New research shows ‘fussy eating’ and complaints about nutritious meals from children can lead to parents dreading mealtimes. Worries about their children’s eating is one of the top anxieties for today’s parents.

A survey of 2000 parents carried out in March 2022 showed:

  • Most parents (59%) would prefer all the family to sit down together at for meals, but almost a third (31%) say they sometimes dread mealtimes because they find them stressful
  • 38% struggle to get everyone to eat a balanced meal
  • 41% consider their child a ‘fussy’ eater
  • More time, more money and better access to recipes and online cooking guides are the top areas parents say would help
  • The survey, which questioned parents from across the UK with children aged 2-18, revealed that 56% struggle to get their child to eat a healthy balance of fruit, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates.

The John Lewis Partnership did the research as part of its Healthy Happy Home programme, developed with charity Home-Start UK which launches this week. The programme aims to help families improve their health and wellbeing, kicking off with a focus on food and nutrition, with further activity supporting safer sleep and family finances coming later this year.

When it comes to solutions, parents know there isn’t a single answer. While 41% said more time and more money would help them in making healthier and happier family mealtimes, there was almost the same importance placed on access to recipes (39%) and online cooking guides (36%).

This is why Healthy Happy Home has seen the creation of an online training programme that will be made available to Home-Start’s network of 10,000 volunteers. Devised by Waitrose chefs and nutritionists, it will train volunteers how to give families the confidence and skills to support parents to make easy, affordable and healthy meals and snacks. This unique approach will also support families to address some mealtime stresses, through tips and techniques for parents, such as getting the children involved in meal planning and cooking.

This is an issue that cuts across society: 77% of Home-Start volunteers* say they have worked with families who have issues with healthy eating, fuelled by a combination of lack of confidence around cooking and lack of time and financial limitations. The UK-wide research shows this applies to many families.

Half of the parents surveyed said they find it easier to pull something out of the freezer for convenience, 29% serve up sweets and chocolate and 28% will opt for a ready meal.

This reflects a trend identified by the National Food Strategy, that culinary skills and knowledge have diminished across every social class since convenience food became widely available, and they are still diminishing as one generation after another grows up without seeing or trying cooking at home. This lack of skills is having a fundamental impact on the health and wellbeing of families, not just from a nutritional perspective, but it also impacts the confidence of parents and causes high levels of stress and anxiety.

John Lewis Partnership Nutritionist, Joanne Lunn, who contributed to the online learning for Healthy Happy Home said:
“We know meal times can be really stressful for families, with parents worried that they aren’t getting the balance of foods right or that fussy eating will get in the way of eating healthily. Small changes to how families approach meals can make a big difference. We’ve shared some of our top tips with Home-Start volunteers, such as getting children involved in meal planning and preparation; letting children select their own food from a communal bowl, or serving sauces on the side. Easy changes like this really can make a difference!”

Peter Grigg, Chief Executive of Home-Start UK, said:
“This fantastic project will equip our volunteers with practical advice so they can support families to be healthier and happier. By building the confidence of our Home-Start volunteers around healthy food, safer sleep and family finances, the Healthy Happy Home programme will provide a real boost to family wellbeing and help parents with the everyday challenges that all families face.”

The programme has received support from Henry Dimbleby, author of the National Food Strategy report:
“Understanding how to cook tasty, healthy meals from scratch, and how to shop and budget for those meals is a crucial life skill for families – and especially for those trying to balance household budgets with a healthier lifestyle. But providing people with those skills takes time, care and effort. Which is why it is fantastic to see what the John Lewis Partnership  are doing with their Healthy Happy Home initiative. Done right, it will provide families with the tools to build their financial and personal resilience in the long term.”

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