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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.

Every parent should read this
Parental involvement in a child's early years educationResearch has repeatedly proved that parents have an enormous impact on their children’s education, particularly if they’re involved right from the early years. That impact can be hugely positive if the parents get it right. In this article, we explore the many benefits of parental involvement in children’s education, how parents can support their children from nursery to university, improve their success, maximise their personal and career potentials and thereby give children the very best start in life. That is priceless.

“It has been proven time and time again that parents who invest time and place value on their children’s education will have children who are more successful in school.” (Meador)

The positive impact of parental help for children cannot be overstated. A well-supported child will go on to get better grades and ultimately be eligible for wider, higher quality, career choices once they’re older and ready to leave education. So the message is: if you’re a parent that wants your child to do as well as possible in their education and development, then your child needs your support. Be ready for the long-haul, though, because they will need your support at nursery, throughout their school years and even into higher education.

Research¹  has shown that parents can help improve their child’s development and education irrespective of: how well they did at school themselves; their socioeconomic status and ethnic/racial background.

What are the benefits of closer parental involvement?

As we mentioned above, parental involvement in a child’s development and education can ultimately lead to better results in school and enhanced life choices later on. That’s just the tip of the ice berg, though.

A mother helping their child with homeworkBenefits for the child include:

Better life skills:

  • Improved self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • Improved social skills;
  • Improved communication skills;
  • Better focus and organisational skills;
  • More confidence when it comes to tests/exams;
  • Better problem-solving skills;
  • Enhanced tenacity (to keep trying);
  • Greater comprehension and general knowledge;
  • Encouragement and moral support for the child;
  • An enhanced, positive outlook.

Toddler reading with a parentBetter prospects:

  • Better grades;
  • An improved level of skill;
  • Potentially a greater number of skills;
  • A wider choice of lesson topics to study;
  • A choice of better schools and universities to apply to;
  • Ultimately a wider choice of careers with potentially higher pay;
  • Potentially a better quality of life and happiness due to all of the above.

Additional benefits:

  • A closer bond between parent and child;
  • A closer, more strategic alliance between parent and education setting;
  • Reduced rates of truancy;
  • Better behaviour;
  • Higher morale because there is continuous and reliable background support.

So how can parents help?

Setting high but realistic expectations of a child, and explaining the reasons why, will ultimately help the child achieve more. Parents do not suddenly need to become strict and to make the child work all hours. It’s not about that although, of course, if a child has simply become lazy, a little encouragement will help to set the child on the right path again. It’s as much about letting the child know that you’re there for them as it is about proactively helping them if they’re struggling with a topic. Moral support goes a long way with a child but hands-on assistance is priceless when a topic seems unsurmountable for the child. Brainstorming problems together will help too. Setting aside an area of the house where the child can work undisturbed — and without distractions – will also greatly help with the child’s focus.

For preschoolers, you can read to them. You can listen to them read. You can correct them and explain things to them, setting them on the right path in a calm way, in an relaxed home environment.

Reading and writing are the foundation behind every other topic.

You can check their writing. You can also encourage even young children to check spelling and grammar. Even if you’re not great with those yourself, there are many electronic applications that will check for you/your child, whether on a PC, Mac, tablet or mobile. Microsoft Word is the obvious example — or the Open Office ‘Writer’ equivalent. That application is available free online (don’t forget to download and set the appropriate language pack too). However, the child needs to learn the correct spelling and rules around grammar, not just rely on devices to correct things for them. Parents can help with that and it is incredibly important because reading and writing represent the foundation behind every other topic.

Father and baby readingModern curriculum-based text books are extremely good these days, so many parents will be able to pick even unfamiliar topics up and guide a child if they’ve not been able to find their way on a particular homework task or piece of research.

When tests are coming up, it can be stressful for children. Testing them in the run-up to exams will let both you and them know how they’re doing in their preparation. Even just being there for them will help maintain their wellbeing and let them know that they’re not on their own — someone has their back. Adults often understand the nuances of questions a little better than children and adolescents too, so they can help clarify things.

Involving yourself more with their nursery, pre-school or school will allow you and the staff to be on same wavelength — more like a partnership, in fact. Parent evenings are essential to attend (read more about that below) and, taking things a step further, you can even consider joining parent groups and school boards so you really have your fingers on the pulse of their education. Collaborating with an educational setting has been shown to have measurable benefits for children.

Proactively select the best settings for your child

One of the best ‘first steps’ a parent can take is to research the actual nursery, preschool, school, college or university that the child will apply for. Check their websites. Speak to staff. Ask around and check feedback on parent forums and similar. Arrange a visit — this is priceless as you’ll be able to see the setting in actual use. Are the children happy? Are the facilities good? How are the staff? Does the setting have good reviews and so on. This is an excellent first step for any parent.

