Opening up your children to new, more adventurous foods that can also be enjoyed by the rest of the family can often be a struggle. So what can you do to ensure that your kids are getting the most out of their taste buds, and aren't afraid to experiment with new flavours?
For Hillary Graves, founder of Little Dish which makes healthy food for kids (stocked in Sainsbury's), the earlier you start off your children on the route of culinary exploration, the better. "Having your kids eat very fresh foods with real flavours from a very early age will help the process," she says. "Of course, sometimes jars can be handy, but if you can get your kids eating fresh ingredients from when they're very small, they'll appreciate that as opposed to bland, processed foods."
Shirlee Posner, a food education consultant for the Sainsbury's Active Kids Get Cooking scheme, agrees. "Really good food is very colourful and kids will immediately be drawn to that anyway," she says. "Lots of very young children don't like lumpy food, so one way around that I've found is to purée things. I make a delicious tomato sauce with courgettes and carrots, but I purée it - it's got the tomato flavour, but they're getting all their veg, and when they get a bit older they can help mum prepare it."
Getting kids involved in a hands-on way is a crucial part of demystifying foods and teaching your children about their diet, as Posner explains. "The most important thing is to get kids involved in food preparation, because it's very difficult for anyone who's stirring up a bowl of something delicious not to stick their fingers in and have a taste, especially if they're three. So it's important to get them involved in the shopping, preparation and decision-making stages. Also, if there are other kids you know who have better eating habits get them round for supper - children are influenced by other kids."
Lead by example
Both women agree that moving away from having separate foodstuffs and menus for your children is the best approach. "A lot of the food parents are buying and serving to children is brown - nuggets and chips. We need to get this out of our lives," says Posner, who was living with her family in Taiwan when her children were small. "It's about normalising more unusual foods. When we're abroad we have a game where we all have to try something new. I take the kids to street markets and get them eating local food, and if they see you doing it, they'll buy into it themselves. Aged five my daughter was eating quails' eggs, teriyaki and dim sum because she'd see the Taiwanese children eating them and copied them. Often it's parents who give the kids food foibles, passed on from their own preferences and dislikes, so you have to make sure you lead by example."
Take the pressure off
Graves emphasises the importance of gentle encouragement, rather than a strict approach. "Encouraging kids to try things - having the attitude of 'just try it - if you like it, great - if not, no worries' works best. Don't force them to finish it - that takes the pressure off. Very often, if you say to them to try it and they taste it they'll think it's good - knowing they have the option to leave it takes away that battle and fear that can arise." She also suggests making comparisons to foods your children already enjoy, when tempting them with something new.
"Make a comparison to a familiar favourite," she says. "My kids love lasagne. They weren't so keen on the idea of Mexican chicken enchiladas - until I said that they're like a Mexican lasagne - refer to something familiar and your children will be more keen to try."