Recently, third-year students attended a masterclass led by nutritionist Annie Denny. The class explored the developmental stages of feeding, dos and don’ts during weaning, helping children develop a liking for healthier foods, supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities, and techniques for supporting children to become more adventurous eaters.

Rosanna (Set 42) reflects on the masterclass, how it’s aiding her with her dissertation research on weaning and the tips it provided on weaning and introducing new foods to children.

Please introduce yourself

I’m Rosanna, I’m a third-year student at Norland and I’m originally from Bedfordshire. Before attending my dream university, I completed three A levels in English Language, Business Studies and Food Technology. Throughout my training at Norland, one of the highlights for me has been our food and nutrition training. These lectures have really enabled me to build on my passion and knowledge of nutrition within the early years and refine my skills within the kitchen. Being fortunate enough to put what we have learnt in our food and nutrition lectures into practice on various placements has enabled me to become more confident as a nanny.

a female student in an apron smiling

My reflection on the masterclass with Annie Denny

Set 42 was treated to an extremely informative guest lecture from Annie Denny, a qualified nutritionist with vast amounts of experience and knowledge. The broad range of topics we covered really aided my understanding regarding children and food, and how important it is as a nanny to support children and families with making decisions about food and meal choices.

Annie started the class by explaining that we need to understand what normal feeding development is in order to understand what isn’t normal development. Often parents and nannies can have unrealistic expectations when it comes to introducing food to children. This expectation can result in unnecessary pressure being put on all parties involved, therefore it’s important to keep mealtimes and the introduction to food as relaxed as possible. Annie also helped us review our own food preferences by asking if we would eat food such as fried cockroaches, bug pastries or use cricket flour in baking. This was in order to help us understand that we all go through a neophobic phase at some stage, and it is ok if something doesn’t appeal to us, but our tastes may change over time. It was really interesting to see the different reactions to eating these proposed foods.

What did you take away from the masterclass?

After the lecture, I was able to reflect on my own practice and experiences and assess where I can improve or alter my approach to suit the needs of different children and families. I hope to put all my newfound knowledge and techniques into practice in my upcoming dissertation placement, when I will be living with a family and focusing on supporting the baby’s weaning journey and helping to overcome the fussy eating habits of a toddler. My enthusiasm for weaning came from my residential placement in October last year, when I was fortunate enough to be given free rein on weaning my youngest charge. It was perfect timing as a few days prior to my arrival my charge had started to show signs that they were ready to wean, including being able to sit upright, hold their head steady, improved hand to eye coordination, and being able to swallow rather than tongue thrust. Other common signs that a baby is ready to wean include showing an interest in food, chewing on fists and seeming hungrier for milk or not being satisfied with their usual milk, often becoming restless during the night. Generally speaking, the World Health Organisation recommends weaning at around six months and this is the stance that Norland adopts as best practice.

a bowl of food

Your dissertation explores weaning and nutrition. Are you able to give a brief overview of your research and where the inspiration came from?

When I began the weaning journey with my charge, I came across a vast quantity of parental weaning guides which were full of tips and tricks. Some of these weaning guides supported each other and some had conflicting ideas, for instance baby-led vs adult-led weaning. Despite having some knowledge of weaning through my Norland training, I found it quite overwhelming and really sympathised with parents going through this developmental stage. This is where I gained my inspiration for my dissertation, ‘An investigation into current parental weaning practices’. Through my dissertation, I am hoping to find out which parental weaning guides are most appealing to parents and their preferred weaning practices. In my research and reading so far, I have come across a link between weaning and fussy eating habits, which is something I would like to explore in more detail.

How common is fussy eating?

Fussy eating is a problem faced by many families. The reluctance to eat or avoid certain foods is scientifically known as neophobia. Fussy eating is often more prominent in the second year of life and is a completely normal response that peaks around 20 months and fades out at around eight years old. Many children under five who are perceived as being fussy eaters are actually exhibiting normal appetite and eating habits for their age. Children’s appetites can be influenced by a multitude of things, such as growth spurts, weather, illness, teething, emotions, and even a change in their environment.

As a nanny supporting a child with fussy eating habits, I love to get them as involved with food as possible, be it home baking or messy play by dying pasta with food colouring. Creating a positive environment can really help foster a more positive mindset towards food for a child, making it more likely for them to broaden their tastes. A personal favourite of mine is ‘dinner dates’ with my charges. This provides an opportune time for bonding and positive role modelling at mealtimes. Below I have listed some of my other top tips for fussy eating habits and to support weaning.

a bowl of food

Top tips for helping overcome fussy eating habits:

  1. Do not worry, it is completely normal
  2. Repeated exposure of a wide variety of foods is key
  3. All foods (excluding of course heavily processed foods) have nutritional value
  4. Try to avoid terms such as good and bad foods
  5. The amount of food eaten each day and meal will vary
  6. Role modelling – try to sit and eat the same foods with the children
  7. Positive environment – don’t make mealtimes a pressured situation
  8. Promote independence and choice at mealtimes
  9. Try to create a routine whilst also encouraging anticipation around meal times
  10. Get children involved in cooking and preparing their meals

Top tips for supporting weaning:

  1. Try vegetables first, especially dark green leafy vegetables full of iron
  2. Start off with single tastes rather a mixture
  3. Try a combination of both baby-led and adult-led weaning by providing both finger foods and purees
  4. Only try one allergy or intolerance prone food a day and in the morning if possible
  5. Progress through a variety of textures, starting with smoother and working towards lumpier
  6. Role model social eating – involve the baby in family mealtimes
  7. Responsive feeding – acknowledge and recognise when the baby is full or has had enough
  8. Take a relaxed approach – try and alleviate any pressure on both you and the baby
  9. Get messy – allow the baby to explore the food as this really enhances their sensory profile
  10. Remember it is what is eaten overall that counts, not just at one mealtime

For more inspiration on food and children, feel free to visit my Instagram page via the button below.

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