Every parent wants to give their child the most nutritional food to give them a head start in life. Some parents may have views on whether fresh fruit and vegetables are better than frozen fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately the case for which contains more nutrients is not clear cut.
Freezing food does not in itself destroy mineral or vitamin levels - levels are preserved until the produce thaws. Vitamins and minerals are destroyed by heating, however, meaning that levels start to diminish as soon as you start cooking the food. Some frozen foods are blanched or heated prior to being frozen in order to protect them and this could start destroying nutrient levels, although industrial processes are generally refined enough nowadays to keep levels at their optimum.
There's a strange twist to the tale when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Much produce travels from all over the world to reach our supermarket shelves - bananas from South America, beans from Africa, Strawberries from the Middle East...just look at the packaging and you'll be surprised! Many of these items are picked before they ripen fully and ripen on their long journey to our shelves. This means that they aren't as nutritious as they would have been had they been allowed to ripen naturally on their plants. Frozen foods, on the other hand, are picked at their prime, once they have ripened fully in the fields or orchards, and arguably therefore start with higher vitamin and mineral levels than for some fresh produce.
Of course, there's no way to look at produce and know how it has been prepared before reaching our shelves. The best thing you can do is to minimise the 'air miles' that your produce has racked up in transit. Buy fresh produce that has been grown in local markets and it should be the best all round!
Despite suffering the coldest Easter on record, now is the right time to start thinking about growing plants in the garden - why not plant some vegetables with your little ones and track their growth through a diary project?
Many vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow and nothing tastes better on your plate than a serving of home grown food. Even if you don't have much garden, many vegetables can be grown in containers or pots, even on a patio. Start plants off in a greenhouse or shed, or on a windowsill inside, then plant out once the threat of frost has gone and when the plants are a couple of inches high. Below are some easy veg to grow for great rewards during the summer and autumn:-
Dwarf beans: 'Dwarf' refers to the height of the plant rather than the size of bean. Unlike most beans, the plants grow to just 18 inches (so don't require trellis) and produce copious quantities of long tasty beans. Plant now to crop through the summer.
Courgettes: Courgette plants grow with quite a wide spread, harvest regularly and you will be rewarded with between 10 - 20 fruits per plant so just one or two plants will produce a great crop. Cougettes are abundant and require very little care, you can even plant them in a pot on the patio.
Tomatoes: Traditional tomato plants are quite hard work because they require so much watering. Cherry tomatoes on the other hand are much easier and can be planted in small spaces, even in pots or hanging baskets. Pick the fruit in clusters off the vine and any that are under ripe will quickly ripen after harvest.
Potatoes: Forget the old fashioned way of tilling the ground, buy potato bags that can sit on the ground or patio. Fill them two thirds deep with soil and plant seed potatoes just under the surface. When the plants are established, add more soil to fill the bag. Children will love sifting through the soil at the end of the summer, discovering the potatoes. Plant several bags with different varieties to crop at different times in the summer and autimn.
Pak Choy: Not a traditional British vegetable but terrific in salads and stir fries, and really easy and quick to grow. Plant more seeds every fortnight and you will crop them throughout the summer.
Plant your seeds with your children and make notes. Look at them regularly and draw them at the different stages. Why not create a photo diary in ToucanLearn by photographing them and uploading the pictures to your Daily Diary?
Babies will usually eat almost any food put in front of them, but as the ygrow older, children become more discerning about their food, fussy even! If you can encourage your children to eat a broad array of food then life iwll be so much easier. Meal times won't resemble a battlefield, you'll find it easier to eat with other families or out in restaurants, and you won't have any concerns that your little ones are eating a balanced diet.
Grocers and supermarkets offer a huge variety of different types of fruit and vegetables, but we are often creatures of habit, regularly buying only a small selection of fruit and veg that we know well. For example, fruit may be restricted to apples, bananas, grapes and oranges and vegetables to potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas.
Why not try to broaden your little one's tastes by holding a week long 'Fruit and Vegetable Fiesta' in your home? See if you can introduce one new type of fruit and one new type of vegetable with your main meal, each day for a week. You could try old favourites that your little ones may not have had in a while, or you could seek out some of the really exotic foods that are now widely stocked in our shops.
