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?
As children grow older you'll make the transition from feeding them every mouthful, to the point where they can eat their own food. Most babies will give you clear signs that they are wanting to try to learn to use cutlery. Give them a spoon and they will be keen to dig in themselves having watched you eating for some time. They should be able to use a spoon to feed themselves from around 9 months old and in time can move on to a fork and then a knife and fork.
Learning to use cutlery requires many different skills to be honed. They need the fine motor skills required to pick up a spoon or fork, and the skill and co-ordination to load it with food and raise it to their mouth, all without dropping the food load! Remember that they can't even see their mouth so arriving there is largely down to trial and error. Babies bones are still developing at this early stage, remaining soft and flexible, not hardening until around 18months. This compounds the problems in mastering control.
Be patient and encourage children as they demonstrate the will to learn to feed themselves. You will have to tolerate the mess that is bound to end up everywhere. If you have a hard floor where they eat, in the kitchen or in a room with bare floorboards, then clearing up is that much easier. If you have carpet then you may want to put down a highchair floor mat to give you an easy-clean surface all around. You will also find that a plastic bib with a pocket to catch spilled food is practical at this stage.
Choosing cutlery is partly down to your own preference. Most children start on cutlery with broad plastic handles which are easier to grip, but you may prefer to go straight to stainless steel cutlery with easy grip but slightly less bulky handles. All-plastic forks, with plastic tines, tend to be difficult to use to pick up food and we would recommend avoiding these - look for cutlery with stainless steel heads at the very least.
The continuing scandal surrounding horsemeat in the British food supply chain serves to show that although we pride ourselves on food labelling, there seems to be a huge disjunct between what the label says and what our food products contain. Food labellling has arguably never been clearer but clearly there is still room in the suply chain for malpractice.
While in Britain we don't usually eat horsemeat, there's nothing dangerous about this meat per se, except for the fact that if it has entered into the foodchain illegally, then it's unlikely that any high standards of farming have been applied. The greatest danger in this instance is that horses can be treated with veterinary medicines that may be dangerous for human consumption and must not be allowed to enter the food chain.
It turns out that a supplier in Poland provided meat to a supplier in France who gave it to a supplier in Ireland who sold it to our supermarkets. If ever there appears to be a case of 'too many cooks' then this has to be it!
To make a beefburger, buy some steak, mince it and round it into patties.
Our food doesn't need to travel through several countries, being part processed along the way until we arrive at a product that really doesn't take long to prepare from fresh. Even Lasagne can be made in 30 minutes and left to cook for 40.
What we have seen is the logical conclusion of consumer demand for maximum convenience for just a few pennies. Didn't we ever wonder how supermarkets managed to supply 'value' meals so cheaply? Do you remember 'mad cow disease' that resulted from animals being fed the remains of other animals? Where will the horsemeat currently being sold in the UK as burgers and lasagne end up once it has been halted from our food supplies? Will it enter into animal feed next?
If you want to ensure that your little ones are eating nutritious and healthy food, then find the time to prepare the best meals. Source your food from local providers whenever possible, and buy ingredients rather than processed foods when you can.
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|
Here's a great game for kids to play in a restaurant while waiting for your food to arrive. Take a sheet of paper and draw a large circle on it, as large as you can fit on. Draw a large cross to divide the circle into quarters, then draw further lines to divide the circle into equal eights. Now the fun begins!
Pass the paper around the table and each player takes one of the 1/8th slices, drawing in their own pizza topping ideas. Keep passing the paper around until all eight pizza slices have been filled with different toppings.
There are no rules - you can draw in traditional pizza toppings, such as different meats (pepperoni, ham or spicy beef) and fresh vegetables (slices of peppers, mushrooms, sweetcorn or tomatoes). Alternatively draw in other patterns such as national flags, or why not put slugs, snails and worms on your pizza?!
You can add an element of surprise by folding the paper and only letting each player see the slice that they are decorating. When the pizza is unfolded at the end you can reveal the completed pizza for the first time.
