Raising a Vegetarian Infant - Rough Guide

More and more parents are bringing up children as vegetariansMore and more parents are bringing up youngsters as vegetarians these days, so we thought we’d put together a rough guide to raising babies, toddlers and preschoolers as vegetarians. When doing so, certain considerations will need to be made, including ensuring that meals are nutritious, containing all the necessary food groups, vitamins and minerals needed by the very young.

Breast Milk

Babies will usually have breast milk or formula milk up until they are at least 6 months old. If they are only receiving breast milk, it’s recommended that they are given a suitable Vitamin D supplement, available as drops.

Vegetarian Formula Milk

There’s no need for Vitamin D supplements, though, with high quality, age-appropriate formula milk, as it’s already included. Formula-fed babies under six months should, of course, be receiving ‘First Milk’ (otherwise known as ‘First Infant Formula Milk’) and this contains everything they need during the first six months. It can be supplemented by solids once they start weaning, usually from the age of 6 months through to a year old.

Formula milk is available for vegetariansThe good news is that formula milk that’s suitable for vegetarians is available. Parents may ask their midwife or health professional for any recommendations in regard to types or brands, particularly if one formula milk disagrees with the baby. However, whichever brand and type is chosen, the formula milk must be formulated for the baby’s specific age. This is usually obvious on the product label.

Vegetarian formula milks are usually based on cow’s milk although many other alternatives are available. Parents who wish to limit how much dairy products their infant consumes therefore have quite a wide choice but, if they’re avoiding dairy, they need to ensure that the formula milk is fortified with extra calcium and is unsweetened. They also need to read up because formula milk is a surprisingly big topic and can be a little bit of a minefield. There are several concerns over soya milk and rice milk, for instance, but those are just two examples. Check out our Formula Milk Guide for much more information about all the different kinds available as well as which formula milks to avoid.

Moving to Solids

There are four main food groups that need to be covered in a child's dietFrom around the age of 6 months, your baby will usually start the process of weaning off of milk and begin to eat solid foods, albeit given in puréed or liquidised form initially. This is when parents then need to be mindful of their child’s nutritional needs and this is even more pertinent when bringing up a child as a vegetarian.

The four main food groups that need to be covered are:

  • Starch, which can come from foods like pasta, cereal, potato and bread;
  • Fruit and vegetables, whether fresh (ideally), tinned, frozen or dried;
  • Protein, which we’ll come to in a moment;
  • Dairy, which is OK for most vegetarians but not vegans. Dairy products need to be pasteurised, though, and full-fat versions are appropriate for little ones.

Sources of Protein for Vegetarian Children

Protein is often seen to be the most tricky of the food groups to cater for when bringing up a child as a vegetarian. With meat and even fish out of the picture for avid vegetarians, what options are available?

  • Many fruits and berries are great sources of Vitamin CWell, tofu and other soya products will contain good quantities of protein.
  • Nuts will too but you need to avoid whole nuts due to the potential choking hazard. So, smooth peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter or seed butters will help with protein. Walnut butter is a wonderful source of Omega-3 too.
  • Perhaps consider serving them on rye crackers.
  • Indeed grains are high in protein but should be provided in ground form for babies to avoid choking. Similarly oats, barley, rice and quinoa are great protein sources, quinoa itself containing all 9 of the essential amino acids.
  • Lentils, pulses, peas and beans are also great sources of protein.
  • Houmous (based on chickpeas) is also great for protein but, again, keep it smooth to avoid choking hazards in the very young.
  • For those not going the more strict vegan route, eggs and dairy products like cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein. Eggs are a brilliant source of Vitamin B12 too, while dairy products are a great source of calcium and Vitamin D.

Your infant should have at least two portions a day of protein and these are essential in the absence of meat or fish, otherwise your child could miss out on not only the protein but also Omega-3 fatty acids, iron and amino acids (essential and non-essential varieties). So, protein from a variety of sources is advised.

What About Quorn?

Many vegetarian parents will eat Quorn (a popular mycoprotein) to replace meat. Is this any good for babies and infants?