Parent evenings

A mum helping her daughter with homeworkLike most nurseries and educational settings, Treetops Nursery hosts parent evenings which allow nursery staff and parents to discuss the child’s learning and development in detail. It’s also a great opportunity to make sure all parents are up to date on everything happening at the nursery, in particular in regard to their own children. Parent evenings typically happen twice a year but, at Treetops, we’re always available to speak to parents, so please don’t feel you have to wait until a parent evening to discuss anything about your child.

Personal Development Folders for every child

Every child at Treetops Nursery also has their own personal development folder, which is kept up to date by a ‘key worker’ assigned to the child. These staff members monitor progress of the child’s learning and development as they progress through the nursery and pre-school. We actively encourage parents to view their child’s development folder regularly and to keep up to date on progress through dialogue with the key worker for their child. Parents are also invited to add details of experiences the child has outside of the nursery. In this way, a more rounded picture of the child’s development is maintained.

If you’re a parent that wants your child to do as well as possible in their education and development, then your child needs your support.

Summing up

We hope that this article has gone some way to explain why the involvement of parents in their children’s education is so impactful and so incredibly important. A child that has experienced the involvement of a parent in their education is likely to end up with a more rounded education with better grades, enhanced life skills and ultimately better life choices. As we said before, that is priceless.

Contact Treetops Nursery

If you are looking for a nursery or pre-school in Willesden, north west London, and would like more information about Treetops Nursery, we’d be delighted to tell you more about the setting and explain what we can do for your baby or toddler. Call 020 8963 1259 or email us here and we’ll be happy to help. You can also arrange a visit here and see our location on a map here.

Follow Treetops Nursery on social media

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we’ve got a sparkling new website. It’s user-friendly, works nicely on mobile phones and it’s going to be much easier for us to keep up to date. That means that we can keep you better informed — great news! Our plan is to publish several high quality articles on the new blog area each and every month. We’ll keep our new social media channels up to date with information, images, nursery- and early years-related news too. We’re now on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Business (our profile links are below).

We can keep you better informed

Treetops Nursery is on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram & Google Business

With a view to that, we’d like to invite you to follow us on social media and to regularly visit our news blog. By doing so, you’ll be able to keep up to date with the nursery and childcare in general. Parents across the UK should find the information we’ll publish very useful even if they don’t have children at our Willesden nursery. Our plan is to write and publish some extremely useful articles that’ll appeal to a wide audience of parents, wherever they are. This will include comprehensive guides to topics like childcare funding in the UK, ‘evergreen’ articles about education for babies and toddlers, parenting, the curriculum, activities and all manner of useful, original and informative content. If this sounds of interest, please follow us:

Social media profiles for Treetops Nursery, Willesden

We’d love a review, recommendation or feedback

Reviews are incredibly important to small businesses like ours, and a little goes a long way. So, if you’re on Facebook or Google, we’d love it if you could leave a nice review or recommendation for Treetops Nursery please. It’s wonderful to hear positive feedback, so we know we’re getting things right for you and your child. Thank you if you’re able to do this for us.

Of course, if you’re not happy with anything whatsoever, please get in touch with us directly at the nursery (020 8963 1259 or contact us here), so we have a fair chance to address any concerns and put things right. We want you to know that we’re always listening to constructive feedback (good or bad) and genuinely strive to be the very best nursery and pre-school in the NW10 area. We want you to have total peace of mind as a parent, so we’ll always listen and aim to constantly improve everything possible, as time goes by. So, thank you in advance for helping us to be the best nursery in Willesden.

Do you need a childcare place for your baby or toddler in Willesden, London NW10?

If so, Treetops Nursery could be perfect for you. We’re in Doyle Gardens, Willesden, London NW10 3SQ and would love to show you around. It’s the best way to see for yourself the excellent facilities, lovely atmosphere and exceptional staff. We are, of course, exercising extreme caution in regard to COVID-19 (take a look at our coronavirus health and safety measures here). Rest assured, the health and wellbeing of our babies, children, parents and staff is our primary concern. Call 020 8963 1259 for further details about the nursery, contact us here or email . We’ll be delighted to discuss everything with you and welcome your family to the nursery.

Social Distancing and Anti-Virus Measures at the Nursery

At our Willesden nursery and pre-school, and other nurseries within our group, we looked after children of key workers during the lock-down. This all went very well indeed and we’re very happy to report that there was not a single case of COVID-19 within any of the nurseries, their staff, children, babies or immediate families. This is a testament to the safeguarding measures put in place and also to everyone following the advice of the nurseries, NHS and Government. Thanks to everyone for taking such good care — it worked!