Have your little ones draw an ice cream cone and then draw on a stack of as many different flavoured scoops of ice cream as they can think of. Talk about the different flavours that they choose and whether they are fruity ones or otherwise. Talk about the colours and how ice cream feels - of course it's cold, but does it contain lumps? ...does it have crunchy bits in or chewy bits?
Make up some new flavours, see their reaction to broccoli ice cream, or chocolate and carrot ice cream? What flavours do you think a witch or an alien might like, or a worm?
What flavour ice cream would a horse or a cow like? What can you sprinkle on top of your ice cream to add more flavour? ...and what can you stick in to decorate it? A chocolate finger or Flake bar? A cocktail umbrella? What else might be unusual and fun that you can add to your drawing?
Children learn very quickly which foods are 'good' for you and which are 'bad', fresh fruit and vegetables are good, chips, crisps and sweets are bad. Find a home or cooking magazine and cut out a library of pictures of different foods. Look at which ones are healthy and which ones are less so. Explain to older children why each food is good or bad, and explain what goes into processed foods such as jam, fish fingers, chips or butter.
You may not have thought about it, but so many foods that we eat today are processed in the sense that they are factory-produced. This doesn't automatically make them bad for us although processed foods do have a propensity to have higher levels of salt, fat or sugar, even all three!
Older children can be taught about salt, sugar and fat levels in food. Explain how to read the nutritional breakdown found on nearly all products and have them start comparing different foods. Take a nutritional value, such as salt, and explain that high salt levels are less healthy than low salt levels. Pick out five products from your kitchen cupboard and have your little ones place them in order of salt content, from low to high. Reiterate which end is more healthy and which are less healthy. Do the same for fat and sugar levels too.
This exercise will quickly teach about food health in a basic way as well as an ability to understand quantities, and it's fun to play along the way!
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!
Nobody knows why, but fresh strawberries are a common allergen, especially in babies under 6 months of age. Some suspect that the protein responsible for turning strawberries red is the culprit, but whatever it is, many babies develop a rash around the mouth and face after consuming fresh strawberries. Strawberries can also contribute to nappy rash although this is down to acidity rather than allergens.
Cooked strawberries very rarely cause allergic reactions so you will frequently find strawberry deserts and purees for the youngest children. These are usually perfectly safe as the cooking (and often pasteurising) process destroys whatever causes reactions in the first place.
If you wish to introduce strawberries into the diet of your young children then be aware of their allergic nature and observe your children after feeding strawberries to look for adverse signs. If your children react then leave it for a few months and then try again. The majority of children grow out of any allergic reactions by 6 months and very few display adverse signs after 12 months.
White strawberries and the 'pineberry', which some supermarkets have introduced over the last few years, do not appear to cause allergic reactions, perhaps strengthening the argument that it is the red pigment in strawberries that is to blame.
Whilst you shouldn't believe all the hype around 'superfoods', there is strong scientific evidence that certain foods can improve the development of the brain and your cognitive functions. We're not talking weird supplements and pills that might be dangerous for your kids, but natural elements, compounds and vitamins present in everyday foods. Including a sensible amount of these foods in the diets of your little ones can only be a good thing.
Vitamin C is known to enhance mental agility, not because of the effect it has on the brain itself, but because as an antioxidant it prevents other more harmful minerals ('free radicals') from reaching the brain. Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, brassica's (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc), potatoes and strawberries, although you should avoid feeding strawberries to babies under six months because they are a common allergen.
Deficiency of Vitamin B12 is linked to memory loss and other cognitive deficiencies. Minor deficiency of B12 is linked to fatigue and depression. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with B12 making this a great start to the day. B12 is also found in animal products including meat, eggs, milk, fish and shellfish.
Magnesium is important for the development of all the cells in our bodies. High levels of magnesium are obtained from foods such as nuts, spices, coffee and cocoa - none of which, perhaps with the exception of cocoa, are common in children's diets. Spinach is another good source of magnesium that is perhaps easier to include in your kids' diets.