While it is a great source of protein, it’s not recommended as a regularly eaten meat alternative for children under three because it can fill them up without giving them the necessary energy. That’s simply because it’s high in fibre but low in fat.

A Note About Iron

Some foods block the absorption of iron but there are ways to counteract that, including eating foods rich in Vitamin CIron is essential for growing children and can be found in many of the foods mentioned above. That said, it’s worth mentioning that some foods block the absorption of iron. Such foods include tea as well as whole grains and legumes containing ‘phytates’, dairy products containing ‘casein’ and eggs and dairy products that contain particular forms of calcium. The simple solution to many of these is as follows:

  • a) ensure the child has a varied diet,
  • b) for them to eat such foods away from main meals,
  • c) to include Vitamin C in the diet (as it will counteract the affect of phytates by binding to them) and
  • d) to soak, cook or sprout the grains, pulses or seeds.

In regard to giving Vitamin C to help increase absorption of iron, children can try satsumas, oranges or tangerines after meals, a drink of well-diluted fruit juice (e.g. 1 part fruit juice to 10 parts water) or to include vegetables and fruit high in Vitamin C as part of their meals. These include many fruits and berries plus many vegetables including asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, spinach, leafy greens, green or red peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and squash.

Vitamin Supplements

Age-appropriate vitamin drops may give parents peace of mind if their children are being brought up on a vegetarian diet. In fact, some parents on one or more specific benefits can receive free vitamin drops for children aged up to 4. These contain Vitamins A, C and D are suitable for vegetarians, also containing no milk or eggs. Note, however, that vitamin supplements are not required for children drinking the appropriate amount of nutritionally complete, age-appropriate formula milk each day.

We hope that this rough guide to raising an infant as a vegetarian is useful. It should only be used as a quick, introductory guide, though, so parents should do further research to get a more complete picture. It is also always wise, of course, to ask a health professional, GP or Health Visitor for their opinion on anything health-related for their individual child.

An Outstanding Nursery in Willesden

Treetops Nursery, Willesden, near Harlesden, Kensal Green and Willesden GreenTreetops Nursery offers the highest quality, freshly-prepared food using the very best ingredients available to our in-house chef each day. Children’s dietary requirements are all catered for and that includes those on a vegetarian diet. This is all part of the excellent weekday childcare services and healthy approach to nutrition provided at our nursery and pre-school. We cater for babies and children aged up to five.

If you are looking for an outstanding nursery, pre-school or childcare service in Willesden, near Willesden Green, Harlesden, Kensal Green or London NW10, please contact us by selecting a button below. We’d love to hear from you and to show you and your child around the nursery, so you can see for yourself what an excellent setting it is and how well your child will fit in. Please make contact as soon as possible to avoid disappointment, while a few places remain available:

Brushing Children's Teeth – A Guide for Parents

As promised in our Guide to Teething last month, this next guide is all about brushing teeth — specifically for for babies, toddlers and young children. Regular brushing of teeth is an essential habit for young children to get into. Doing so will protect their teeth and oral health as they grow older.

Studies suggest that brushing teeth twice a day, for at least 2 minutes, may even reduce the risk of poor heart health.

When Should You Start Brushing Children’s Teeth?

Babies' teeth should be brushed as soon as they first appear through the gumsParents, guardians or carers should start brushing children’s teeth the moment teeth first appear, even when it’s only one or two teeth initially showing through. This is typically around the age of six to ten months when, for most babies, the lower incisors are first to appear. It varies enormously, though, with some babies even being born with one or more teeth. For teething babies, of course, you need to be more gentle with brushing than you would be for an older child, because their gums will probably be sore. Hence, there are some guidelines to follow in that regard. That’s exactly where this article comes in as we explain the accepted best practice for brushing infant teeth.

How Much Toothpaste Should Babies, Toddlers & Children Use?

Check toothpaste labels carefully to ensure you are using the right toothpaste.

Toothpaste containing at least 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride or ‘family toothpaste’ containing 1,350 to 1,500ppm is suitable for babies and children up to 6 years of age.

  • For babies and children up to 3 years old, use just a smear.
  • For children between 3 and 6 years old, use a pea-sized amount on the brush.

