Whitehawk Primary School has an inquisitive bunch of Year Three children, full of life and already worldly wise.

I was recently invited by their teachers, Debbie Chisholm and Ann Whittemore, to visit the school and give a short pep talk on healthy eating.

Although I have spoken to groups before, this one filled me with trepidation.

How could my humble selection of fruit and vegetables stand up to their usual fare of sweets and chocolate?

The daily battles spent trying to convince my own kids of the detrimental effects of sugar and added chemicals were ringing in my ears.

What was the worst that could happen?

I envisaged a mob of seven year olds howling their disapproval while tying me to a blackboard and pelting me with an assortment of carrot sticks and mouldy grapes -

or worse.

I decided to give it a go.

Class Three looked aghast as I went on the offensive and resolutely dumped chocolate bars, crisp packets and soft drinks into the bin.

With firm voice and trembling knees, I moved swiftly on, explaining what a human body was made of and what was required to maintain it.

Still no riot.

I told the children how they could empower themselves to gain better health, concentration and quality of life.

They proved to be a thoroughly charming bunch who were most interested to hear how to trade dehydration and disease for diversity and dynamism.

Before the hour was up, all my exhibits had been eaten - raw tomatoes, sunflower seeds and all.

My initial impression that I had come, seen and conquered evaporated as soon as I spotted two little boys rooting through the bin in search of the junk food I had just deposited with such aplomb.

But all was not lost - most requested more raw food and the girls talked about making fruit smoothies and breakfast muesli with their parents.

The whole exercise proved to me just how important it is not to prejudge children's view on food and health.

A recent report from University College, London, supports this principle.

Professor Jane Wardle says there are six key rules which can be applied by despairing parents to tackle the entrenched habits of "picky eaters".

All food dislikes are learned not inherited so it is possible to "unlearn" them.

Children may need exposure to a new food as much as ten times before they take to it. The problem is, parents often give up after a few attempts.

It is important to introduce new tastes in very small amounts. Healthy foods should be introduced as early as possible to make them acceptable and to encourage kids to accept different tastes and textures.

Adults should make food choices for their children, except on special occasions, because youngsters are so influenced by sensory appeal and packaging.

Don't have alternative options at home that your child will favour. They will be less fussy about the foods you offer.

It all sounds like plain common-sense to me. I only hope the kids from Whitehawk Primary agree.

Martina is a qualified nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary
Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or e-mail: martina_watts@compuserve.com