Here are some suggestions for uncommon and more unusual fruit and vegetables, see if you can slip some of these into your Fruit and Vegetable Fiesta. Scour the fresh food department next time your in the supermarket and see what else you can try...!
|Passion fruit||Star fruit||Corn on the cob||Bok choy|
|Watermelon||Dragon fruit||Celery||Pinto beans|
Vegetables are REALLY interesting...no, really! Babies will eat anything that is fed to them, and aren't discerning about vegetables. Most toddlers will eat most vegetables too and not question them, but as they grow older, and perhaps helped by peer pressure as their social networks grow, children might decide that they don't like certain, or even any, vegetables.
Is it the colour? ...the texture? ...the taste? There are a multitude of reasons why children may begin to turn their noses up at vegetables, but do what you can to fight their reluctance and try to keep vegetables firmly on the agenda.
One way to make vegetables interesting is to have children think about them properly. Make a vegetable chart and depending on how old your children are, order them in different ways.
The youngest children will be able to order by size or to sort them by colour. Older children might be able to start with the sweetest through to the most bitter. You may even be able to teach them about seasonality. Although most vegetables are now available from the supermarkets all year round, there is a pattern of seasonality at which point differet vegetables are available. Perhaps you don't know yourself? In which case, spend time with your older children looking at the seasons of vegetables. Work out which are traditionally available in spring, summer, autumn and winter!
The outbreak of a new and virulent strain of E coli in Germany serves to remind us the importance of food safety, especially with regard to preparing meals for preschool children. Usually when we think of food poisoning, we think of under-cooked meat or eggs - we don't consider that salad can kill.
The source of the E. coli outbreak has still not been traced. Suspicion initially fell on cucumbers supplied to the German market from Spain, but increasingly this is looking unlikely. Currently in Germany, advice is to avoid eating cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes.
How could foods as innocuous as cucumbers and tomatoes pick up deadly strains of E. coli in the first place? Researchers are focusing on the possibility that the deadly bacteria comes from manure used in growing organic crops.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK gives the following advice:-
- Wash all fruit and vegetables before cooking and/or eating
- Peel or cook fruit or vegetables
- Wash your hands regularly during food preparation to prevent the spread of E. coli bacteria
Be safe and make sure that you prepare food with care, whether you are preparing meat, fruit, vegetables or even salad!
Research published by the School Food Trust has confirmed that children who eat school lunches are more willing to try new foods that they would not normally try at home. Over 1,000 parents were surveyed and an amazing 80% said their children had tried new things at school and some 50% said they were asked to cook new things at home, that the children had eaten at school!
School dinners therefore were a great way to encourage a varied and wide ranging menu for children. Seeing friends eating and tucking in to un familiar dishes is a good way to tempt little ones. Even children who were labelled as "fussy" by their parents found that their children ate well.
Tips for getting children to eat:
- Get them involved: grow some vegetables, get them to pick them from the supermarket shelf
- Take a step back: go to visit a pick your own farm or a farm where crops are grown.
- Be creative: make the food look nice! Use different coloured vegetables and make the meal attractive
- Think outside the box: name things in a more attractive way. Try offering Squiggly sausages, monster mash and squeaky peas rather than sausage, peas and potatoes.
- Get the children helping: they can chop easy things, help lay the table, choose a plate etc.
- Keep portions reasonable: don't overload the plate it can be very off-putting.
- Find out their favourites and use them if you can: if carrots and peas are top vegetables, then use them along with others and introduce new ones gradually!
Watching the cartoon character Popeye eat spinach really does encourage children to eat more of the green leafy vegetable in real life it has been reported.
In the cartoon, Popeye the Sailor man, eats cans of spinach to give himself extra strength and becomes stronger once he has eaten. It has been found that when children watched the cartoon, and saw him eat spinach, they copied and did the same. They too wanted to eat spinach, despite historically not wanting to.
According to a study published in the medical journal Nutrition & Diet, researchers studied children aged 4 and 5 years old. They looked at their diet of fruit and vegetables before and after the study. All 26 children were encouraged to plant their own seeds, tave tasting parties and watch Popeye cartoons. The Professor in charge of the study said their intake of vegetables almost doubled! In addition, the children become more interested overall in the fruit and vegetables forming part of their diet.
Teachers were also encouraged to get involved and were asked to be role models at lunch time in shcoold. Teachers were invited to eat fruit and vegetables at meal times with the children. It was reported by parents that even the talking about vegetables increased after the children were involved in the study. They also came home proud from school having eaten their vegetables at lunchtime.
