How you can tackle teatime troubles

If you are all too familiar with the strain of dealing with a child who refuses to eat what’s been served up on their plates during meal times, read on for some tips to help.

Although it’s entirely normal for children to refuse to eat or even try new foods, tyou will still worry whether they are getting enough calories or nutrients. You might feel stuck in a rut of offering the same acceptable meals week in, week out, when health specialists recommend introducing new foods and new ways of serving them to pique their interest. The money.co.uk team have compiled the following tips on ways to liven up everyday meals for children, in the hope that the introduction of some unique new flavour combinations and eating habits will get them excited about food again!

Offer up ‘taster’ plates to tempt them with

Sometimes the amount of food dished up in front of a child can be a little overwhelming, especially if they aren’t particularly hungry or feeling tired from a long day at school. 

This is when introducing a ‘taster’ plate, consisting of a range of different foods and flavours to entice them with, can make for a brilliant dinner option. The beauty of a taster plate is that you can add in elements of snacks and meals you know they will already eat and enjoy and sneak in extra ‘wild card’ options that they won’t feel as threatened by amidst the sense of familiarity. 

Try arranging your ‘taster’ plate so that the new additions are hidden in between the staple favourites. Ensure there is a bright mix of colours and sweet vs savoury options to keep them interested and curious to explore the options. 

Help kids understand different world cuisines

Giving children early exposure to the cuisines of different countries around the world when they are still young is a great way to ensure they remain excited about the prospect of trying new, unique flavours as taste buds develop. 

Instead of making their sandwiches with everyday sliced bread, introduce tortilla wraps, pitta breads and chapatis to their lunch boxes, still using their favourite fillings, to see how well they respond to the simple swap.

If your children are typically accustomed to finding apples, oranges and bananas in their lunchboxes; then the introduction of equally as delicious but more tropical flavours, like papaya, guava and mangoes, could work really well in helping them enjoy a wider variety of fruits. 

Finally, don’t be afraid of using small amounts of strong flavours in kids meals to introduce them to different cuisines to see how they react – you might be pleasantly surprised! Soy sauce should be added to vegetable sushi, a mild curry paste will make any curry pop, and the addition of hummus on the side of chopped up vegetables or toast soldiers could completely change their view of afternoon snacks. 

Explore different textures

Fussy eating and the refusal to eat a particular meal or food is, more often than not, more likely due to the texture rather than the flavour. It’s therefore smart to keep an open mind and continue to offer the same foods repeatedly but prepared in slightly alternative or unique ways. 

For example, finely chopping nutritious vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, courgette, peppers and mushrooms) then cooking them into thick, tomato-based pasta sauces or creamy soups is a great way to ensure kids are eating their 5 A Day without realising it. 

Using freezer moulds to create homemade fruit and yoghurt ice lollies is another excellent way to sneak some healthy options into a summer treat. 

Expand on existing favourites

Don’t be afraid to use a little flavour bribery when it comes to introducing new foods. 

If you know your little one is already a fan of chocolate spread, jam or honey, then adding a small amount to their morning porridge or toast could help you ensure they start their day off properly.

Similarly, if you know certain dishes tend to go down well at dinner time, re-work how the meals are made to offer up new flavour combinations and ingredients that still look familiar. Pork sausage and mashed potatoes could become healthier chicken sausages and celeriac mash, while pepperoni pizza and chips could be given a twist with the introduction of homemade ‘pizza crumpets’ and some sweet potato wedges. 

Organise a ‘dinner party’ with their friends 

Children are natural followers and are wired to copy and replicate the behaviours and mannerisms that they witness in others. 

While it’s important for fussy eaters to see their parents and siblings eating a variety of different foods at the dinner table each mealtime, it’s also wise to show your child that their friends and school peers are trying a diverse range of flavours and cuisines, so they know it’s a normal and accepted part of life.

A great way to encourage this would be to organise a dinner party or picnic with some similarly aged friends. Ask other parents to each bring a plentiful selection of different foods or snacks that their children happily snack on, and let the children see each other enjoying and partaking in a shared eating experience.  

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