Healthy Eating for Fussy Children

Feeding children can be tough. They can be fussy about textures, flavours and the way a meal looks. If a meal is not what they are ‘wanting’, flat out refusal before a taste can come into play.

As a mother I have battled with my own frustration, as meals that were once ‘loved’ suddenly get refused. In spite of my own internal frustration, I never let mealtime become a battleground, but I do insist on at least one taste.

After all, it can take ten tastes before a new flavour becomes accepted.

My Tips for Fussy Eaters

1. Everyone Eats the Same Meal

It’s important that everyone eats and enjoys the same meal at dinner time. This not only saves the ‘home chef’ from preparing different meals, but it also ensures that parents are leading by example and enjoying the same foods.

Also read: 10 Meal Prep Tips For Busy Parents

2. Integrate Vegetables Into Dishes

I integrate (hide!) vegetables and legumes into any meal I can. Lentils and grated vegies go into bolognaise sauce, grated vegies into pancake snacks and meatballs, I also blitz steamed cauliflower with pesto to make white sauce in lasagne.

For especially fussy little people, white vegetables can be the easiest to start with. Grated potato into meatballs, grated cauliflower amongst grains, peeled and grated zucchini into pancakes (peeled to remove the refusal of ‘GREEN BITS’).

This is not ideal, but it’s a starting point for those parents who need to start somewhere!

3. Pick and Mix Options

Putting forward a selection of foods that a child can select from, is a terrific way to expose children to different flavours. Build-your-own healthy pizzas, burritos and tacos are great meal options for older children and a muffin tray can be a great way to serve foods for little ones to pick and choose from a selection.

I use a six hole muffin tray to present three foods I know my son likes alongside three NEW foods. Repeated exposure is a great way to get little ones to accept and perhaps taste new foods.

4. The ‘One Taste’ Rule

Flat out refusal is not acceptable in my home. A single taste is all I request. If a child is hungry, they will eat. Don’t cave and give them what they are demanding – this is hard, but if you stick to your guns you will have greater success long term.

Hold strong, and most importantly, keep calm.

Also read: Free Recipe: Chickpea & Cauliflower Curry

5. Combine Raw and Cooked Foods

Combinations of raw and cooked foods may work best for children who don’t like certain textures. Plate up something crunchy (e.g. carrot, snowpeas, capsicum), something cooked (e.g. broccoli, corn) and something mashed or soft (e.g. avocado, potato, pumpkin). Notice what they prefer.

My son currently devours raw carrot sticks and fresh baby spinach but will not go near cooked carrot or spinach!

6. Keep Flavours Separate

For toddlers, keeping flavours separate and on a divider plate can minimise meltdowns. A bit like the muffin tray concept, provide a few options that are familiar and at least one new or previously refused food.

It takes a few minutes to ‘unpack’ a stirfry onto my son’s plate – but when I separate the vegetables, he is more likely to eat something than when it is all mixed up. Do what works for your child. It is worth that minute of plating in my house!  

Bottom line is, foods from time to time will get refused, but don’t give up! Try some of these strategies and make mealtimes a pleasant experience for all. Be consistent in your approach and you will eventually succeed. Good luck!

Lisa Donaldson, APD, M.Nutr&Diet, B.Edu
Lisa is the Lead Dietitian for 12WBT. With a Masters in Nutrition & Dietietics as well as a Bachelor of Education, Lisa is keen to help all 12 Weekers understand how to achieve health for life. Lisa studied Sports Dietetics at the Australian Institute of Sport and has a keen interest in gastrointestinal health. A highly regarded communicator, Lisa is a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, the ‘Dietitian in Residence’ at the University of Canberra and a lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy. She has also been an expert on ABC Television’s Ask the Dr Series.

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