 1 400g tin of drained mixed beans and cook for 5 more minutes.  Season.  Add fresh basil, parsley and chives.  Serve with a fresh pesto and grated parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Why do we need to eat 5 a day?!

I have just finished reading Marion’s Nestle’s ‘Food Politics’ where she highlights the difficulty in balancing public nutrition and health information against the food industry’s influence.  If like me, you have always wondered where the ‘5 a day’ message came from, you might be interested to know  that it came about from a positive collaboration between the American Cancer Institute and the industry founded ‘Produce for Better Health’ foundation in the late 1980s, based on research showing that a higher fruit and vegetable consumption was linked to overall better health and a lower cancer risk.  It was an ideal ‘win- win’ with the ideal of improving public health while helping the industry sell more food.  Did it work?  Yes, initially though problems with funding and grants later on resulted in less promotion and fewer people following the 5 a day guidelines.

As of the now, the 5 a day message is used in the US, UK, Germany, France, New Zealand and Australia.

It’s interesting that the fruit and vegetable message is based on research in the 1990s which found a strong association between increased fruit and vegetable consumption and reduced cancer risk.  This led to the World Health Organisation recommending that people tried to eat at least 5 portions (5 portions of 80g being 400g as a daily minimum) of fruit and vegetables daily to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases.  However, a recent study by Boffetta et al in 2010, found that there was only a very small link between fruit and vegetable consumption and decreased cancer risk  - 2.6% for men and 2.3% for women.  So does this mean we can go back to eating meat and potatoes and throw our children’s 5-a-day charts in the bin?!

I say no!  There are still so many reasons to eat fruit and vegetables - such as: a high vitamin and mineral content to help support the immune and other systems, a source of fibre to maintain a healthy gut, great taste, fantastic colours and low in calories.  Even if the link is shown to be weaker for cancer, there’s still evidence to show that a healthy balanced diet which includes fruit and vegetables is best for optimal health.   


Nestle M (2007)  Food Politics.  How the food industry influences nutrition and health UC Press
Boffetta et al (2010) Fruit and Vegetable intake and Overall cancer risk in the 
european Prospective investigation into cancer and Nutrition 
(ePic)  Journal of the National Cancer Institute 102 8 1-9

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Can gouter be healthy

After six years in France, I still struggle with the gouter concept.  The ‘gouter’ for those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about is the English equivalent of ‘tea and biscuits’.  As most families in France tend to eat their evening meal around 8pm, the gouter is a much needed snack to help bridge the gap between lunch and supper and consists usually of a handful of biscuits and fruit wolfed down outside the school gates.   Adverts on television and on boxes of biscuits promote the gouter as being a balanced snack – i.e. 2 biscuits with a piece of fruit or fruit juice, and yoghurt.  My problems with this are a) a daily diet of refined and processed sugary biscuits is not particularly healthy b) my children seem to find it impossible just to nibble on a couple of biscuits (a bit like their mother!), by the time we have walked back to the car, the packet is empty and the children are fighting loudly over who gets to eat the crumbs!
I should underline here I do think that there does need to be a balance.  As parents we need to teach our children to be independent eaters capable of moderating their own food intake. There’s a lot of research out there which shows that children whose diets are ‘over policed’ by their parents, often end up as out of control eaters as they grow older.  Our children can and should be able to enjoy the occasional sweet treat, it’s just better if possible that the cake or biscuit is made from natural and unrefined ingredients! 
So, what are some of the healthier, but equally-appealing- to- your- children options for gouter!?
·       Sandwiches – peanut butter and banana being a particular favourite of my three
·       Fruit in any form
·       Seeds, nuts and dried fruit
·       Rice or oatcakes with cheese
·       Hard boiled eggs (I kid you not, especially if you write colourful messages on the shell for your children to read!)
·       Flapjacks – (my favourite recipe below)

Charlotte’s Fab Flapjacks:
Heat oven to 180 deg, grease a shallow baking tin
Melt 180g butter, 120g brown sugar, 2 tbls golden syrup and 2 tbls of honey together in a saucepan.  When melted take off heat and add 240g oats and 150g mix of seeds/nuts and dried fruit.  Spoon into tin and bake in oven for 20-25 mins.  Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then cut into squares. 
Enjoy a flapjack, in peace and quiet over a cup of tea before picking up the children from school!

Nutella and Healthy Breakfasts!

