To trick or to treat?

Posted by iChild, October 26, 2021 7:37 PM

By Sarah Almond Bushell

Trick or Treat might be around the corner but it’s better not to trick and just to treat when it comes to cooking for your little ones.

Tis the season for sweets and treats right?...At this time of year our children are privy to more sweet treats than usual….so how as parents do we balance this out? Do we need to learn how to say No more? Do we bribe them into eating a piece of fruit for every 10 sweets they consume?? Do we slave for hours over healthy stews or sauces stuffed full of hidden vegetables to make sure they get their vitamin fill?


No - is the answer from leading paediatric dietitian and nutritionist, Sarah Almond Bushell, who believes tricking children into eating healthy foods is fundamentally a huge mistake.

She said: “When our children refuse to eat foods that we know they should eat in order to be healthy, it’s tempting to hide these foods in others. Hidden vegetable pasta sauce is the classic example and another is chocolate beetroot muffins or courgette cake! Parents, myself included, do this for peace of mind. We need to make sure that our children have eaten healthy nourishing foods so that they will be healthy and well. But this is not the right thing to do when done in secret. Tricking them doesn’t really get us anywhere as it just masks the problem rather than sees us facing it”.

“Without exposure to those vegetables, or any other food your child is currently rejecting for that matter, your little one doesn’t stand a chance of being able to learn to like it - as they are not actively involved in the process. Eating is not a two-step process, children don’t just sit down and eat. Eating is something they have to learn throughout their childhood years and learning happens with their senses.

Children need to be exposed to the food they don't like on a regular basis. They need to be able to see it, smell it, sometimes hear it, touch it, and eventually taste it before they can like it. It’s not unusual for children to dislike vegetables and that’s because they contain a bitter compound which their immature tastebuds tend not to favour. Children actually experience flavour differently from adults and so what might be perfectly acceptable to us may result in disgust to a child. They are not being naughty by refusing to eat broccoli -it might literally make them want to wretch! -but we need to help them learn to like healthy food, and this is a team effort”

As a Registered Dietitian with 22 years of NHS experience and mum to two teenagers, Sarah has vast experience from both sides of the fence. Her advice is to combine hidden vegetables (so you DO know they are getting some)  alongside ‘visible’ vegetables they can explore, however she doesn’t believe in tricking them.

“Do be honest about the foods you are hiding”, she says “ Children don’t like nasty surprises and if they find a lump of mushroom in their pasta sauce that hasn’t blended down properly you could face losing pasta sauce as an accepted food. But worse than that, finding out that mummy has been secretly hiding foods they don't like can damage the trusting relationship between the two of you, making them suspicious of any new foods you introduce to them and creating a whole new level of stress”

Sarah’s top 5 tips for keeping your kids healthy this Halloween:-

  • It’s ok to let your children gorge on sweets this Halloween, if you don’t allow this indulgence you will be telling them that these foods are forbidden which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.
  • When you are preparing your family's meals, choose veggies that are in season, they’ll be packed full of flavour and children are much more likely to respond to flavoursome foods. Think butternut squashes, corn on the cob, celery, leeks.
  • Eat together and serve food in large bowls in the centre of the table so that your child can help themselves to the portion they want to eat. This is so important for building trust around food and for the sensory experience they’ll get from seeing and smelling foods they don’t like from across the table.
  • Remember children aren’t being naughty if they don't eat the food on offer. They are growing and developing and they just haven't learned how to like that food yet. It can take well over 20 exposures for a new food to be accepted.
  • Picky eating is incredibly frustrating for us parents but I urge you to keep calm and don’t resort to bribes, rewards or distractions to try to get your child to eat. Yes, they’ll work today and maybe even next week but in a year's time chances are their picky eating will be worse and there will be even fewer foods they’ll eat.

For more tips and advice from Sarah see

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD

Registered Dietitian & The Children’s Nutritionist™



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