Children 7 years old or more should also use a pea-sized amount, using toothpaste containing 1,350 to 1,500ppm of fluoride.

What’s the Best Way to Brush a Baby’s Teeth?

The NHS suggests that parents sit the baby on their lap, facing away from them towards a mirror (this is so that the child can learn from what the parent is showing them). The baby’s head can rest against you so that it’s kept stable during brushing.

Using the recommended toothpaste suggested in the section above, parents can apply just a smear of toothpaste to either a small tooth brush, finger brush or piece of clean gauze wrapped around a finger (whichever suits best). Then, this can be applied to the baby’s teeth using small, gentle, circular motions to both teeth and surrounding gums.

The baby will soon learn from watching this and will, in time, begin to try it themselves. The parent can help by guiding the child’s hand when this occurs.

As only a smear of toothpaste has been used, the baby does not need to spit it out and indeed, not rinsing will protect the teeth even further.

What About Teeth Brushing for Children Over 3?

Ensure that children find brushing teeth a fun activityThe same general approach can be used for children aged 3 or over, except toddlers may stand, so long as their head can still rest against you so that it’s kept stable and relatively still while brushing takes place. As mentioned in the preceding section, a pea-sized amount of toothpaste can be used for this age group.

The child can spit out superfluous foam after brushing, but does not need to rinse. As before, this is because retaining a covering of fluoride will continue to protect the teeth for longer.

From the age of about 7, children will generally be capable of brushing their teeth themselves, unaided.

Tips to Protect Children’s Teeth from Decay

There are many tips around keeping children's teeth safe from decayAs well as regular brushing of teeth and dentist check-ups, there are many additional measures that can protect children’s teeth. These really all come down to one thing; avoiding added sugar. So …

  • Check ingredients of what your baby or child is eating and drinking. Avoid anything that has added sugars, including baby foods.
  • There are many kinds of sugar so check labels carefully. Sugar can come in many forms including raw, cane or brown sugar, glucose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, fructose, molasses, hydrolysed starch, inverted sugar syrup and Muscovado sugar, to name just a few.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Young children should stick mainly to water or milk. While milk does contain an element of natural sugar, it’s less likely to cause harm to teeth than man-made or added sugars.
  • If you give little ones fruit juice, dilute it. 10 part of water to 1 part of pure fruit juice is a good ratio.
  • Limit fruit juice intake to 150ml per day maximum if you do not dilute it, making up the rest of their daily drink intake with milk and/or water.
  • Children’s teeth should be brushed ideally immediately after eating or drinking anything sugary. This is to remove sugar and avoid build-up of plaque. In the case of fruit juice, brushing after drinking will remove acid found in the juice, as this can otherwise also harm teeth.
  • Avoid giving children sweets and biscuits except, perhaps, for very occasional special treats. Otherwise they’ll get a ‘sweet tooth’ and it could become a habit, potentially harming their teeth and health.
  • Consider sugar-free medicines if you do need to give your child medicine at any point.
  • Free-flowing, open drinking vessels such as beakers are less likely to ‘bathe’ teeth in sugary drink compared to bottles or valved bottles, thereby reducing the possibility of tooth decay. Learn more about those in the ‘Health & Safety First’ section below.

When Should Children Start Going to the Dentist?

Children should regularly visit the dentist for check-ups, so it’s a good idea to start them early, so that it becomes a normal routine. Children need to appreciate that teeth brushing is important to teeth, oral hygiene and potentially to overall health. Visiting the dentist is recommended in case there is a problem of some kind and also to highlight whether teeth are being brushed optimally at home. If not, a good dentist will be able to point children and parents in the right direction.

It’s important for a dentist visit to be a pleasant, stress-free experience, so be sure to hide any anxiety you may have about dentists as a parent, otherwise this anxiety can be passed onto the child going forwards.

Health & Safety First!

