Learning healthy eating habits early
It's common knowledge that diets high in salt can contribute to high blood pressure and diets high in sugar can lead to obesity. While these health problems usually occur in adults, they are becoming more prevalent in children.
Because we learn a lot about our eating habits when we're little, it's important to start early and make sure you're providing your children with the healthiest options and teaching them a few cooking tips for the future.
Independent dietician Lucy Jones says:
"Children up to three should have a maximum of 2g of salt a day - that's about a third of a teaspoon. As it's quite hard to know how much salt is in something from the taste alone, check the label - more than 1.5g salt per 100g is considered high for an adult so be extra careful when buying prepared foods for your children.
And remember, the more salt we eat the stronger our preference for it becomes and the less we notice the taste, so it's best not to add it to little one's food at all."
Tips for adding flavour in a healthy way
We know the easiest ways to add flavour to a meal, a spoonful of sugar or a pinch of salt - but if these aren't healthy, what are the other options?
"Many of the foods children eat every day, like bread, spreads and cereals, already contain sugar so avoid adding it to the food you prepare at home and find creative ways to boost flavour." Lucy Jones
We asked the team at Little Dish how to make delicious, healthy food for children without adding salt or sugar. Over the years, the chefs at Little Dish have learned how to create tastes children love without taking shortcuts.
Here are some top tips for happy tummies and empty plates...
Squeeze half a lemon on to steamed broccoli florets or green beans for a tasty twist. Little helpers will love being in charge of the squeezing.
Look for ways to add herbs
Tear basil into a tomato sauce, sprinkle parsley or chives into an omelette, or blitz basil with toasted pine nuts, Parmesan and a little olive oil to make a yummy homemade pesto. If you have a little herb dodger in the family, opt for dried herbs - they're harder to spot.
Experiment with spices
Try making a mild curry sauce with turmeric, cumin and coriander. You'll need to heat the spices gently in a little oil and make sure they don't burn. Mix mild curry powder into a cheesy sauce to give it a delicate new flavour, or add a small pinch of chilli powder and lemon juice to mashed avocados for a
Sprinkle in some super seeds
Add sesame seeds to steamed green veg and carrot batons, or sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds into roasted veg.
Give garlic a go
Crush or finely chop garlic and cook it gently in a small amount of olive oil so it releases flavour into your sauces.
Try tropical twists
Slice open a vanilla pod and add the wonderfully aromatic seeds to plain yogurt. Layer chopped mango, banana and strawberries with the yogurt for a quick and easy pudding.
Create yummy compotes
Steam rhubarb with the zest and juice of an orange and a little grated ginger, or soften chopped apple with a tablespoon of water, a handful of raisins and a pinch of cinnamon.
Mix fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries or chopped dried fruit, like figs and apricots, into porridge and granola instead of adding sugar.
Passion fruit pulp and seeds are fun for little hands to spoon out and have a lovely crunch to them - a perfect topping for puds and porridge.
Little helping hands
If you've been using lots of salt and sugar in your cooking - you might meet some resistance when you start changing the way you cook. Don't give up! Get the little ones involved and make it fun. The longer you stick to the new regime the more likely it is you'll get everyone on board.
Ask your little ones to use their children's scissors to help chop fresh herbs and sprinkle them into their food. Children are more likely to try new tastes if they've helped create them.
Introduce a new tastes reward chart
Celebrate with stickers when your little ones try a new taste for the first time.
Take the super spice challenge
Put a pinch of each spice on a plate and challenge children to smell and sprinkle them. How many can they name?
Encourage little green fingers
Plant some herbs with your children and put them in charge of the watering. Little ones will be more willing to try herbs in their food if they have grown them themselves.