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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019

10 tips for getting your kids interested in the food they eat, according to an expert

Put the power in their hands, says Airfield Estate’s Luke Matthews

Image: Shutterstock/Evgeny Atamanenko

NO MATTER WHAT your original intentions were when your little ones were born, once they move away from milk, getting them to chomp on the likes of raw peppers instead of crisps isn’t always possible.

But Airfield Estate, an urban farm just outside Dublin city, aims to inspire people of all ages to make better food choices – whether for the planet, their pocket or their own bodies. And no one is more up for the challenge than their culinary lead Luke Matthews.

Having worked as a sous chef in the Michelin star Harwood Arms in London, Matthews then came home to Ireland to found Mews Restaurant in Baltimore – which quickly earned its own Michelin star. And now he’s at the helm in Airfield’s Overends Kitchen, aiming to get people to reconnect with their food by eating local, seasonal ingredients.

And for Airfield, there’s no better place to change the way we eat than getting the next generation involved. Here, Matthews shares some incredibly simple things you can do at home to get your kids excited about their next meal.

1. Eat every meal with your kids

As Matthews explains, “there’s been a strong tradition of kids at Airfield for a long time”, and their education programme actually started with a breakfast club. And it’s also a good place to engage kids at home, says Matthews:

Eating breakfast everyday at the same time with kids is tricky enough. But you do need to sit down with them – often we see breakfast as ‘feeding time’ rather than ‘meal time’.

For Matthews, eating with your family around a table is “what food is all about”, and it’s helpful to remember that meal times aren’t a battleground – they’re a chance to talk to and spend quality time with your kids.

2. Plant some herbs with them

Through their interaction with thousands of kids over the last few years, the team at Airfield has found that the key to getting them excited about food is to give them ownership over their own meals and to involve them in the whole process of making them. And there’s an easy way to get them to do this, according to Matthews:

If there’s a small area where they can grow herbs or cress in the garden or in a window box, that’s key – they’ll get excited and invested in any meal you use them in.

3. Ask for their help cooking

Airfield Estate, Dundrum, Co.Dublin. Easter event. March 2016 Source: Paul Sherwood/Airfield Estate

Though it goes without saying that small children should learn how to use a knife safely in the kitchen, Matthews notes that “there’s a job for kids of every age in the kitchen”. If your little one is very small, you can give them jobs such as breaking up cauliflower or broccoli. And if they’re a bit older, you can give them even more control:

Older kids can cook a whole meal by themselves – you can even give them a turn cooking one night a week. This will prepare them for later on, make them more aware of what goes into a meal and make them more likely to eat it.

4. Be adventurous with your own eating

There’s a picky eater in almost every young household in Ireland and that’s totally OK – what’s important is that we set a good example for them. While Matthews advises to “pick your battles and accept small victories” in these situations, he reminds that “we set the example and kids will follow suit”:

We have to lead by example and try different things ourselves – we’re great at lecturing about eating your veg but not so much for actually doing it ourselves.

In Overends Restaurants, Matthews shares that instead of a kid’s menu, they offer a ‘size me’ option, meaning kids can try a half portion of ‘adult’ dishes instead.

5. Introduce them to fruit and veg that’s in season

shutterstock_607616729 Source: Shutterstock/Martin Novak

The team at Airfield try to follow ‘the GLAS rules’ (Go with the seasons; Local produce; Avoid waste; Sustainably produced). Along with championing local producers and avoiding heavily packaged food, Matthews explains how this philosophy works:

We use lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in their prime – they’re the easiest and cheapest to get and they’re the best for our planet.

If you need a hand finding out which ones are at their best right now, have a look at what’s in abundance in the supermarket – it’s usually a very good indicator of what’s in season.

6. Give them tasks at the supermarket

As a location that can become a battleground for many parents, Matthews advises to use visiting the supermarket as a time when everyone in the family is assigned a very important role, to get them involved and engaged with the food choices that you make as a family. He suggests to send them off on the following missions:

You can ask one kid to try to find loose veg with less packaging or make sure that someone has to check where the food is coming from – if they find peas are from the Middle East for example, you can use that as an opportunity to find food from closer to home.

7. Let them explore different textures

shutterstock_690680719 Source: Shutterstock/mamaza

As annoying as it might be when they spit out their peas, Matthews reminds that your kids “are their own people – they’re smart and will decide what they like in their own way”. And the great thing is that they love experiencing different textures:

Kids love variety when it comes to the textures they eat – give them a crunchy carrot or some soft yoghurt and see which textures they do and don’t like.

8. Buy a new item to try every week

It’s not just your kids that tend to revert to the same food every week, says Matthews: “There’s so much stuff we could be eating – we only eat a narrow range of foods.” A brilliant place for you to start is by appealing to their sweet tooth with fruit, says Matthews: “Try a different fruit or vegetable each week.”

If you’re stuck for ideas, right now is the season for the likes of apples, turnips, swedes, spinach, parsnips, leeks, cauliflowers, carrots, cabbage, butterhead lettuce and brussel sprouts.

9. Cook a vegetarian meal once a week

Along with other must-keep rules to introduce such as no phones or TV at the table, Matthews suggests introducing one vegetarian meal a week. This is both to reduce the meat we eat (“something we should all try to do”) and to increase the amount of vegetables we are eating each week.

There’s no need to make a big deal of it – you can even introduce it on the sly and just make something like a vegetarian lasagna filled with fresh vegetables. 

10. If they’re older, let them take control 

If you’re the parent of teenagers and frequently come to conflict over the less-than-healthy food they eat, it’s worth giving them independence rather than chasing more control over their diet, says Matthews:

You can give them a budget for their school lunches and let them choose what they buy so they’ll see the cost of food. While some will buy junk food, some will really embrace it – it’s worth trying. 

This also goes for their dinner: “Let them make decisions”, says Matthews, who suggests making them responsible for choosing and making dinner one night a week:

At first they might make fried eggs and bacon for dinner, but as time goes on, you can introduce veg into that and that’s OK. The important thing is to get them invested in their food.

Source: Airfield Estate/YouTube

Airfield Estate is a non-for-profit organisation which seeks to help inspire and enable people to make better food choices.  Open daily for people to visit, there’s a working farm, gardens, heritage centre and farm to fork restaurant. Here you can found out more about their activities and what’s on offer.

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