Getting children used to brushing teeth twice a day in their early years sets up a good habit as they grow upThe more obvious additional health and safety concerns include the following:

  • For their own safety, babies and little ones need to be supervised at all times when brushing teeth.
  • In the interests of safety, children must never be allowed to play with toothbrushes or toothpaste nor to run around with them (particularly in their mouths!).
  • Do not allow babies or children to eat of swallow toothpaste, nor to lick the tube.
  • Once babies start to phase out bottled milk (usually weaning off them from the age of around 6 months), bottles with ‘no-spill’ valves and spouted drinking cups and ‘sippy cups’ should be avoided, according to many dentists, orthodontists, speech therapists and healthcare professionals. This is to avoid a whole raft of potential problems including crooked teeth, tooth decay and potential speech issues.

“As oral health professionals at GOSH, we encourage children to move to an open cup as soon as possible to reduce the risk of dental [cavities] which are often connected to bottles or ‘sippy’ cups.” (Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children).

Clean Teeth for Healthy Kids

Keeping children’s teeth clean and free of plaque will help to keep teeth, gums and oral health in good shape. Starting early will also encourage kids to get into a good teeth cleaning habit from a young age and be more likely to carry that on into adulthood. Children with good teeth, healthy gums and fresher breath will generally feel more good about themselves, boosting self-confidence and self-image. Amazingly, recent studies even suggest that brushing teeth twice a day, for at least 2 minutes, may even reduce the risk of poor heart health.1

Our Nursery in Willesden, near Harlesden & Kensal Green

Treetops Nursery, WillesdenThis guide was brought to you by the childcare team at Treetops Nursery in Willesden, near Willesden Green, Kensal Green and Harlesden. If you’re looking for nurseries in those areas, around London NW10, we’d love to show you and your little one around so that you can see the setting in action for yourselves. To learn more about a possible place for your child, contact us using your preferred method below, while spaces are available:

A Guide to Healthy Eating for Preschoolers

In today’s busy world, fast food and ready meals are a quick, easy and convenient choice. It’s common knowledge, however, that home-cooked food using fresh, high quality ingredients is always a better choice for adults and children alike. Freshly prepared food avoids many of the nastier things like additives, colourings, too much sugar, salt and processed ingredients. However it’s tricky, as we don’t always have time to start meals from scratch when we’re juggling the many demands of today’s frenetic world. Eating healthily is important, though, and even more so for very young children. We’ll explore this in today’s article …

Fresh vegetables & herbsHealthy, Balanced Meals for Children

Eating more healthily requires a balance of factors. These include:

  • ideally using fresh, healthy, quality ingredients whenever possible;
  • meals that, over the course of each day, represent a balanced diet for children;
  • care to ensure children are eating the right portion sizes.

Getting the balance of these right benefits growing children enormously. These include obvious benefits, like maintaining a healthy weight, along with some surprising benefits like the avoidance of certain diseases later in life. We’ll take a closer look …

Healthy eating has many benefits for toddlers and preschoolersThe Benefits of Healthy Eating for Children

Eating a healthy, balanced diet from an early age:

    • helps children to get into the habit of healthy eating as they grow older;
    • gives children the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that, critically, their growing bodies need for full and optimum development;
    • helps children maintain energy levels needed for their activities each day;
    • helps to maintain cognitive function, mood and good mental health;
    • helps children avoid obesity and the health risks associated with it;
    • helps children to have a better self-image and thereby to be more confident with better self-esteem and mental wellbeing;
    • means that children are less likely to be bullied for being overweight;
    • helps children to avoid diseases later on including heart and blood pressure issues, diabetes and perhaps even cancer. That’s an incredible, often overlooked benefit!

What should young children be eating?What Should Children be Eating & Drinking?

Pre-school aged children should have six to eight drinks every day. These should ideally be water and sometimes milk, but not sugar-rich drinks.

