Why eating together as a family is good for little taste-buds

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Amelia Freer, nutritional therapist & best-selling author, explains why.

WelleCo: Amelia, how important is eating together as a family?

Amelia Freer: Although I completely understand that in today’s busy world it can be very difficult to eat together as a family, it is nonetheless something I try to achieve when possible. Some of my strongest childhood memories come from shared meals and the conversations that flowed through them. It is definitely a habit I want to pass on to my new daughter, Willow, who at just 4 months already loves to sit at the table and watch us eat.

W: Should a family all eat the same meal?

AF: Generally, I am a big believer in encouraging children to enjoy the same food as the adults. Not only does this make life easier for the person shopping and preparing the meals, but it also enables little taste-buds to explore a wide range of new tastes and textures. Children do not need to just eat ‘Children’s Food’. Of course I am new to this but I certainly hope to encourage Willow to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible.

W: What are your tips for developing kids’ taste-buds?

AF: I think perhaps my number 1 tip is to try to minimize the stress and pressure of eating for children where possible. Yes, children do need to be encouraged to eat a varied and balanced diet (which can definitely be easier said than done!) – but I also know that I would struggle to eat if I was constantly being asked to finish what was on my plate. Making dinner time an enjoyable environment, with conversations about anything but the food, can be a great place to start.

Secondly, try to offer kids from a young age lots of ‘tiny tastes’- pieces of fruit and vegetables to touch, feel, smell, lick and taste. Ideally, this should be done without any pressure to finish them – it is much more about simply offering the opportunity to explore. Children generally need to taste new things around 10 times before they like them. Enjoyment usually comes after familiarity.

W: Tell me about your approach to food.

My food philosophy is really about simple, fad-free and balanced nutrition. I think we can get so caught up in the details of ever-changing food ‘rules’ that we forget to see the bigger picture. If instead we just focus on getting the basics right; enjoying a diet abundantly full of nutritious ingredients – fruit and vegetables, high quality proteins, healthy fats and unrefined carbohydrates – then we would be most of the way there. That is the food approach I call Positive Nutrition and feature in my latest book Nourish and Glow: The 10 Day Plan; where we focus on the things our body wants and needs us to eat, instead of focusing on the foods that we should restrict, deny or moderate. It’s the ‘do’s’ not the ‘don’ts’.

W: What are the most important pantry staples for supporting your food ethos?

AF: My pantry is never without good quality olive oil, some sort of beans or lentils, lemons, and lots of organic herbs and spices for adding flavour. My fridge always has a few varieties of seasonal fruits and vegetables too, often fresh from my vegetable garden.

W: Is feeding children plant-based dinners good for them?

AF: I do not personally recommend giving children an entirely plant-based diet, unless you have the support of a nutrition professional to help you design a complete diet that provides all the varied nutrients they need. However, I certainly do encourage giving children lots of plant-based foods to try. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of nutritional benefits, such as fibre and vitamins, essential minerals and health-boosting phytonutrients – all of which are so important for little growing people. Not to mention setting them up brilliantly for a lifetime of eating well.

W: What is key to making them taste great?

AF: I don’t think there is a huge difference between what makes fruits and vegetables taste amazing to us as adults and what makes them taste great to our children. I definitely avoid adding any salt to children’s meals, and will go very easy on spices and black pepper (they usually have much more sensitive taste-buds than we do), but otherwise, choosing lovely quality fresh produce, cooking it appropriately (no over-boiled cabbage!), and serving it attractively can go such a long way.

Amelia’s new book Nourish & Glow: The 10-Day Plan is available now.