I’ve once again heard the Nutella advert on the radio and I am wondering exactly just who are the nutritionists who endorse ‘deux tartines de Nutella, un jus de fruit et un yogurt’ as a healthy breakfast!  While yes, it is vaguely balanced, containing carbohydrates, fruit and a milk product, that’s about the only positive thing you can say about it.  Aside from the ecological issues around production of palm oil, Nutella is composed or over 50% sugar (and if you want a chuckle have a look at the Nutella website  However Nutella is not the only culprit, a standard cereal targeted for children (and this includes the organic ones) usually contains at least 30% sugar.  I am currently looking gloomily at a packet of Cheerios which I was ‘forced’ to buy in Carrefour by my son!  It’s made by Nestle and has a big green tick to show that it is made up of ‘wholegrains’ but it should also have a big red cross to indicate that 35.4g of sugar per 100g of cereal is much too high!  In fact, any product containing over 10% of sugar (and this includes flavoured yoghurts, petit Suisse etc) should have a fat red cross plastered all over it as far as I’m concerned.
All the research shows the importance of children eating breakfast in the mornings.  It helps give them energy to get through the school morning and improves their concentration.  For their health and wellbeing though, it is better if the breakfasts are made up of nutrient rich foods, such as wholegrains, fruits and dairy. To put it simply, food is broken down by the body to provide ‘fuel’ in the form of a sugar called glucose.  The reason that refined carbohydrates (which includes white bread, sugary cereals and sugary juices) are best avoided is that these are broken down too quickly by the body. This causes a massive surge of sugar into the bloodstream which is then followed by a crash in blood sugar levels as the body tries to normalise sugar levels. Our children need food which will be broken down slowly to release a constant energy stream. The problem with sending children off to school after a bowl of sugary cereal or 2 pieces of white toast with jam, is that these foods do not contain enough ‘slow release’ energy to keep your child going until lunchtime. Ever noticed your child becoming fidgety and irritable 2 hours after eating a sugary meal? Low blood sugar levels could be the cause.
So, what is a healthy breakfast?  Ideally, a wholegrain cereal, a protein food and a piece of fruit.  The wholegrains and the protein provide a slow and sustained release of ‘fuel’ for your child and it is always preferable for your child to eat a piece of fruit rather than drink it, as the fruit contains fibre and other nutrients which might be missing from the juice.
Ideas for a healthy breakfast include:
·         Boiled egg and wholemeal toast
·         Porridge
·         Unsweetened muesli
·         Unsweetened yogurt with chopped fruit
·         Peanut butter and mashed banana on toast
·         Muffins (see my recipe below!)
As always, I advocate balance, and in order to ensure that your children don’t protest too much, you could limit packaged cereals to holiday times and nutella as a birthday treat!
 Reference:   Rampersaud GC Pereira MA Girard BL Adams J Metzl JD (2005) Breakfast Habits, Nutritional Status, Body Weight, and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents Journal of the American Dietetic Association 105 743-760
Funky and Fit Banana Muffins
Heat oven to 200 degrees .  Grease 12 hole muffin tin.
Put the following dry ingredients in a bowl:
200g wholemeal flour, 100g oats, 55g brown sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp bi carb of soda and 1tsp cinnamon
Make a well in the middle and then add 2 beaten eggs, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 50ml sunflower oil, 50ml milk and 2 tbs agave syrup.  Mix but do not over mix as this will make the muffins tough.  Fill muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. 

'Fat Food' taxes and nutrition

I have just been getting up to speed on the French and Danish governments new food taxes, and while you would think that as a nutritionist I would be saluting these moves, instead I am sighing loudly and muttering angrily to myself.  So, what’s going on?  The Danish government plan from October to start levying a tax on food high in saturated fats such as meats, cheese, butter edible plant oils, margarine and potato based snacks.  The French government plan to tax fizzy drinks (exempting zero calorie drinks) by increasing the price by 2-3 centimes per litre as well as rationing tomato ketchup (mon dieu!), mayonnaise and salt in school canteen. While I am 100% in favour of improving the nutritional quality of foods served in the school canteen, I do not believe that ‘Fat Food’ taxes necessarily help in improving the nutrition of the general public for a number of reasons:
1)     Good nutrition has to involve education, motivation and inspiration.  Like many others I was drawn to nutrition following a number of niggling health issues which were really helped by making dietary changes.  I feel encouraged to eat healthily because I know that I feel so much better when I follow a healthy diet.  A successful health initiative would have to work by making people ‘want’ to make healthier food choices. Slapping a few extra centimes on fizzy drinks, without supporting this initiative with thorough and detailed public health nutrition programmes is pointless.  The risk is two fold – families with budgetary constraints may continue to buy fizzy drinks at the expense of fresh vegetables for example while putting a premium or ‘devilising’ a particular food group, often makes it that much more attractive (alcohol and cigarettes springs to mind!). No one (including myself!) likes to do told what to do, and I think it is similar for foods, most people know what they should and should not eat, the issue is getting them to change their behaviour and make the right choices.   This is better achieved through education, support and encouragement rather than raising food prices.
2)     Who decides what is a healthy food, given that the information changes all the time?! Current research (which I whole heartedly agree with) links obesity more to the consumption of processed and highly refined, sugary foods, rather than saturated fats.  We need a small amount of saturated fats in our diet for body functions such as neuro-transmitter function and hormone regulation. We have absolutely no need of sugary and refined grains, so why isn’t the Danish government taxing these foods instead?  It’s also interesting that zero calorie drinks are not being taxed.  I have an intense dislike of any chemical artificial sweetners which in my personal opinion should not play any role in a healthy diet.
3)     The cynic in me wonders if the extra taxes levied really will be used to support farm workers in France as the French government has stated or whether it will disappear into government coffers.  The second cynic in me wonders if these two governments really will be able to drive through with these initiatives, or whether hard lobbying by vocal food groups will prevent these measures from being implemented. 
On va voir!!! 
Rant over now and wanted to leave you all with an easy and delicious recipe for roasted butternut soup now that that it feels like autumn is finally here!
Ravishing and roasty butternut soup
Heat oven to 200 degree.  Chop up one large or two small butternut squashes, remove seeds, but keep skin on.  Place on baking tray with 3 cloves of unpeeled garlic, drizzle over olive oil and bake in oven till brown and nicely roasted (approx 30-40 minutes depending on chunk size).  In the meantime chop and fry a large onion and a couple of celery sticks in a mix of olive oil and butter in large saucepan until soft (if you live in Denmark, might be cheaper to nip over the border to buy your fats!).  Once butternut is cooked, tip the whole contents of the baking tray into the saucepan though remember to squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skin first.  Pour over 700ml of vegetable stock and let it cook together for 20 mins.   You could also add a dash of sherry, or a couple of handfuls of butter or haricot beans.  Blend. Eat.  Enjoy!