They should be eating three meals and two or three healthy snacks. Ensure that the meals comprise a balanced diet i.e. one that gives them all the things they need to be healthy, to grow and to thrive. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that four food groups are always covered in each day’s food intake:

Food GroupPossible SourceNotes
StarchPasta, rice, cereal, potato, breadContains starch (for energy), Vitamin B and calcium. You can introduce wholegrain varieties if added gradually
Fruit & VegAny fruits and vegetables, ideally fresh but frozen, canned or dried is also OKContains Vitamin C & many other nutrients. Serve approx. 5 hand-sized portions per day
DairyCan include milk, yogurt & cheese (full fat versions for toddlers, semi-skimmed from the age of 2)Contains calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B and potassium. Serve approx. 3 portions a day
ProteinEggs, fish (occasionally include oily fish), meat, pulses, nuts, tofu, soyaContains iron, zinc and much more. Serve approx. 2 portions per day

What are the correct portion sizes?Portion Sizes

There are some useful ways to measure portion sizes for young children:

  • For fish, meat, or the vegetarian equivalent, a portion size is about the size of the child’s hand.
  • For fruit and cereal, a portion is about the size of the child’s fist.
  • For vegetables, a portion size is anything from the size of the child’s cupped hand upwards. There is no upper limit so they can eat more if they like it — indeed vegetables are useful to fill a hungry stomach between meals if they’re feeling peckish, or when they ask for seconds.
  • For starchy foods like rice or beans, one portion is about the size of the child’s cupped hand.

More detailed guidelines for portion sizes can be found here (external link).

“Children’s food preferences and eating habits are formed early in life and the time that they spend in early years settings provides an ideal opportunity to shape healthy behaviours.”

Toddler eating fruitHealthy Eating at the Nursery

At Treetops Nursery, we recognise the importance of healthy eating in under-fives, particularly as healthy eating early in children’s lives can often set a pattern for life. In view of this, our in-house chef prepares balanced meals each day for the children. Only fresh, high quality ingredients are used and all special diets are catered for. We serve 3 high quality meals per day along with healthy snacks (fresh fruit/vegetables) mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Fresh drinking water is available at any time and all food and drink is included in our standard nursery fees. Take a look at a typical menu here.

A Nursery Place for your Child in Willesden, NW10

Perhaps you are looking for nurseries in Willesden or a nursery near Willesden Green, Harlesden or Kensal Green in London NW10. If so, please do consider a childcare place for your baby or child at Treetops Nursery. Select an option below and we’ll be in touch by return to confirm next steps.

Microgreens: fun, nutritious, food growing for little ones

There are now microgreen farmsThere is one class of edible plant that can be grown all year round and is perfect for kids to grow indoors, for example on a windowsill. Some types of this food will sprout in as little as a week. What’s more, it’s tasty and highly nutritious. Growing it is super-easy and a perfect way to keep kids entertained, educated about nature and eating healthily. It’ll also be a welcome addition to mealtimes for the whole household.

Growing Microgreens

We’re talking about Microgreens (also referred to as micro leaves). These are the early, edible, sprouting leaves of very young herbs, leafy greens and some root vegetables that might usually be thought of in a larger, more mature form. The tender new leaves are cut just days after they first sprout and can be made into wonderful salads, garnishes or meal accompaniments. They also bring some very tasty flavours to mealtimes. The young micro leaves are full of vitamins and minerals, look fantastic on the plate and will grow back time and time again after snipping. The secret is simply to harvest the immature micro leaves and to stop them from growing to full size. Just harvest … re-harvest … and re-harvest.

“Micro leaves are usually eaten fresh and raw, and the fresher the leaves are, the more vitamins and minerals they contain. Each little leaf is a gold mine of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals such as iron, folic acid and potassium.” (Gardeners World)

Various microgreen leaves sproutingHere are just a few examples of plants that make suitable microgreens and can easily be grown by children indoors:

