Whether you attach religious significance to the season or not, for most people in Britain, Christmas is a time for family, food and festivity.
For those of us without much in the way of responsibilities, worries at this time of year are generally limited to how we’re going to afford all the nights out we have planned, and if that last-minute present from Amazon will arrive in time.
For parents, despite the celebratory nature of the season, things can be a little more stressful. With all it takes to make a Christmas run smoothly, many will feel they already have enough on their plate without having to fret about their child’s diet.
Local mother of two Dawn Quest, 46, knows first-hand the challenges involved in trying to keep children eating healthily and happily, and in April this year launched Meals our Kids Love, a website designed to help others conquer the problem.
“As a mum, I found it quite difficult to find things my kids liked to eat,” she says. “It became demoralising and stressful dealing with fussy eaters, and when I started talking to other mums and dads I realised I wasn’t alone.
“Together with a friend, I decided to do something about it. Meals our Kids Love is a website designed to help make family meal times less stressful. We feature kid friendly recipes, tips, advice, and product reviews, all with the idea that mealtimes should be more fun, less stressful and easier.
“As parents, we’re bombarded by sugar in the shops. At Christmas it’s especially difficult to avoid overdosing on sugar, and maintaining a healthy meal routine is quite tricky as well.”
Dawn doesn’t recommend forbidding sugary treats over the holiday, or being unnecessarily strict, but keeping things in moderation and restricting them a little where you can.
She is featuring a number of festive treats on her website, from strawberry Santas to Christmas tree pizzas. But most of the tips she has to give are for life, not just for Christmas.
“The first thing I would advise parents to do is keep trying. Research suggests that kids can take up to 20 times of being offered a food before they’ll even try it. Don’t give up too soon. Taste buds develop at different times for different children. One week they’ll hate something, but they’ll like it. Keep offering.
“The second thing I would recommend is offering food ‘family style.’ Have plates of food in the middle of table that the kids can help themselves from.
“Piling food high on their plates can be quite a pressurised way of doing things. Especially the message that they have to eat everything on their plate.
“When they take it themselves, it means smaller portions and less waste, and removes the pressure of you watching them to make sure they’ve eaten every last bite.
“The third tip I would give, is save any big family discussions for another time. Don’t have them at dinner table, keep things light and cheerful. Meals times are supposed to be enjoyable. Your children are a captive audience when you have them sitting down for a meal, and its better not to force difficult conversation on them.”
Because kids are especially drawn to the sweeter and more attractive treats at this time of year, Dawn suggests dressing your food for the occasion.
“The thing with Christmas is, it’s about how you present the food,” she says. “If you cut a fruit into the shape of a Christmas tree or a snowflake, you’re halfway there! It’s about making things look fun and appetising.
“I’m going to be making Christmas tree pizzas, either with a dough or tortilla base, as my view is they aren’t inherently unhealthy, it depends on what you put on top of them.
“Making food look nice is something to focus on all year round. I used to look at the food I gave my kids and think ‘god, I wouldn’t even eat that.’
“As parents these days, there’s quite a lot of pressure on us. We don’t just have to feed our children, we have to be top quality chefs, nutritionists and food technicians.
“Mealtime at home are much better than they used to be. We generally eat better as a family, and I feel better. The more energy you put into something the more rewarding it is. I needed to have a change of attitude, and the kids have definitely welcomed the improved mealtimes.”
Dawn is keen to stress that eating well isn’t all about being healthy. As well as finding food that’s good for us, we need to find food we love. Her site features recipes for salted caramel ice cream and butternut squash brownies alongside fruit kebabs and pumpkin soup.
Every dish must make it past a judging panel of children before it makes it onto the site, with any recipe scoring less than seven out of 10 scrunched up and thrown in the dustbin.
“It’s not about being puritanical. As much as it’s about eating the right things, it’s also about being a parent whose kids will eat the food I make them!”
With the site in its relative infancy, Dawn is constantly adding to the content. She recently started sharing a weekly ‘quick tip Tuesday’ video, alongside a new dish on Mondays and a product review on Fridays.
“I want to reach as many people as I possibly can with the website,” she says.
“In the new year I plan to launch a forum, and a hub where parents can share tips and advise from their own experience.
“I believe there’s wisdom in the community. I don’t claim to be the expert, I’m a mum. The more people who join in or stop by the website the better, as it lets us all share in the collective wisdom.”