The nursery has re-opened!

We’re very pleased to announce that Treetops Nursery has now re-opened. We’re welcoming existing families back at the same time as inviting new children who need a safe childcare place in Willesden and NW10.

How are we protecting children from COVID-19?

Now that we’re emerging from the lock-down, it’s more important than ever to exercise social distancing, cleanliness and best practise measures to keep everyone safe and well going forwards. With more people now mixing again, this is more important than ever. With that in mind, we have introduced leading-edge measures to safeguard everyone attending the nursery and preschool. With our owners having medical backgrounds, we are uniquely positioned to ensure that these are the best safeguarding measures possible. They also go far beyond Government and NHS guidelines. So, the message is:

We have incredibly strong measures to keep babies & children safe from C-19

So what are the new health and safety measures? While the following is not an exhaustive list, it’ll give you an insight into the kind of protocols we’re putting in place at the setting …

What are our anti-virus safety measures at the nursery?

It’s an absolute given that we’re practising social distancing at the nursery. We’ve taken this several steps further, though, to absolutely minimise any risks:

  • Parents are staggering collection and drop-off times, so they will encounter other families less often.
  • Parents and guardians are also asked to remain outside at all times — they will not be allowed inside the nursery until further notice. While waiting outside, they will be required to maintain a minimum social distance of 2 metres from others.
  • Within the nursery, most of the curriculum has been moved to outside areas. We’re very lucky at Treetops Nursery because our outside spaces are incredibly large and spacious. That means that our children have absolutely loads of room to play and learn in, outdoors, where they too can keep a good social distance from one another. This is far safer than being enclosed within indoor spaces, where air would otherwise circulate and dissipate to the atmosphere less freely. Of course, we have ensured that there are plenty of sheltered, undercover areas outside for children and staff. They will be able to play, learn and work comfortably – come rain or shine.
  • We are confining babies and children to their own small bubble groups. The size of these groups will depend upon the age of the children within them, being either 3, 4 or a maximum of 6 individuals per group. Children will remain in their particular bubble group until the risk is over. This measure will help to keep children isolated from any contagion.
  • We are also ensuring that the nursery is not filled to capacity. Limiting numbers in this way will also help to maximise social distancing and to keep other safeguarding measures under close control.
  • We are encouraging children to proactively keep their hands well-sanitised too. They regularly wash their hands extremely thoroughly under our supervision, taking care to wash every inch of their hands and fingers. We are also stressing – and re-stressing – the importance of social distancing to them as well as ensuring they understand the need to use the inside of their elbows (or tissues which they then safely discard) if they need to cough or sneeze.
  • We will be regularly taking temperatures using the type of electronic thermometers that you may have seen on TV. These can take the child’s temperature from a distance and alert us should anyone start to exhibit symptoms.
  • Children will be required to take a COVID-19 test should they experience symptoms of the virus, and be asked to isolate away from the nursery. If deemed to be at risk of potentially having the virus, other members of their bubble group will also be asked to isolate away from the nursery and to take a test, just to be safe.
  • As part of the above, we will follow the NHS’s ‘Track & Trace’ programme so that the virus can be tracked should anyone test positive. As mentioned above, though, there have been zero cases to date at any of our nurseries. The measures and care taken by all parties are clearly working.
  • Staff will also personally be taking some excellent additional precautions. These include: changing into a clean uniform when they arrive at the nursery; washing all clothes and uniforms at 60 degrees (to kill all bacteria and viruses); wearing medical-grade ‘FFP3’ masks whenever appropriate; wearing face visors and a double set of gloves when changing nappies; using alcohol-based antimicrobial wipes liberally around the nursery to keep toys, equipment, surfaces, hands etc. free of bacteria and viruses.
  • Our in-house chefs and cooks are also taking additional safety measures. Along with the obvious hygiene-related measures that one would ordinarily expect around food preparation, our chefs and cooks are wearing FFP3 masks plus face visors when preparing food.

More information about coronavirus in children can be found here.

Does your baby or toddler need childcare in Willesden or NW10?

If you need childcare for your baby or under-five child during the working week, please get in touch. Treetops Nursery and pre-school offers half-day and full-day childcare for little ones from Monday to Friday, 51 weeks of the year (Bank Holidays excepted). We open at 8am and close at 6pm. Our nursery/pre-school is in Doyle Gardens, Willesden, London NW10 3SQ.

Call 020 8963 1259 or email us here for further details and we’ll be very happy to help. Alternatively, click any of the bold links for further information.