Maya Thomas, our chef at Paint Pots The Grove, is a herbologist and is helping to develop healthy eating habits in the nursery’s 2-5 year olds. She recognises that diet influences behaviour and designs nutritious, fresh, healthy breakfasts, lunches and suppers plus snacks to help create healthy routines for the children.
Maya has devised a series of 3-week seasonal rotational menus using locally sourced products, wherever possible, and introduces a few new herbs and spices each week. Her menus include sweet potato and rosemary waffles for breakfast; yoghurt fruit cakes and flapjacks made with bananas, not refined sugar, for snacks; and sweet potato dhal with curry leaves, which are high in iron and Vitamin C, for lunch.
Maya trained at the prestigious Ballymaloe Cookery School, has a diploma in Herbology from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh and has worked at Soho House. She comes from a long line of well-known gardeners including Owen Thomas, who was head gardener at Windsor Castle in the 1890s, and HH Thomas, who is well-known as a writer on gardens.
Young children can be difficult to cook for and as Maya says, “The young children at Paint Pots are probably the hardest customers I have ever had to feed...” Maya and Paint Pots use the following techniques to encourage children to develop good eating habits:
- Teachers sit down, eat and talk with the children to make meals an enjoyable social event. This helps the children to relax and as they see that the adults are eating the same food as they are being served they copy them and try the food;
- The main part of the meal is served on its own on a plate whilst the vegetables, pasta, rice, sauces etc are served in bowls and are passed around so that the children can choose which of the accompaniments they would like to try. They are encouraged to be adventurous and try new foods but at their own pace. For breakfast for example Maya has been making homemade granola which the children can add Greek yoghurt and warm, gently spiced quince to, if they like, with the help of their teachers;
- The children are involved in the preparation of meals to give them confidence in the food and ingredients they are eating with the children helping to for example pick basil and they also enjoy making soda bread;
- From time to time tasting sessions are held so the children can taste new foods including chickpeas which the children taste raw, help to create houmous with them and are then encouraged to taste the houmous;
- If the children don’t like a food when it is first introduced, it is re-introduced again a few times more in the coming weeks as some tastes take time to develop;
- The children are encouraged to develop a good savoury palate early on as this can help the children develop good eating habits later on in life.