  • Basil — their tasty baby leaves are full of flavour and can be harvested just ten days after seed planting. They’re wonderful on salads, pizzas and can even be made into pesto sauce.
  • Coriander — their tiny, delicate leaves pack a unique and punchy flavour that’s perfect with salads, stir-fries, chopped onions and curries. They can be harvested a couple of weeks after sowing the seeds.
  • Rocket — ready to harvest just a week after first sowing, rocket microgreens are another flavoursome and slightly peppery leaf to add to salads and put onto pizzas. Very tasty!
  • Mustard leaves — these may not be to every child’s taste, but many adults will enjoy the slight heat they’ll bring to salads, stir fries and Eastern dishes. Ready to first harvest in 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Salad with microgreensFennel — just 10 days after first sprouting, leaves from young fennel seedlings will give a pleasant aniseed tang to dishes like pasta salads, risottos, soups and even stuffing.
  • Beetroot leaves — the sprouting microgreen leaves from the beetroot take just ten days to appear after sowing. With their rich green leaves and red stems, they look wonderful in salads and lend their mild, earthy flavour to garnishes for some fish dishes.
  • Radish leaves — in just a week, the young, fiery leaves from the radish seedlings will be ready to snip and add to salads, stir fries and sandwiches. For some, their microgreen leaves are even tastier than the traditional root.
  • Spinach — tender leaves from young spinach plants can be harvested in ten days or so. They’re really good for you too. With their mild flavour, they’re a perfect addition to leafy salads, risottos, pastas and noodles.
  • Broccoli leaves — these will be ready to first harvest in just a week and have quite a different flavour than their fully-grown counterpart. With their slightly spicy taste, they’re also great in salads, risottos and omelettes.
  • Red cabbage microgreens are packed with nutrientsRed Cabbage micro leaves have one of the highest Vitamin C concentrations of any microgreen. They also contain Vitamin K, potassium, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium and antioxidants. As with many of the microgreens, many top chefs use them as an attractive and tasty garnish. They can be sprinkled over soups, salads, grilled vegetables, stews and cooked meats. After sowing, they take only days to appear.

How children can grow microgreens at home

Your children will need very little to get started. You’ll need to buy them some packet seeds, which you can get at your local garden nursery or online. If you’re unsure who to order from online, Suttons are probably the best-known supplier and seed packets there seem to start from as little as just a pound or two. You can also find mixed seed packets. (If you’re on a really tight budget, you can alternatively take a look at the excellent post about growing food virtually free of cost, by our sister nursery in Streatham).

Along with the seeds, your child will need some multi-purpose or seed and cuttings compost (peat-free is more eco-friendly) and something to sow the seeds in. If you’re going to grow the microgreens on the windowsill, you could use flower pots, slim seed trays (perhaps left over from plants or herbs you have previously bought), containers, yoghurt pots with drainage holes pierced underneath, egg cartons, or even the cardboard cores from used kitchen rolls, cut down to a suitable size. Any of these will need something to sit in, to catch any draining water, for example a saucer or seed ‘drip tray’.

Lemonbalm micro leaves sprouting in compostYour child will need to fill the chosen containers with compost, not quite to the top. Tap it to level the soil, then pat it down just a little to firm it. Some gardeners also indent the compost where the seeds will go. The seeds then need to be carefully placed or lightly sprinkled into the indented areas. It’s important that your child spaces the seeds out so there is no clumping, otherwise significant problems can occur (the crop might get diseased or even completely fail). The seeds don’t need to be covered but a light dusting of sieved compost will keep them in place while allowing light to get through. The seeds then need to be lightly watered. It’s best for your child to do this part outside, just to avoid potential mess indoors, taking care not to over-water nor to wash the seeds away. A way to water them indoors is to simply stand the vessels in some shallow water for 30 to 60 minutes, so the compost naturally draws up the moisture.

The rest is also very easy. Your child simply needs to place the potted seeds on a light windowsill and ensure that the compost is always kept damp, taking care not to over-water. Also consider a label for each pot for identification purposes, particularly if several different seed types have been planted. Some people cover the seed pots or trays with a single sheet of kitchen towel, newspaper or even cling film to keep the moisture in while the seeds initially germinate. Your child will need to check under the covering every day. The moment little shoots can be seen, the covering will need to be removed, so long as the soil is kept moist thereafter, so it never dries out. Ensure the potted plants get full light and ventilation too. Within a week or two depending on the seeds chosen, the young shoots will grow baby leaves and can then be harvested. Snip them near their bases before mature leaves start to replace the baby leaves. If you want to benefit from them for longer, snip them like this rather than pulling up their roots, so they can sprout and re-sprout time and time again.

Eat & enjoy!

