Research has shown that 79 per cent of all toddlers do not eat enough vegetables. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are crucial to the development of taste, and children may have to taste a new flavour ten to fifteen times before they like it.
“We have made this a focal point for good reasons,” Lemmens says. The nutrients in vegetables are essential to the growth and development of a child. Besides, Statistics Netherlands claims that 14 per cent of young people aged 4 to 17 and as much as half of all adult Dutch are overweight. “Together with parents we want to make a healthy diet perfectly normal for children, which also means that we drink water and tea instead of lemonade or soft drinks.”
When sitting at the big table with children of their own age, children are more daring than at home. And this is the same with food, Lemmens claims. “They challenge one another and are stimulated in a positive way by our educational staff. This is why the daycare is particularly suitable for embarking on a flavour adventure. When your friends are feasting on a Mediterranean fish dish with couscous, even the most adamant vegetable-refuser will be tempted to have a try. Pure peer pressure, group pressure, which we are happy to take advantage of.”
“Moreover, our educational staff know exactly how to motivate children to discover new flavours. They make sure that there is a good atmosphere at the table. They present the food in an attractive way and make the children do as much as possible themselves. As a parent, you will know all these tricks as well, but if your child is tired at the end of the day, looks sourly at the lasagne you worked so hard on, and the morsels for the most part end up on the floor, positive parenting can be very hard indeed.”
One helping of vegetables a day at Smallsteps
“We are following the recommendations of the Netherlands Nutrition Centre,” Lemmens continues. These are very explicit on what children of various ages need. “We want all children to have eaten at least one helping of vegetables when they are picked up, so we have raw vegetables for an afternoon snack and we are serving a hot lunch on more and more locations. Our partner Madaga delivers these delicious, nutritious lunches. Further, we are cooperating on a programme for taste development. Not only do we allow children to taste, but we also encourage them to see, feel, and smell their food.” “The chefs of Madaga know what children like,” Lemmens says. “They experience flavours and structures in a way that is very different from adults. In addition, they have all their recipes approved by an independent pediatric nutritionist and tasted by a panel of discerning little ones. At least 80 per cent of the children have to love it, or else the dish is not going to make the menu.”
Fries and Ice-cream
So we will never see unhealthy food on the table? Some fries or a little ice-cream every now and then will not harm you if you have a healthy diet. “The nice thing about this is that children drink more water at home too, sometimes prefer fruit to sweets, and ask what exactly is in the pasta sauce. This way, the educational staff work together with parents to ensure that children adopt a healthy diet. Which means having a regular, healthy and varied diet as well as developing your taste.”
This article appeared in a supplement of Elsevier on 9 September.