Although pediatric nutrition experts agree that “picky eating” is a normal rite of passage for young children, it can make meal planning a tricky task for parents eager to make sure their little ones are eating well-balanced meals.
There are several reasons that children might refuse to eat new foods, or suddenly decide they don’t like foods they once happily devoured. Children have more taste buds than adults (we lose them as we age), so they may genuinely be more sensitive to certain foods, especially bitter ones.
The trick is to keep presenting new, healthy foods into their mealtimes without forcing them. The “one bite rule” is a good start, as it helps kids to gradually become accustomed to new foods in their own time. Try to do your best to vary meals and make them fun; research has shown that kids will eat more fruits and vegetables when presented in an appealing way. Try using biscuit cutters to stamp out shapes from watermelon and apples, or create fun new names for foods. Researchers found that young children ate twice as many carrot sticks when they were called “X-ray vision carrots” instead of plain “carrots.”
Kids also love to be involved in meal planning and are much more likely to try new things when they’ve had a hand in the preparation. Let them choose the recipes they want to make at home, or try these easy ideas that make healthy eating fun and achievable, even for the pickiest of eaters!
One of our favourite tried-and-tested ways to make sure the lunchbox comes home empty is to let children get involved with packing. Once the main part of the lunch is ready – whether that’s a sandwich, pasta salad or leftovers from the night before – let your little eater choose three other healthy add-ins.
Set out three bowls every morning, or just make three piles, each with a selection of the following: fresh fruits, ready-to-eat veggies and dairy options (think natural yoghurts or small portions of cheese). Let the kids choose a fruit, a veggie and a dairy product for their lunch each day – they’ll be much more likely to eat them when they made the choice themselves!
Wraps come in different flavours and even colours, and kids tend to love when everyday sandwiches are transformed into twisty, fun-to-eat wraps.
- Turkey and cream cheese with grated carrots and lettuce in a spinach or wholemeal wrap
- Ants on a log: celery sticks spread with peanut butter and a line of raisins down the centre
Thread bite-sized fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses onto small cocktail sticks. They’ll add a pop of colour to lunchboxes, and little eaters will have fun pulling them apart!
- Ham, cheese and grapes
- Mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes, green peppers and pepperoni
- Small serving of pretzels
Incorporating some of your children’s favourite dips into lunches are a great way to get them to try new foods.
- Baked crispy chicken tenders with barbecue sauce OR Veggie sticks with hummus
- Natural yoghurt with fresh berries and granola (parfait style)
Try this recipe: Cut 4 chicken fillets into bite-sized pieces. Place 50g of plain flour into one bowl, three beaten eggs into a second and 120g breadcrumbs into a third. Coat the chicken in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with oil and bake at 190˚C/170˚C fan/gas mark 5 for 30-35 minutes, flipping once, until cooked through.
A simple biscuit cutter can do wonders! The best part of this trick is that once you’ve prepared the lunchbox as usual, one small step at the end transforms a humdrum sandwich, piece of fruit or slices of cheese into a rocking lunch!
- Ham and cheese sandwich, cut into dinosaur shapes on a bed of lettuce
- Hard-boiled egg, with blue dots drawn on the outside
- Steamed broccoli florets
Putting your little eaters in charge of their making own lunches will keep them interested in the food in front of them.
- Build your own pizza: Pitta bread, small jar of tomato sauce, grated cheese and chopped peppers. Include a small plate and spoon in the lunchbox.
- Orange segments.
Healthy vegetables and grains can be sneakily hidden in some of the kids’ favourite foods, so there’s no fear of icky textures or spotting something they don’t like!
- Pasta with veggie-packed spag bol sauce.
- Spinach, strawberry, banana, orange and natural yoghurt smoothie.
Try this recipe! Combine the following in a large pot: 1 chopped onion, 1 grated carrot, 1 grated courgette, 1 thinly sliced red pepper and two 400g tins of chopped tomatoes. Add with 200ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes until soft. Stir in 2 handfuls of spinach until wilted. Purée with a hand blender until smooth. Cook 400g of lean beef mince until browned. Stir in 2 tbsp tomato purée, 1 crumbled beef stock cube and the tomato sauce. Cook for 15 minutes, then serve with penne pasta and Parmesan cheese.