A sandwich with microgreens as a garnishOnce rinsed, the tender young micro leaves can be enjoyed in meals by the whole family. They’ll add often exquisite tastes and textures to meals as well as adding much-needed vitamins and minerals to the family diet. That’s even more important for growing toddlers and preschoolers, of course. And, throughout the growing journey, the children will absolutely love seeing the new shoots grow into young plants. They will have learnt new skills, had great fun getting to know more about nature and have a real sense of achievement. Chances are, too, that they will love the taste of the micro leaves.

Treetops Nursery in Willesden

We hope you and your family enjoyed this article and will have fun growing your very own microgreens. The post was brought to you by Treetops Day Nursery in Willesden, London NW10. We are a childcare nursery and pre-school, suitable for babies from 6 months and children up to 5 years of age. We’re also convenient for parents and carers who are looking for high quality weekday childcare near Willesden Green, Harlesden, Brent, Kensal Green, Brondesbury Park, Kilburn, Mapesbury, Dollis Hill, Church End, Roundwood, College Park and Park Royal. Please do get in touch if you’d like to learn more about a possible nursery place for your child.

For further details, contact Treetops Nursery:

Fighting food fussiness in under-5s. How to encourage toddlers to eat

Many parents will be all-too-familiar with how fussy toddlers can be when it comes to food. Some children will even avoid certain foods, absolutely refusing to try them, based solely on how they look. This can be infuriating! In the extreme, it can also potentially pose a risk to the healthy balance of a child’s diet.

Give peas a chance!

Many adults, myself included, will recall that we were just the same at some point during childhood. Later on, we may realise how delicious something really is, even if we thought we didn’t like it when we were young. I recall believing that peas were incredibly dull and should be avoided at all costs, for example. I now believe them to be amongst the tastiest vegetables on the planet! Nothing material has really changed about peas, so it’s my perception of them that has changed; I simply needed to give them a chance.

Acquired tastes

Other foods can become an ‘acquired taste’. For example, many youngsters initially perceive olives as being quite disgusting. Later on as adults, however, many of the same people end up adoring them. Sometimes, it’s just a case of mentioning this weird facet of human nature to your toddler. Trying to reason – and empathise – with them in this way may well register with them eventually. Despite appearances, children often take such messages in, even though they might refuse some foods, point blank, at first. This eventual acceptance often gradually occurs as they become more mature in mind as well as in body.

Food refusal is normal, so don’t stress

Is your toddler a fussy eater?If your child’s refusal to eat certain foods is making you stressed, take a moment to realise that this is perfectly normal. Indeed, many toddlers go through such a phase in their earliest years. If they’ve recently been breastfeeding, they will have become accustomed to a sweet-tasting diet. When they are weaned onto solids and suddenly become mobile, it’s natural for them to be wary of eating just anything — it’s so new to them. In fact, refusing some foods is an instinctive survival mechanism. It’ll take time for them to become accustomed to new tastes and textures.

If your child gives you a resounding no, try, try and try again.

What’s more, it’s known that it can take about 10 to 15 instances of exposure to a particular food before many young children will accept it. So, if your child gives you a resounding no, it’s really best for both of you to try, try and try again. After all, it would be such a shame for them to miss out on something delicious and nutritional for the rest of their lives.

What else can parents do?

As well as the straight forward perseverance approach outlined above, there are a number of things that parents and carers can do to encourage preschoolers to eat a more varied diet and to give new food types a try.

Food bridges

Food ‘bridges‘ are a subtle trick where you add different foods to those that your child already enjoys. So, if your child loves mashed potato, for example, perhaps try adding a little grated cheese on top or mixed in with it. If they like roasted potatoes or ham, try adding a little cooked apple. A little bit at first may fly under their radar and get them used to the taste before increasing the amount over time.

“We eat with our eyes first.”

Changing appearance

Similarly, changing the appearance of food is a highly useful tool to fight fussy eating. It is said that we eat with our eyes first, so try and make meals look as appealing as possible. For example, you can harness the rainbow colours of fruit and vegetables and the different shapes and sizes of foods. You can even make pictures with food on the child’s plate or cut food into shapes to make it more appealing. These are great ways to get children to become engaged with their food, to make food fun and to get children to become positive about it.

