Mrs Thomlinson, Headmistress at St James Preparatory School gives us her tips on how to get children to try new things and enjoy good food in all its variety
Good nutrition and a positive attitude towards food are essential to a child’s health and well-being and a parent’s peace of mind. Below are a few tips from Mrs Thomlinson on how to encourage a healthy diet from a young age.
I love chatting with the children and sometimes ask them what they like best about school. They often declare with absolute certainty that it is lunch. This can raise eyebrows from prospective parents, and often conjures looks of amusement and relief. You see, unlike most other prep schools, St James is a vegetarian school and as we all know, children do not tend to like vegetables…or so we think.
Occasionally parents seem worried that their four-year-olds will come to us and not eat a thing – this could not be further from the truth. In a recent interview with the BBC, Restaurateur, Chef and Great British Bake Off judge, Prue Leith, said, “Learning to eat [well] is quite as important as learning to read or learning to write.” Like Prue Leith, we think that good nutrition is essential. This is especially true in early years when you lay the foundations for good dietary habits for life.
“But how?” our parents ask us, amazed that their children are now eating lentils and a variety of vegetables. It’s all in the prep, and in making mealtimes interesting and exciting. These are some ways in which you can maintain healthy eating habits from an early age.
Teach them to cook
From our regular cooking classes at St James it’s clear that the children love baking, preparing meals and then serving them to their friends. They even have their own mini-lunch parties and Roman banquets. Familiarity is a big part of acceptance, which is why getting them involved as much as possible often inspires children to give things a go. Have them prepare a salad and mix a dressing; they’ll be more inclined to eat a dish that they’ve played a part in producing.
Make it fun
What really makes a difference is the humour and fun with which we associate food and mealtime. It can even be an opportunity to decorate the table or wear silly hats, as we do at our Christmas lunch or during one of our many themed meals such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Lunch at St James is as it should be – a chance to sit and chat with your friends and family and enjoy a delicious meal.
Variety is the spice of life
Your child might not like brussels sprouts, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never eat another green. Make sure each meal has a variety of vegetables, try serving them in different ways and if they don’t like something, move on and try something else. Every Tuesday at St James Prep is ‘Tasting Tuesday’, when the children get to try a new dish. With this, they discover everything from orzo and dragon fruit to butternut squash rendang curry. If one child tastes something the others will want to too. Our school menus also change regularly so that meals are kept fresh and interesting.
Teach them to grow vegetables
Although our school is in west London, we have a small edible garden where the children can grow vegetables and herbs. This part of the process is so exciting and there are so many resources available now to have the most beautiful gardens, even in the smallest of spaces. Not only does it encourage healthy and seasonal eating, planting and gardening shows children where food comes from and can foster a sense of responsibility.
Don’t put pressure on mealtimes
Many parents put pressure on themselves to make their child’s diet perfect but this can often make mealtimes a burden. Try to have fun with food and enjoy eating together. Ultimately what will really make a difference is if mealtime is a chance for the family to get together, without any distractions, to talk about anything and everything.
For more information about St James Preparatory School and its approach to food, visit stjamesprep.org.uk