Summer holidays – a great time to encourage healthy eating

Summer holidays can be an exciting time for children with new places to be explored but what does this mean for your children’s diet and eating habits?

Loughborough University academics Dr Emma Haycraft and Dr Gemma Witcomb have developed the Child Feeding Guide which offers help and support to parents whose children may be fussy eaters or not be eating a wide variety of food. While you may think that holidays offer the opportunity for lots of sweet treats they can present opportunities to develop new and healthy eating habits.

A new environment – being in a new place – may give children the confidence to try something different. On holiday family members may also be trying new foods that they haven’t experienced before, which can help to make children feel like they are not the only one trying something different. It can take time to learn to like the flavour and texture of foods. Many children (and adults) require up to 15-20 exposures to a food before they will taste it.

Often parents find themselves using pressure, force or coercion to try and get their child to finish their meal. While pressuring a child to eat is usually done with the best of intentions, it can lead to the development of negative associations with the food. On holiday, adults and children can both feel more relaxed which can take some of the pressure off mealtimes and result in children being more willing to taste new foods.

For parents it can be frustrating to have spent time preparing a meal and for it to be rejected. On holiday, meals may have been prepared by someone else allowing more time to encourage healthy eating habits without the frustrations that can occur at home.

Holidays can also involve a lot of traveling time which can be dull for children. The time spent in a car or on a train or plane can be used to encourage children’s healthy eating habits – for example, by reading stories about food – and even help to develop their early maths skills.

Vegetable Maths Masters

Dr Haycraft has also worked on developing the app in conjunction with the British Psychological Society and colleagues from Aston and De Montfort Universities. The gaming platform is designed to expose children between three and seven-years-old to vegetables as they practise core maths skills developed in Key Stage 1.

From practising counting to developing division skills, there are a range of games on the app that combine learning about numbers and interacting with vegetables. When children complete problems on Vegetable Maths Masters, they are awarded stars and these can be used to buy props to decorate vegetable characters like ‘Sam the Squash’ and ‘Chloe the Carrot’.

Youngsters play as either a child, rabbit or teddy bear and throughout the game they ‘feed’ their avatars vegetables, which they respond to with positive verbal feedback when children answer a question correctly. Parents are also able to customise the game by selecting the vegetables (from a choice of 10) they want their children to play with.

Playing with vegetables in this way has been shown to help children to become more familiar with, and les wary of, a commonly refused foods.  Many vegetables taste bitter and look different, so by playing games – and practising maths – this can all help children to become more likely to try a range of foods.

For more information on encouraging children to develop healthy eating habits see the Child Feeding Guide at www.childfeedingguide.co.uk or the Vegetable Maths Masters app at www.vegetablemathsmasters.co.uk

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