Q&A with nutritionist Lucinda Miller: tips for feeding your whole family

By Talk Education
17 March 2021

Getting children to eat healthily can be a daily battle, whatever their age - but particularly when they're tiny. What's the secret for dealing with picky eaters – and can some foods really help supercharge our children’s brainpower? We asked paediatric nutritionist Lucinda Miller to answer all our questions – from how to help your child develop a healthy relationship with food to what a nutritionist really eats at home. If Lucinda's answers inspire you to try something new, keep scrolling for her scrumptious blueberry and lemon oat pancakes recipe...

 Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m Lucinda Miller and I’m Clinical Lead of Nature Doc. I’m also a mum of three and have been specialising in paediatric nutrition for over 20 years. I have the most wonderful team of Nature Docs, who are also passionate about children’s health. I’ve written two cookbooks, which are nutrition bibles for little children: one is called The Good Stuff, and the other is called I Can’t Believe It’s Baby Food. I’ve also got two qualifications in functional medicine, and I’m passionate about getting children to thrive to be the best versions of themselves. 

What sort of health and development issues can you help with?

We help parents to help nourish their children so that they really flourish. It could be to help them sleep a bit better, help with sore tummies, help with speech and language – all sorts of different health niggles and developmental issues. Sometimes we see more complex clients too, and that’s where we would do laboratory tests and work out exactly what is driving their metabolic pathways and nutritional needs. 

My child wants to eat the same food every day. Is this doing them any harm? What can I do about it?

Lots of children love the reassurance of familiar foods and are less adventurous. However, if they get really stuck into the same routine every day, it’s likely that they are going to have a very narrow diet, and that means narrow nutrition too. So it’s important to try and find foods that they really love and then try and supercharge them a little, by adding in ground-up nuts, nut butters or some grated vegetables, just to make it a little more nutritious and try and get them to be a little more adventurous with their foods.

If a child refuses to eat a particular food, what are your tips?

Every child is a picky eater at some point in their lives, and sometimes it’s due to being overtired, having a sore tummy or being very run down and ill. So don’t make it a big thing and try and find foods that they really like. If they love beige, crunchy food, try and make it a bit more nutritious. So rather than buying waffles in the supermarket, make your own, adding eggs, yoghurt or grated vegetables – and make it super-, super-nutritious. 

I’m concerned that my child eats too much or not enough. How do I handle this, while making sure they maintain a healthy relationship with food?

All children have different metabolisms, and some naturally eat more than others. However, if you’ve got a child who doesn’t eat quite enough, think about supercharging every single mouthful when they do eat. That means getting in as many nutrients as possible, which could mean nut butter, some ground-up seeds, eggs or whole milk. 

If you’ve got a child who’s eating far too much, then again it’s important to really get those meals right, and make sure they’re getting plenty of protein and fat, as well as carbohydrates That will make things much more filling, and they’ll be much less likely to graze and snack throughout the day. 

My child says they aren’t hungry in the morning and won’t eat breakfast. How do I avoid sending them to nursery on an empty stomach?

Lots of children aren’t hungry in the morning, so I used to make a smoothie or grab some muffins so my children had something to eat on the school run. If they didn’t eat them then, I’d store them up for later, and I’d make sure they had them when I picked them up from school, when they were really starving. That seemed to work really well. 

I’m fed up with cooking three different meals for my fussy family. How can I encourage everyone to eat the same thing?

This is exactly why I wrote I Can’t Believe It’s Baby Food because so many parents were getting in touch with me saying they were tearing their hair out having to cook meals endlessly all day. One strategy is to find one thing that everyone really loves – that could be a roast chicken or bolognaise – and then build your meal around it, so everybody has something that they like. And then at least you have some really good leftovers for later, so nothing ever gets wasted. 

Does the old-fashioned approach of ‘you’re going to sit here until you’ve eaten it’ ever work?

This approach can be quite counterproductive, and the reason why is because children’s appetites naturally wane after about 25 minutes. So whether they’re full or not, they will be less hungry and it’s really hard to get more food in. I suggest parents stop the meal then and don’t offer snacks in between, so children get used to eating well during their three daily meals. 

