Why Family Meals Matter

Since ancient times, eating has been a communal business. We celebrate with food. We use food to mark significant cultural occasions. We re-group at the end of the day and share a meal along with our news. In recent times, however, there are so many demands on our time that the family meal is no longer the institution it used to be. Some research conducted in the UK a few years ago found that 10% of families never sat down to a meal together, with a further 10% saying it only happened once a week.

bigstock-Family-Eating-Meal-Together-At-46447096So what is the value in eating together as a family? As children get older and busier, it becomes logistically more and more difficult to get everyone together at the same place at the same time to eat the same thing. And does it really matter? Continue reading

Food, Learning and Fun – a guest post by Junior Chefs Academy

UK based Junior Chef’s Academy is all about helping young people to make smarter choices about healthy eating by making food education fun. I feel strongly that getting children cooking is a vital part of helping them form a good relationship with food (plus it’s fun! ) so I invited Junior Chef’s Academy to contribute a guest post about the value of getting children into the kitchen, handling and learning about food. Here’s what Junior Chef’s Academy director, Sue Cooper had to say:


Sue Cooper of Junior Chef’s Academy

So much of what children learn about food depends on context. I know this is a subject that Jo has covered before but I wanted to underscore some of her very important messages and to give our own perspective on the importance of positivity when introducing children to new foods.

I say ‘our’ perspective; I’m writing this post as a director of Junior Chefs’ Academy – Britain’s leading provider of practical food education workshops for primary age children. We started out as a small family business back in 2005 and we now work with around 50,000 children every year, visiting schools up and down the country.

In a previous post, Jo said that children are “little emotional sponges” and that seems absolutely right to me. They really pick up on a mood and that can strongly affect their response to an opportunity. In all our workshops, right from the word ‘go’ we do everything possible to generate a sense of action and excitement. Partly, that’s because we think that’s the best way to keep kids engaged and absorbing information, but it’s also very much about creating a strong association in their minds between food, learning and fun. Continue reading

In this short film I help mum of two, Michelle, with her little boy’s picky eating…

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 14.24.53 (1)It was a huge pleasure to work with Michelle – I wanted to share this video so that other parents can understand that they are not alone with their concerns about picky eating. It is a really common problem and can cause a huge amount of stress to parents and children alike. Luckily, there are some straightforward changes that you can make to family life which will make an enormous amount of difference.

Mess and your picky eater

Child In PuddleI have a two year old. This means that a lot of my time is spent picking food up from every visible surface (and some less visible ones… it’s amazing what the underside of a booster-seat can harbour). Sometimes this is frustrating, sometimes it’s plain disgusting. It is, however, essential. Here are three reasons why messy mealtimes are so important:

1.If you are feeling stressed and worried about mess, your child will pick up these feelings

So much of picky eating is about emotions.  I have written elsewhere about how children are little emotional sponges, subconsicously sensing all the feelings around them, even if they cannot always understand or interpret them. If you are anxious about your child making a mess, she will feel anxious too. This will without doubt negatively affect her eating.

2. If you make a big effort to avoid messy mealtimes, your child will learn that food  can be threatening

Continue reading

Your diet during pregnancy can help prevent picky eating

Eat a varied diet during pregnancy

Eat a healthy and varied diet during pregnancy

Doing what you can to try to prevent your child becoming a picky eater does not start with weaning. It does not even start with how you feed your new-born (although there is some interesting research about the impact of breastfeeding on  children’s food preferences). It starts in pregnancy.

According to the very informative ‘what to expect’ website, babies are tasting the amniotic fluid that surrounds them from about 21 weeks.

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Center in Philadelphia,  found that what a mother eats in pregnancy heavily influences her child’s palate. The New York Times quoted researcher Julie Menella who was involved in the study. She puts it bluntly:

“…where you start is where you end up”

Menella and her colleagues concluded that the greater the variety of foods you eat during pregnancy, the more open to a wide range of flavours your child will be.

An Australian study described in the New Phoenix Times, found that Continue reading

Here comes the helicopter!

girlwithfishI have spent a long time noticing and reflecting on the different ways parents try to make their children eat. In my book, I split these into several broad categories:




  • Cajoling – this is where we gently persuade, often involving comedy trains and aeroplanes….
  • Incentivising - you know the one; if you eat your beans you can have a star on your chart / a sticker / your pudding…
  • Pleading – “just one more bite… for mummy?”
  • The authoritarian approach –  “eat it because I say so”
  • Reasoning – often invoking the god of nutrition; eat it because “you need vitamins” / “it will make you big and strong”
  • Comparing – this is where we use siblings or friends to try to get a child to try something ” Look – Jack LOVES his fish”
  • Tempting -extolling the virtues of whatever it is we want them to taste, in the hope that they will be unable to resist

All of the above involve giving your child attention for not eating or being negative about food, and all of them are therefore experienced by your child as a kind of ‘pay-off’. Continue reading

My interview with Dina Rose

American sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert, Dina Rose PhD is the author of the fantastic ‘It’s Not About the Broccoli’.


I reviewed her book back in January and loved her approach. Like me, Dina helps parents understand that when it comes to feeding your kids, it’s more important to help them develop a positive relationship with food than to simply focus on getting as much healthy food down them as possible. Here’s how Dina answered my questions:

1.Can you tell my readers a bit about your journey into the world of picky eating? What made you decide to get involved in this field?

My mother died of obesity-related illnesses when I was pregnant with my daughter, over 13 years ago. She was only 65 years old. When my daughter was born, I was consumed with answering the question, “How do you teach kids to eat right?” Continue reading