Children’s meal times: How to deal with fussy eaters

From serving the same meals more than once to simple ways to make food fun, here are Nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin’s top tips for tackling mealtimes with children.

If dinner time at your house often descends into a battle over your child’s refusal to eat their greens, you’re not alone.

Sydney nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin says it sometimes takes repeated exposure to vegetables before children will accept them.

“Repeated exposure, even up to 15 days in a row, has been shown to encourage children to eat food even if they don’t like the taste,” Zoe says.

“Don’t become overly stressed about food, as stress will transfer to the child.

“Keep a food diary and understand your child’s appetite to avoid unrealistic expectations at mealtimes.”

Zoe, who has a 3 year old daughter, Emily, adds there are certain foods children find hard to swallow.

These include “bitter and sour foods such as zucchini, kale, broccoli and leafy greens”.

“Children have sensitivity to such tastes as evolution-wise, bitterness and sourness signalled the presence of harmful toxins and bacteria.

“When young, children have a preference for sweet tastes as the presence of sugar signals kilojoules or calories, which children require to grow,” she says.

Children are small and appetites vary, most need to try a food multiple times before establishing a taste preference.

But before you ditch green veggies from the dinner table, Zoe has plenty of advice on how to curb the habits of a picky eater:

Increase variety “Instead of giving children one vegetable or fruit, give two or three as this will help encourage children to try more food.”

Promote self-feeding “This can help encourage children to take an interest in food.”

Be realistic “Children are small and appetites vary; most children need to try a food multiple times before establishing a taste preference.”

Snacks “Offer nutrient-dense snacks in between meals if children do not eat much at mealtime.”

Make food fun “Get children involved in food prep. Take them to the markets and let them touch, smell and taste different foods. Or play games, such as getting children to close their eyes and smell foods, trying to guess which food they’re eating.

Zoe’s top tips for parents struggling with picky eaters

Make ahead ideas for children’s lunch boxes

Curiosity is your friend

“Instead of rewarding children for eating certain foods, shift the focus towards encouraging them to develop their own palate. Using rewards won’t necessarily help them achieve a healthy relationship with food, however, getting children curious about food and taking responsibility for their own taste preferences will.”

Hit the shops

“Grocery shopping and preparation are fantastic experiences for children. It helps them to not only learn about, but also gets children engaged with food, which will spark their interest.”

Simplify school lunches

“Get children involved with packing their lunch and keep food simple to handle. If you’re concerned by what your children are eating at school, or lack thereof, focus on making breakfast a substantial meal such as including eggs, avocado and wholegrain toast or porridge with nuts, if no nut allergy, seeds and fruit.”

Written by Erin Miller