Top children’s book to encourage healthy eating (and laughter!)

My ultimate book to encourage children to eat vegetables is:
“Vegetable Glue” by Susan Chandler and Elena Odriozola

Brilliantly funny, great illustrations, and conveys the healthy eating message in an unusual and accessible way for children.

I cannot recommend highly enough, just thinking about it makes me smile!

Click HERE to see the book on Amazon:

Back To Basics…

I like variety at peppersmealtimes and often experiment with my cooking. This week I was reminded that simplifying food can be a good thing, and not to over-think what to cook!

A friend of my son’s comes for tea regularly, so I know some of his favourite meals. Struggling for inspiration this week with a fridge of leftovers, I remembered that he loves pasta with pesto sauce and chicken or bacon.

“That’s boring”, I thought, but I had bacon pieces and pesto in the fridge so I started frying the bacon pieces. Then I chopped a green and red pepper and added them to the pan, thinking “they’re going to pick the pepper bits out”.

After putting the wholewheat spaghetti on to boil, I added a good scoop of pesto, some half-fat creme fraiche and a bit of milk to the bacon & peppers and heated it through. The meal took less than half an hour to prepare. “This feels like cheating”, I thought.

I drained the spaghetti, mixed it with the sauce and put it in bowls. The three boys all added grated parmesan – and wolfed the whole lot. And they all say they don’t really like peppers! Hmmmm. Time to simplify? 🙂

Fab Feedback From Nursery Staff

1229717_origThis year has marked a change of direction for Food Monsters, towards providing training for nursery staff in more accessible, affordable ways. So far three in-hous
e Workshops have taken place in Edinburgh nurseries, and the feedback has been so good that I cannot keep it to myself any more!

Pictured are staff from Bright Horizons Bruntsfield Nursery getting hand-on with lemons.

So what did staff think about the Workshop?

“very enjoyable: range of activities, worksheets and activity plans is helpful”
“well explained, friendly relaxed atmosphere, easy to follow, enjoyed doing the hands-on activity”
“very enjoyable and well explained”
“it was interesting and something different, well organised and I liked the activity”
“it was really good and I was impressed with the video, and the practical activity helped me understand how to engage the children into this experience”
“it showed a simple way to get children involved with new foods, and the fact that it is an easy activity will encourage the staff to do it”
“I enjoyed it, good information and really good ideas, activity was simple and kids will really enjoy it”
I can’t wait to do more Workshops and get the positive ideas “out there”. I would like to thank all the nursery staff who have taken part enthusiastically so far!

By working together we really can succeed at teaching children to enjoy healthy food by the time they start primary school 🙂

From “wonky veg” to yummy meals…

This week I have been using “wonky veg” from Asda in cooking.9366445

A few thoughts:

  • The vegetables didn’t seem very wonky! I was expecting odd shapes, and was a little disappointed that there was nothing to giggle at 🙂
  • I thought there was a lot of veg included for £3.50.4459027
  • The box contained potatoes, carrots, red onions, leeks, parsnips, cabbage, cucumber & green peppers.
  • I would definitely buy “wonky veg” in the supermarket after using this box.
  • I used 3 small red onions, one large potato, 2 carrots and a parsnip in the chowder pictured. I added a small amount of bacon, sweetcorn, chicken stock, milk & dried parsley. Thumbs up from the whole family for taste!

(Please note that Food Monsters is not endorsed by Eat Better Feel Better or by Asda).8719655

Why should children enjoy eating healthy food?

Today’s post is about talking to children positively about enjoying healthy food.

Finding reasons for children to enjoy healthy food that work for them is really important. Remember that the reasons apply to the child, not necessarily to you!

Think about the child’s interests:8017286

  • Do they like sports, dancing, or jumping on a trampoline?
  • Would they like shiny hair, or good skin?
  • Would they like to be able to concentrate at school?
  • Do they want to feel energetic and good about themselves?

Tell children about the health benefits of foods when you offer them. Do some research with children by looking up nutrition facts on the Internet.

Download the ‘quick facts’ list of vegetables and fruit and their benefits below, and use it when talking to children. Don’t make it a big deal, just throw in the odd comment, e.g. do you know that broccoli is good for your bones? Stick the list on your fridge and you may find that your children start educating you about the benefits of fruit and veg!

Talk about the healthy foods that you enjoy too, and how you feel after eating them.

Good luck 🙂

Store-cupboard essentials: beans & Lentils

You probably use tinned baked beans already, but how much do you use other types of tinned beans and lentils?7629495_orig From a practical point of view they could not be easier to use, and just need heated through.

They provide protein, fibre, iron and B vitamins, and a portion of beans, lentils or pulses counts towards your five portions of fruit and veg per day. If you would like to increase your child’s nutrient intake then look no further!

Top Tips:

  • Get more tinned beans (and nutrients) by choosing those in unsalted water.
    If your child likes traditional baked beans, start with small pale-coloured tinned beans, such as haricot beans. Once your child has got used to these then you can try different varieties like larger cannellini beans, or small and dark black be1305705_origans.


  • Add a small amount of the beans to familiar meals like savoury mince or casserole, around 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. They will blend in to these meals more easily and provide a soft and creamy texture. Over time you can increase the amount of beans.


  • Some good meat and bean combinations are: cannellini beans with beef, chickpeas or green lentils with lamb, and haricot beans with pork or sausages.
    Beans and lentils are very filling, so you don’t always need to serve potatoes or rice with them. Instead add wholemeal pitta bread and you will tick even more nutritional boxes, and save yourself more time!