'Pick your own' fruit and vegetable farms make for a wonderful day out, and it's only as expensive as your appetite is big! This time of year is perfect for taking the children along to a farm and sharing with them the delight of picking and digging their own crops. If you don't know of any PYO farms near you, then use Google to try and find one.
Crops on offer will vary from farm to farm, but typically you'll find:-
- Berries which might include raspberries, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrents, blackberries etc.
- Other fruits such as apples, pears and plums
- Vegetables like carrots, cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach, sweetcorn, potatoes and onions
- Various beans: peas, broad beans, dwarf beans, runner beans, french beans, mange tout and sugar snap peas
- Squashes such as butternut squash, courgettes, marrows and pumpkins
The crops on offer will vary throughout the season which will run from around May to October time.
Children will delight in the fun of a day out at a fruit and vegetable farm, and the experience of choosing and picking their own produce helps them to learn about the food cycle. When you're out in the fields at a farm, you can undertake other activities too to extend your trip.
Don't forget to take your camera and upload pictures of your day into your Daily Diary at ToucanLearn!
By the time a baby is born, its taste buds are developed and a baby has an innate sense of what foods are good, and which are bad. Breast and formula milks are sweet, and babies initially favour sweet tastes over sour or bitter flavours. Although they may taste similar, the difference between breast and formula milk is the difference between processed and natural food. The first solid foods that many children experience are also processed baby foods. The packaging will tell you that the contents are healthy and nutritional, but often the truth is that they are laden with more sugar than we would use in our own cooking, and sometimes ingredients that we wouldn't be happy to add ourselves!
There is inceasing evidence that eating high proportions of processed foods as babies leads to increased consumption of processed foods throughout life, as our tastes adapt to the foods that we eat early on. Processed foods are typically high in salt and sugar and use cheap fats with higher saturated fat content. This almost certainly plays a part in the rising instance of obesity in children and adults.
A study published in America in 2004 suggested that by the age of 2 years, one third of toddlers do not eat fruit and vegetable in any healthy form, instead being fed a diet consisting only of processed foods. Other research suggests that babies exposed to a broad range of complex flavours, provided by natural foods, grow up to eat a broad and healthy diet, which in turn contributes to a better lifestyle.
If these ideas are correct, then it reinsforces just how important it is to be feeding our little ones a broad range of foods and flavours from an early age. Don't become dependent on baby jars from the supermarket, instead, look to buying a wide selection of fruit and vegetables from which to make your own purees, and wholesome meals.
With spring upon us, now is the perfect time to start a diary project exploring how flowers and plants grow - here are some ideas for some growing fun...
- Take one flower pot for each of your children and write on their names. If you only have a single child then take three flower pots and give each a fun name. Fill each with soil and plant a sunflower seed in each. Every week, chart which one is the tallest. Is one always the winner, or do they each grow at different rates? Which one grows to be the tallest?
- Take a flower pot and draw a face on the front, stick on googly eyes. Fill it with soil and sprinkle grass seed on top. Sprinkle a fine layer of soil over the seed and water it. Watch the grass grow as green hair for your character. Every couple of weeks, give your character a hair cut, and see if you can keep it growing throughout the summer!
- Take a discarded plastic food container, wash it out and line it with kitchen roll. Sprinkle cress seeds over it and watch them grow over just a couple of weeks. When they have grown, start pulling them out and eating them in sandwiches or on salads!
- Collect a variety of berries and other seeds from the trees, shrubs and plants in your garden. Plant them in a large pot and see which ones grow. See how quickly you can identify which is which as they appear - do they all look the same to start with? How are they different? Do they appear at the same time or at different times?
- Try growing plants from cuttings rather than seed! Take a glass and fill it 3/4's full with water. Cover the top with two or three layers of cellophane, then go into the garden and take some cuttings from your plants. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary and thyme work well, as do climbing plants such as ivy, honeysuckle or vines; you may propagate many shrubs in this way. Take short stems of new growth, typically 4- 5 inches in length with just one or two pairs of leaves at the top. Pierce the cellophane over your water using a skewer and poke your cuttings through so that the ends are in the water. Over time you should see roots beginning to grow and in time, you will be able to plant them into pots and later into the garden! Seeing the root system grow in water is particularly fascinating - have your children study them and draw how the roots look.
Diary projects are lots of fun with your little ones - keep a log book with drawings of your observations over time, your children will love the ongoing project. If you feel really ambitious, why not plant some vegetables? ...or plant a pumpkin that can be ready for Halloween?!