Get sneaky

Maybe if a certain food type isn’t liked, try hiding it. For example, you could puree a particular vegetable that they don’t like. Once you’ve done that, you could add it as part of a pasta sauce, for example, or as a dip, topper or garnish. This is a great way of children building up a taste for it without even realising.

Get children involved

Get children involved in food choice and preparationInvolving children in planning meals, shopping for food and even preparing the food can encourage them to eat more food types. For example, they could help when picking vegetables or have a say in how food is displayed on the plate. You’ll also be teaching them new things along the way.

Make it fun

There are a great many ways in which parents and childcare providers can make eating fun.

  • Choosing plates, bowls and cutlery that have fun designs is a great way to start, particularly if you allow the child to have a say in the choice. Perhaps there is a picture on the bottom of the plate that is only visible once the food has been eaten. Or perhaps their spoon or fork has a design on it that is shaped like an animal that the child particularly loves.
  • You can also theme meals. The child could perhaps pretend to be a character from their favourite book or film. Then, the food can be themed to suit. For example, a space rocket shaped from food could be given to budding astronauts. Or maybe use a Treasure Island theme for all those pirates out there. It’s amazing what fun you and your child can have turning vegetables like sweet corn and peas into pieces of “treasure”. Rainbows are another popular theme and here you can use the different coloured fruit and vegetables to create your masterpiece.
  • The youngest children will, of course, always enjoy the tried and tested ‘here comes the train’ approach (“Choo Choo!”). Some may enjoy a similar approach with an aeroplane coming in to land. This type of thing can easily be turned into an enjoyable, playful game.

Positivity & a gentle nudge

Make food a positive experienceUsing positive phases like yummy, tasty and so good when eating will help to build positivity around food. Talking about how food was prepared or how an item of fruit or vegetable grew in the garden may spark an extra level of interest in the child. Making food sound generally positive is a good approach. Remind the child how good the food will make them feel, how it will recharge them and make them energised and ready for the day’s tasks. For example, you could explain how they will have lots of energy for the swings, or park or when playing ball etc.

Reward them

Rewarding children for trying new foods and eating healthy options is a great way to encourage them. This is the ‘carrot’ rather than the ‘stick’ approach (remember; you want to build positivity around food, not negativity, so reward them when they get it right, rather than punishing them when they refuse food). Reward charts with set food goals can be a great way of approaching this if the child is being particularly fussy in their eating. For example, your child could be rewarded for trying new foods or for clearing their plate. Rewards will make food fun and positive. The choice of reward can be anything that you think may sway your child, for example a trip to the park, their favourite dessert or a small gift perhaps.

Be a good role model

Infant creatures across the world learn about food from their parents — and humans are no different. So, let your little one see you eating different foods yourself, including any they’re refusing. Being a good role model will help your child to see that new foods are safe — and even enjoyable. Sometimes, you just have to show them! Also look out for their favourite TV stars, or even best friends, eating foods that they are currently refusing — good role models can make a huge difference. However, never forget that it can take multiple attempts, so you need to remember to be patient and not to force it.

Healthy eating at Treetops Nursery

Healthy eating and quality ingredientsWe confess that we’ve been known to employ a few of the tips above at the nursery! Healthy eating is very much in our DNA at Treetops Nursery in Willesden, NW10, so we do all we can to ensure that our under-fives are getting the right sized portions, healthy food and a good dietary balance. Our in-house chef prepares tasty meals using only the best, most fresh ingredients. All special dietary needs are catered for, including vegetarian and vegan options when required. Children attending all day will receive three high quality meals plus a snack in the morning and another in the afternoon. Drinking water is available on tap all day. All food and drink is covered within our standard fees. Learn more about our approach to nutrition, healthy eating and see some menu examples here.

Looking for a nursery place in Willesden, London NW10?

If you are looking for a nursery place for your baby or toddler in Willesden, Willesden Green, Harlesden or Kensal Green, call us on 020 8963 1259. Alternatively, book a nursery visit here or email us here. We have places for under-fives available at time or writing and will be happy to welcome you to the setting and to answer any questions.