Jo Cormack, author of Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food
Jo Cormack, author of Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food, answers our questions on children’s eating habits…
What kinds of issues are staff faced with when it comes to eating in school?
Despite a growing emphasis on nutrition in recent years, there is a lack of staff training around how to help children develop a positive relationship with food. Staff frequently have to deal with food-related challenges such as picky eating or allergies, especially in the primary sector. It is essential that they feel confident and informed.
One area where additional training is needed concerns early learning goal 5 (ELG 05) in the early years curriculum. Teaching children about nutrition and how to make healthy choices may seem straightforward but it requires a lot of skill to deliver ELG 05 in a way that is supportive of a positive relationship with food. It is important not to give children a sense of anxiety or guilt about what they eat, whilst also fostering excitement about a varied and nutritious diet. My book is full of ideas about how to get this tricky balance right and why it matters so much.
How do special educational needs, such as autism, affect food habits?
Special educational needs can really affect food habits. This is especially true of autism. While each child with autism is a unique individual, there are some characteristics of autism which can make eating really hard. In fact, research shows that up to 89% of children on the autism spectrum have feeding difficulties. School dining halls with their smells, noise and high levels of social interaction can be especially difficult for a child with autism and this is before they have even sat down to eat.
How can school staff positively influence a child’s eating habits? Is training needed?
With younger children especially, staff are in a position to have a very constructive influence over developing eating habits. The most powerful way that adults can support a positive relationship with food is through what they model. For example, if adults are able to eat with children, they will have an opportunity to demonstrate mealtime social skills, the enjoyment of a wide range of foods, trying new foods and self-regulation (eating in response to physical signals). Effective self-regulation is protective against picky eating, eating disorders and obesity.
What does the reference section in your book cover?
It includes lots of information on how to deal with food in relation to picky eating, obesity, autism, sensory processing problems, allergies and more.
Is the Government doing enough in schools to encourage healthier attitudes to food?
I would like to see the government emphasise the psychological aspects of eating, such as supporting effective self-regulation. I would like to see them promoting an understanding of how children relate to food, among both parents and professionals. There is a wealth of research in this area, especially in relation to obesity, and yet this is not reflected in policy. Nutrition and physical activity are important but I would argue that supporting positive feeding practices (and a love of good food, cooked from scratch) is an essential piece of the puzzle too.