Healthy and happy children are involved in what they eat
Offering children plenty of healthy food options and getting them involved in food preparation, where possible, is very much the philosophy of Clodagh Collins who runs Apple House childcare in Blackrock, County Dublin. With one in four school children in Ireland either overweight or obese, it has never been more important to focus on children’s eating habits. Apple House, which opened in 2009, is a home from home for children who attend the centre after school. It caters for up to 40 primary school children whose parents are out working.
As Collins explains, when the children come to the centre, they’re tired and hungry after the school day. Before the staff members at the centre help them with their homework, the children are given a snack that is both replenishing and good for concentration.
“The snacks are laid out on a table, ready to go. We do home-made cranberry granola bars which are very popular. We also do home-baked apple and banana muffins and there’s always plenty of other fruit as well as carrot sticks with hummus. We also do fruit kebabs. The children love them. Even if they don’t like everything on the kebab, they’ll try whatever is on it to get to the next piece. It’s a bit of fun.”
Through listening to children talk about their food likes and dislikes and what they eat at home, Collins has learned that simple foods go down best. In the early days of the centre, she served dishes such as Thai green curry and couscous but discovered that children favour plain food and generally don’t like spicy dishes.
“Their taste buds for spicy food will develop in later years. You don’t have to worry about getting them to eat food from all over the world. That will gradually happen as they mature. I find that they like dishes such as shepherd’s pie and spaghetti Bolognese.”
To ensure that the children consume enough vegetables from the food pyramid, they are liquidised into dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese or chicken curry. “A lot of the children won’t eat peas so they’re liquidised into the sauces. Broccoli is a vegetable that the children actually really like. We sometimes do taste tests. If children don’t want to eat something, we encourage them to taste it anyway. It can take eight or nine tastes before they’ll like the food.”
Children don’t want to be dictated to about what to eat: “If you give them choices, you’re giving them respect. If, for example, we’re making a stir fry, we cook four vegetables and they can pick two of them. This sets them up for success.”