Omega-3 fatty oils are found in marine and plant oils and are associated with improving mental health. Although the scientific evidence is not fully established, it is widely believed that Omega-3 helps to treat ADHD and other autism spectrum disorders.
All these substances, and many more, are available as supplements from a pharmacy, but a healthy, balanced diet should give the body all it needs.
As excitement mounts for the queen's Diamond Jubilee this weekend, your little ones are probably just too young to understand the significance of what is going on, but they certainly aren't too young to join in the fun. Here are some fun ideas to explore royalty and help them learn who the queen is:-
Your little ones simply adore copying what you do, and when your working in the kitchen, nothing will make them happier than to play with the same kitchen implements that you use - wooden spoons, spatulas, whisks and bowls. Of course, they don't need to mess up your lovely kitchen utensils, although nylon and wooden ones would be perfectly safe for them, you can also buy whole sets of kitchen utensils from any toy store.
Pretend kitchen play is a valuable pastime for all kids. At a physical level they are learning about materials and honing their fine motor skills as they drop ingredients into bowls and stir them. They are also growing their understanding of how food is prepared, learning what is involved and about where their meals come from.
As they grow older you can move from pretend utensils to real ones, and from play food to real 'dried foods' (such as pasta, dried fruit, cereal etc.) and on to genuine cooking. Next time you are in a supermarket, take a look in the home baking aisle and you will find all manner of easy foods that you can whip up with the kids.
Here are some simply foods that you can buy from the supermarket and which even the youngest children can 'cook':-
All these products can be prepared in around 5 minutes and baked in around 20, and can form a part of the children's real meals. Try to cook with your children at least once a week and they will have a whale of a time!
When childminders give children snacks and meals, the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework requires that they be 'healthy, balanced and nutritious'. It's fairly easy to whip up a meal that fills the criteria because you can balance a meal with fresh vegetables and use fresh ingredients.
If you are providing processed foods such as sausages, ham, nuggets, fishfingers or burgers then check the ingredients and the nutritional breakdown of the foods you are buying. To buy the healthiest options, compare the fat, sugar and salt content. Processed foods are often far more laden with salt and sugar to create flavour than if you were to make the same fare at home. When comparing fat content of products, go for ones with the least saturated fat which is more harmful than unsaturated fat. Better still, try make your own products at home and then you are aware of their contents. You can easily make burgers, fishcakes and breaded chicken or turkey nuggets - slightly time consuming but not difficult.
Try to ration meat to two or three main meals a week, offer vegetarian options (eg. jacket potato and baked beans, mild vegetarian chilli, vegetable lasagne etc.) and fish (fishcakes, jacket potato and tuna, breaded fish etc.) on other occasions.
Processed snacks can also be much less healthy than you might imagine. Snacks are often packaged to make them appear to be healthy but when choosing snacks, again, make sure you compare the fat, sugar and salt content. It's very easy to give children a high salt diet without realising and some healthy looking snacks contain more saturated fat than a packet of crisps! Better still, make snacks yourself. Fruit and vegetables chopped into portions perhaps make the best snacks. Buy yourself a hot air popcorn maker and make fresh popcorn but without the salt or sugar.
Providing healthy, balanced and nutritious food isn't difficult but it can be deceptive if you are offering factory processed foods. Check the food labels and know what you are feeding your little ones.
Watching plants grow is a lovely experience for your little ones, and the rapid growing nature of cress makes it a great plant to monitor for a project. You can buy packets of cress seeds in supermarkets, garden centres and hardware stores; a single packet will have plenty of seeds for a few growing projects.
Cress grows very well on cotton wool which is less messy than using more traditional soil. You can grow cress in any receptacle, here are a few ideas:-
Lay some cotton wool inside your chosen 'pot', sprinkle seeds on top and saturate it with water. Leave it in a warm and light place such as a windowsill. Look at the pot each day and see what happens. Watch as the seeds start sprouting and then grow into tall cress. After a few days you will be able to harvest the cress - chop it with a pair of scissors and sprinkle it inside a sandwich and enjoy the reward of your labours!
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