Some foods are known to be brain foods. What is your approach to neurodiverse children?

Research has found that those with learning differences and neurodevelopmental issues often need extra brain foods to help them really thrive. Some of these are because they have different metabolic issues, and others because of gut issues. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t extract the nutrients from the food that they’re eating as efficiently as others. 

Research from Oxford University has found that omega-3 acids are incredibly important for a child’s brain and these come from oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel. Choline – which comes from eggs, yoghurt, peanut butter, sunflower seed, etc – is also really important; not just for regulating emotions but also to feed children’s brains and help with learning and memory. 

Zinc (which comes from nuts and seeds) is really important too, not only to help children grow and help their immune system, but also to help them think. This is why really nutrient dense foods are so important for these children. 

Milk: whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed or plant-based?

There are so many different milk options these days, and it’s a complete minefield working out what the right milk is for your child. The gold standard is to go for the blue top, full-fat, whole milk, purely because it has more omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. It’s also much more filling than skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. 

Recent guidelines have found that the full-fat is better for a child, and they’re less likely to make them put on weight or graze, so it’s important to go for that if you can. If your child has food allergies, such as a cow’s-milk protein allergy or a lactose intolerance, then I suggest that you go for a fortified oat milk because that seems to be the most nutritious option available on the market at the moment. 

What do you feed your family?

Compared with other families, we probably eat much less sugar and white flour, but other than that, we eat a really good, normal, varied diet. I cook as much as I can from scratch, because then you can add in a lot more nutritious foods and choose really good quality ingredients. 

I’ve also really encouraged our children to cook from scratch right from when they were little, We started off cooking lots of snacks and baked goods, and now they can do full meals – meaning they’re set up for the rest of their lives. 

I try and add a little bit extra to every meal I make. For example, with porridge; instead of just being oats, water and, say, honey, I will maybe crack in an egg, grate in some carrot or put in some peanut butter or cashew butter to make it more nutritious.

For lunch, I might make soup with lots of different veggies and some beans. I might do extra salads with some sprinkles of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. For supper, I might do a chilli con carne and grate in some sweet potato, carrot or red peppers, to try and get in as much extra veg as possible. If I’m making, say, shepherd’s pie, I might try and add in some extra beans too, such as lentils, as well as the lamb.  

And finally…What’s your top tip for parents?

The most important thing that any parent can do is to cook from scratch as much as possible, because then they will have a really flourishing child. Remember, their brains are still developing up until their mid-20s, so it’s never too late to put in better habits.

Mini Blueberry & Lemon Oat Pancakes

Pancakes are a hit with all ages and are perfect for lazy weekend breakfasts. They also work well in a lunch box, so use some of your weekend batch for the week ahead. Suitable for all ages, including weaning babies from six months as they are lovely and soft on the gums.

These cute mini pancakes have a lovely zesty lemon flavour and are packed with calcium for strong bones and choline for learning and memory. Blueberries are packed with polyphenols, which are important for gut health and have been found to help focus and concentration. They contain good levels of protein and healthy fats, which are nice and filling and may stop your kids raiding the biscuit tin mid-morning.

Makes: 15 mini pancakes
Preparation: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes 

125g cream cheese
50g oats
2 eggs (free-range)
0.75tsp baking powder
1 lemon (just the zest)
24 blueberries (halved)

  • Whizz all the ingredients except the blueberries up in a blender for 30 seconds until combined. Leave to rest for a few minutes.
  • Heat a large non-stick frying pan to a medium heat.
  • Use a mini ice cream scoop to transfer the batter onto the frying pan – aim for three small pancakes in one frying pan.
  • Pop three half-blueberries into the batter of each pancake.
  • Flip once the pancake starts bubbling. You will hear the blueberries fizz as they hit the heat. Gently press each pancake down, which squishes the blueberries. Then remove from the frying pan when the pancakes are golden on each side.
  • When you are finished, any spare blueberries are a treat for you. 
Cook’s tips:
  • Dairy-free: swap cream cheese to silken tofu or cashew butter.
  • Gluten-free: choose gluten-free oats or swap to quinoa flakes.
  • Store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Freeze in a plastic bag for up to 3 months

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