Next time: ways to talk about healthy eating with kids

And In The New This Week…

I was delighted to be selected as one of the Healthy Helpers for the Scottish Government’s Eat Better Feel Better Campaign recently 🙂

The Campaign was featured in the Daily Record on Saturday.

Click on the image to the right for more about the Campaign and the Healthy Helpers, and look out for events in your local area.

Next time: Store-cupboard essentials: beans & lentils

Taking A Step Back

Last week I ran a workshop for nursery staff, teaching them key proven techniques for encouraging young children to enjoy eating healthy food. We discussed a child who refused to eat any main course at nursery every lunchtime. Which led to the question: “do you think that a young child who regularly refuses to eat at a mealtime is fundamentally not hungry enough?”
I answered the question in two parts. Firstly, in a minority of cases the child has an underlying health issue, in which case the answer is “no”, it is not purely about the child’s appetite. In these cases support needs to be sought from health professionals, starting with the GP or health visitor.

However, my experience is that mostly the answer is “yes”, whether or not a young child eats at a mealtime starts with how hungry they are. A young child’s appetite varies a great deal, so focusing on any meal or day in isolation is unhelpful.
So, if you are a parent who is concerned about your child’s food intake, I would suggest that you follow these steps:

(a) Keep a record of what your child eats and drinks for a period of at least one week. You can download and print the Food Diary form below to take a note of this, and make sure you include all snacks.

(b) Look at the week’s food intake as a whole, and look for patterns around any meals that they are not eating. If your child is not eating regularly at lunchtime, what are they eating for breakfast and morning snack, and can this be reduced? If they hardly ate anything on one particular day, did they eat a lot the day before?

(c) If after completing the Food Diary you cannot identify any patterns and are seriously concerned that your child may have an underlying health issue, I would suggest taking your child to see your GP along with the completed Food Diary for discussion.

Good luck 🙂

My Family favourite recipe: Leek, Lemon & Courgette risotto

This recipe has been a revelation: delicious, healthy and straightforward to make.
My boys love it! I hope you enjoy it too 🙂

Preparation and cooking time: less than 45 minutes
One-pot meal.
Serves 2 adults and 2 children.

– 25g Unsalted Butter
– 1tbsp Olive Oil
– 2 Leeks
– 2 Courgettes
– 1 Lemon
– 2 cloves of Garlic
– 200g Arborio or other risotto Rice
– 150ml White Wine
– 600ml (approx) Vegetable Stock
– 50g Parmesan Cheese (optional)

1. Trim and finely chop the Leeks and finely chop the Garlic (you can use a food processor).

2. Grate the Courgette and the Parmesan Cheese. Juice the Lemon.

3. Heat a large pan to medium heat. Add half the Butter and all the Olive Oil.

4. Add the Leeks, Garlic and Courgette and cook for about 5 mins.

5. Add the Arborio Rice, stir and cook for 1 min. Add the White Wine and simmer until absorbed by the rice.

6. Add about 150ml of Vegetable Stock, stir and simmer until absorbed.

7. Repeat step 6 until all the Stock has been absorbed, making sure the mixture does not dry out. This should take about 20 mins. Test a few grains of rice and add more water if it needs longer cooking. It should still have a little bit of ‘bite’.

8. Take the pan off the heat and add the Lemon Juice, the rest of the Butter and the Parmesan Cheese, and mix well.

9. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the flavours combine. Serve in bowls.

 Add cooked Chicken or Bacon at step 8, and use Chicken Stock.
 Add cooked Prawns at step 8, and use Fish Stock.

To Try Or Not To Try

My experience of offering new food to many children in activity classes is that what you say, and how you say it, is crucial. Today’s post is about using the word “try” when offering new food to children.

“Try” is often used by adults when offering children a new or unusual food, typically in a question,”do you want to try it?”, or a suggestion, “just try a little bit”. Consider the situations when adults use this word: when offering a new type of ice cream, or a new type of vegetable? Adults typically use “try” when they don’t believe that the child will eat the food, often with vegetables. Depending on our body language and tone of voice, it can seem like we are pleading with or cajoling the child into eating the food. So by using “try” we are (unintentionally) giving the child permission to say “no” or “I don’t want to”. They don’t even need to see, touch or smell the food to know that they are probably not going to enjoy eating it!

So is there a simple alternative to “try”?

Yes, but this method is not about getting the child to eat the new food as a one-off “take it or leave it” opportunity! The goal is to encourage the child to enjoy eating the new food in the long-term. Here is a script for an adult to use in offering a new food, in this case broccoli, to a young child who already likes to eat chicken and potatoes.

  • “I’ve put some broccoli on your plate with the chicken and potatoes.
  • You can eat the broccoli if you want to.
  • What colour is the broccoli? Do you think it looks like a little tree?
  • Can I taste a piece of broccoli from your plate?
  • I really like broccoli, it is sweet and crunchy.”

Then the adult lets the child get on with eating their meal.6727217

If the child does taste the broccoli then the adult can ask:

  • “What does the broccoli taste like?”

If at the end of the meal the child has not tasted the broccoli then the adult could say:9904792

  • “It’s a shame that you didn’t taste the broccoli. Maybe next time.”

So my challenge to you is to stop using “try” and instead use this script, especially if you are a parent struggling with feeding a young child, or a nursery staff member struggling with feeding various children. You should experience a different outcome with regular, consistent use over time. Good luck 🙂